Films are part of everyday life of Tamils and have deeply ingrained with their cultural and political life. Film songs stream incessantly at tea stalls, saloons, and speakers mounted on trees and rooftops during special occasions.
As one could witness here on Saturday, which was superstar Rajnikanth’s 60th birthday, almost every street corner in the city was busy playing songs from his films and also fans distributing sweets and food to the poor, offering puja and donating blood.
Interesting banners and posters were seen all over the city in which images of Rajnikanth sporting a white beard juxtaposed with that of the Assembly in session and Governor Surjit Singh Barnala. The poster read: “Retirement from films in 2010 and in 2011 you are going to capture power and witness Assembly proceedings as Chief Minister of the State.”
After matinee idol M. G. Ramachandran, it was Rajnikanth who was seen as a demigod of the subaltern. Ace director K. Balachander’s find who took the tinsel world by storm, Rajinikanth was like a whiff of fresh air and his dark skin, unkempt mane and inimitable style coupled with swiftness changed the course of Tamil film history.
Unfortunately, his rise to superstardom confined the space to display his acting skills; however films like Aval Appadithan, Mullum Malarum, Johnny, Aarilirunthu Aarubadhu Varai, Engayo Ketta Kural, Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri remain etched in every film lover’s memory by showing the best of Rajnikanth’s acting skills.
In fact, his entry and rise in the early 80’s made him dominate commercial films. His three-decade-old career saw quite a few transitions from being a villain to discover the actor in him in the late 70’s and rise to superstardom in the early 80’s and 90’s was the period which was so turbulent in his career.
His role as mediator and supporter during the 1996 election saw the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Tamil Maanila Congress sweep the elections. Hence, his fans wanted him to enter politics.
However, his decisions during the elections that followed proved to be disastrous as the party for which he rendered support did not fare well. Rajnikanth and his speeches on many sensitive issues had invited wrath from various corners at the same time were supported by many.
This nexus of politics and films is not new to a State which has seen tinsel town rule politics.
The images of film stars here are used to form new social identities and for newer forms of assertion. Film theorist Sara Dickey, once in an interview to The Hindu, said that fan clubs could definitely be seen as an extension of the political space and an emerging political society that would check the hegemony of civil society.
Political critics see him to be ambivalent but his fans still hope that he will enter politics.
S. Thangapandian, member of a Rajnikanth Fan Club here says, “We are still hopeful that our leader will enter politics and he will do it in his own matchless style. Even at a time when political parties donated meagerly for the Sri Lankan Tamils Relief Fund, he individually donated Rs.10 lakh and this shows his compassion.”