Saying Happy Birthday to that unfathomable phenomenon called Rajni Saar
When a colleague reverently said, “I will finish my leave and get back to work on Thalaivar’s birthday,” the reference is accepted without murmur. Because if you are even faintly acquainted with Tamil films, ‘Thalaivar’ (leader) can only mean one man: Rajnikanth. And just like the old feint of fingers and a cigarette sailing into his lips, Rajnikanth’s 62nd birthday too comes with its sense of mystique on 12-12-12.
The Rajnikanth phenomenon has long been accepted in South India, while north of the Vindhyas, there has been a gradual warming up over the last few years, though television anchors often fail to fathom the hysteria his movies unleash. “Oh he has always been big here just that you are recognising it now,” said Kamal Hassan once when asked by an entertainment correspondent from a Delhi studio. Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth’s celluloid rival but a friend in real-life, was stating a fact.
To fathom the delirium that grips his fans, head to a theatre that plays a Rajnikanth movie. Coins, flowers, and tickets are flung in the air and at times camphor is lit when the opening credits roll. And once he appears on screen, with a half-smile and mouths a punch-dialogue, cover your ears as the guy next to you will launch into a guttural scream.Perhaps you could have a word with the Japanese tourists, who make a beeline to see Rajnikanth’s home especially after being enamoured with The Dancing Maharaja as his 1995 flick Muthu was known in Tokyo.
It is not difficult to figure the reasons behind this, because Rajnikanth, despite his larger-than-life roles, is the most accessible superstar in India. A common man can identify with Rajnikanth’s public avatar – bald pate, the odd grey stubble and an ability to laugh at himself. When a spate of Rajnikanth-jokes did the rounds after his last release Endhiran, he said: “How they create such jokes! I admire their intelligence, I am simply amazed.”
His movies make enormous money and in that rare instance when they don’t, like it happened with Baba, he reimburses aggrieved distributors. Rajnikanth has many layers to his persona that is often obfuscated by what he does on screen. He takes off to the Himalayas once a year, makes impromptu trips to Bangalore to meet his old friends who know him as Shivaji Rao Gaikwad and rides his own train on a circular railway track designed around his Kelambakkam farmhouse in Chennai.
A long time ago during a conversation with the late G. Venkateswaran, renowned producer and Mani Ratnam’s brother, Rajnikanth described life thus: “Izhutha moochu, vitta pochu.” A rough translation would be “when you take it in, it is breath, if you let that go, you are gone.”
Yet it is a travesty that India’s biggest star has become a prisoner of his image. It is a fact that beneath the screen presence and style that Rajnikanth exudes, resides a natural actor, who was last seen in movies like Maniratnam’s Thalapathi or J. Mahendran’s Mullum Malarum. The loss is a direct corollary of the box-office burden that we have invested him with, but meanwhile it is time to say, “Happy birthday Thalaiva!”