Friday Review

The moment of truth

The house-full boards tossed into the attics of single screens are being cleaned and repainted. Flower sellers and milk vendors have ordered double the quantity they usually sell. I won’t be surprised if shops selling ‘puja’ items pop up in and around theatres. Black-marketeers are back re-establishing their long severed ties with theatre managers. Giant hoardings have been ordered and banners with pictures of fans will cover compound walls. The cops will be on their toes as fans have already started sauntering around the prospective theatres discussing the film’s plot. The euphoria is unprecedented and every TV channel has some nugget of news. Everybody is waiting for the box-office reincarnation of Rajinikanth and ‘Kabali’ promises to be just that. The shrill deafening whistles will drown the dialogues. Confetti will be floating around as coins fly by but this time everyone who claims to be a Rajinikanth fan wants to experience the atmosphere of his film, first day first show.

The expectations are sky high because Rajini is donning an ‘avatar’ fans identify with. He may be playing a gangster but they know he won’t portray a bad guy. Circumstances would have made him one. There is this dialogue in ‘Padayappa’ where Ramya Krishnan in a memorable confrontation says Rajini may have aged but his style and looks have not diminished. You could say that about his popularity too. The teasers of ‘Kabali’ echo that sentiment. You can make out that a reformed ruffian is forced back from hibernation by circumstances beyond his control. The kind of frenzy the teaser has evoked amongst fans is flabbergasting. I’ve always believed the most futile exercise would be dissecting Rajini’s phenomenal success and I maintain that. His fan base cuts across caste, colour, gender and age. You just can’t explain how ten year old kids and even teenagers connect to him, instantly. I say this because I could never relate to Sivaji Ganesan’s style of acting in his twilight years or MGR’s popularity.

It is thirty six years since I visited Madras for an annual holiday and for a lark barged into Kamal’s office seeking an appointment for an interview. It was the eve of the release of ‘Varumayin Niram Sivappu’ and the office was buzzing with anticipation as the film was considered a comeback vehicle of sorts for Kamal. A dark actor with beady eyes and unkempt hair who spoke Tamil with a Kannada accent had usurped his position at the box-office. Anyway Charuhasan kept me company till Kamal arrived. After the interview, Kamal asked me what I was doing next and I said I’d try and meet Rajini the next day. Kamal just picked up the phone, called Rajini’s manager Murali and lo a tryst was arranged.

I walked into Rajini’s Poes Gardens house early the next morning and was ushered into the living room past a cluster of waiting fans. Rajini breezed in, holy ash adorning his forehead. I had heard that he was grappling with internal demons, unable to deal with the humungous success. He had allegedly tried to run over an inquisitive journalist outside a five star hotel. His smile when introduced was reassuring and the mention of Bangalore had him beaming. I told him I planned to spend the day with him. “Sure let’s go,” he said after ensuring I had had breakfast. He glanced at my tape recorder which was the size of a briefcase and after enquiring if I was carrying batteries got into his white Fiat which he drove himself. He interviewed me during the journey waving at swarms of cyclists trying to keep pace. When he learnt that I was studying at National College he asked, “ Narasimiah innu topi hakthara?” “ Yarge,” I suggested in jest, and he burst into his trademark laughter. Rajni may not have agreed with HN’s agnostic ways but respected his simplicity. He was shooting a fight sequence for ‘Garjanai’ in a far flung studio. The interview was conducted between shots and a break when a stuntman was injured. His constant concern about my comfort was endearing. I guess that explains his popularity within and outside the industry. He doesn’t act when the cameras are off. There is an air of simplicity that shows he’s still rooted. I have interviewed him a few times and kept bumping into him at studios. He’d always smile and ask “ Chennagiddhira?”

The last fifteen years have been tumultuous personally, health wise and professionally. It started with the bombing of ‘Baba’. Rajini realised that philosophy should remain personal. It was an expensive lesson.

To be frank he’s not an interviewer’s delight. He once asked me why I didn’t ask him about Vivekananda. I told him I was there to interview the actor not the philosopher. He reluctantly understood.

There are rumours again of ill-health, but his pal Raghunandan quickly dispels them. “Shivaji is fine and resting. Yes there have been a battery of tests but they’re just routine. He may not be here for ‘Kabali’s release but will return by the month end,” says the friend Rajini never fails to meet on visits to Bangalore. ‘Kabali’ will prove whether Rajini still can or can’t.



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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 5:40:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/The-moment-of-truth/article14501013.ece

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