In 1981, Naman Ramachandran went along with some friends to watch the Malayalam film, Garjanam, which uniquely featured two superstars in the lead role. A few schedules of the film were shot with Malayalam actor Jayan in the lead who died in an accident while shooting for another film. The remaining portions were filmed with Rajinikanth, then a rising star in Tamil, playing the protagonist.
Being diehard fans of Jayan, the schoolboys in Alappuzha went into the cinema prepared to hate Rajinikanth. “But we couldn’t. He had done a brilliant job of it,” recalls Mr. Ramachandran, film critic and journalist who has now authored a biography of the superstar, titled, ‘Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography’.
In a conversation with The Hindu here on Saturday, Mr. Ramachandran said unavailability of any credible tome on the biggest superstar of India — in terms of depth of reach — was what got him thinking of piecing one together. After a two-year spadework during which he interviewed Rajini’s friends, relatives, mentors, critics, and co-workers in the film industry exhaustively, he penned the tome as a ‘hardcore reportage’, largely adhering to journalism’s thumb rules of objectivity, fairness, honesty, and a sense of balance.
“That way, it is the world’s largest feature,” he chuckles. Adopting the Andrew Robinson-model (author of ‘Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye: The Biography of a Master Filmmaker’), Mr. Ramachandran let people who have known and understood Rajini talk about him, limiting his intervention to occasionally juxtaposing people so that the readers can glean vital clues to the dimensions of an issue under discussion. In the author’s own words, he has ‘contextualised’ the phenomenon of Rajinikanth.
The reader will, therefore, come across the history of the Dravidian Movement, the evolution of Tamil culture and film industry, and the growth of Kannada cinema which help place the actor in a certain milieu. There’s quite a bit of wrong information doing the rounds on Rajini. The user-generated Wikipedia, almost everyone’s reference guide these days, says a five-year-old Rajini was shattered by his mother’s death. But when I spoke to his brother Satyanarayana, he said Rajini was just over nine when their mother died. The tragedy hadn’t hit him very hard. He was too small to fathom the gravity of the loss, Mr. Satyanarayana told me, recalls Mr. Ramachandran.
As he set about the project, humanising the larger-than-life star was the author’s primary task. In fact, Rajini has always distanced himself from his own-screen image, which, as filmmaker S.P. Muthuraman said, was ‘entirely manufactured’ to produce a heir to MGR’s legacy (M.G. Ramachandran). “Kamal Hassan was already identified as Sivaji Ganesan’s successor, but there was a vacuum created by MGR’s sojourn to politics. So they set out to create a successor to MGR, which became evident from [Rajini-starred] ‘Murattukkalai’ ,” says Mr. Ramachandran, likening it to Salim-Javed’s creation of the ‘angry young man’.
From the biography, which also features the author’s deconstruction of a few Rajini films, the on-screen phenomenon of Rajini is analysed threadbare in chronological order. There’s quite a bit of criticism as well. The author rips the movie ‘Kuselan’ to bits, to cite an instance.