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‘Rajinikanth: A Life’ review: The many lives of a superstar

Growing up in Tamil Nadu in the 1980s and ’90s meant growing up in a world that was polarised between Rajinikanth fandom and Kamal Haasan fandom. There were just two roads leading into the woods and you chose one, swearing life-long allegiance.

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For the people of Tamil Nadu, who have always preferred to split their loyalties between well-matched binaries (MGR-Sivaji, Jayalalithaa-Karunanidhi, and later, Vijay-Ajith) these two rising stars were perfectly poised to be split into two polar recipients of that adulation. And in this State, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that stardom leads to politics. The prophecy has played out in the case of these two stars as well. Only, they found themselves trapped in a post-modernist, dystopian version. Rajini’s final (?) withdrawal from politics and Kamal Haasan’s rout in the recent election is where this story rests now. That was not the script though.

Which is why news of a biography on Rajini was exciting. It’s not easy writing the life history of a superstar, and with this larger than life, reticent superstar who has preferred to cloak his life in mystique, filmy dialogues, and smoke-machine fog, it certainly could not have been a walk in the park. He’s star, wannabe politician, spiritualist — always more than one can chew. So, it was a bold move to attempt to chronicle this life, particularly without access to key dramatis personae.

The greatest strength of this book is possibly that it provides the first elaborate cogent account of the early life of Rajinikanth, beyond his ‘conductor’ days — a trope even fans have looked past. Vaasanthi painstakingly puts together tidbits, including what the star let slip in a mellow mood on odd occasions over the years, to portray in detail an early life that is a significant window to the personality. She also creates structure from what could be a baggy monster of material, leading us through his cinematic journey, interspersed with the shadows thrown on it by the key character’s spiritualism and the brush with politics, and politicians.

Flip-flop account

It would not be fair to expect chronological sequencing in a later life, especially one that is fraught with flip-flops, but one can’t help wondering if a more cogent account, with an unabashed portrayal of Rajini as the central celestial figure around which things spin, might have worked better.

Yes, it is true that the life of Rajinikanth is not just the life of an individual, you need to tell the story of a province, its political, social and cultural spaces spanning several decades, with a galaxy of characters to boot and multiple milestones. And yet no one will fault a writer who grants Rajinikanth the celestial space that he anyway already occupies, certainly not his fans.

The story, in classic rags to riches progression, is a genre that is inspiring because of its content, and given in this case, the meteoric rise of the maverick Shivaji Rao Gaekwad into a superstar, no doubt it is a significant work as profiles go. However, the book is wedged somewhere between blind fans so trapped in a construct that obliterates reality, and political watchers most of whom have justifiably been sceptical of the man’s actual entry into politics, given his flip-flops.

And, of course, if we were to allow Bollywood to deliver a punchline that is in the same league as Rajnikanth’s, then: Picture Abhi Baaki Hai, dost! Indeed, there are further chapters in this biopic.

Rajinikanth: A Life; Vaasanthi, Aleph Book company, ₹699.

ramya.kannan@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 6:10:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/rajinikanth-a-life-review-the-many-lives-of-a-superstar/article35759280.ece

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