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Tracking Rajinikanth in Malaysia

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We chance upon a meeting with the Superstar in Malacca, where he is shooting for Kabali.

My life has turned into an action film. I, along with four other journalists from India, am zipping through the city; chasing a convoy, carrying bodyguards and Malaysian officials. Our driver Nava Rathnam is our Schumacher and the Malacca roads have turned into his race track. Our destination? The Governor’s house. Our goal? To meet Rajinikanth.

The star is in Malacca, a historic city in Malaysia, to shoot for  Kabali. The news had trickled through WhatsApp; though we had been sent to cover an international motorcycle race and write about Malaysian culture, our journey has taken a filmi twist ever since this news reached us.

Today, luck arrives in the form of a Kabali production van, sporting a poster of Rajinikanth. It whizzes past our car and is on its way to Johor Bahru, a Malaysian state. The crew is rushing to meet the Governor. Thanks to Nava’s driving skills, we reach the Malacca Governor’s house just in time to see the superstar step out of his car. Our request is simple: one word with him and, if lucky, a picture.

Shutterbugs buzz around the star, clad in white shirt and pyjamas, smiling at us benevolently. Within a few minutes, he vanishes into the chamber with the Governor. “We are media from India. Let us in!” we beg the burly Malaysian bodyguard, who snarls in response.

“There is a back door to the hall, near the kitchen,” whispers a fan. We sneak into the kitchen and wait. And then the door opens. We look up hopefully. “Only one is allowed!” warns the guard. I scoot in; Rajinikanth and the Governor are immersed in a post-lunch chat. The actor tells him about his films, his career and life. “The last time I came here for a shoot was in the late 70s. I am 60 plus now,” Rajini smiles, stroking his beard. I try to get his attention from the other end of the room.  “Can I talk to you for a minute, sir?”  He beckons me to come over.

I walk up to him, jostling past giggling girls and waiters. But, once next to him, I freeze. The dialogues of  Muthu, Baasha and  Thalapathi echo in my ears, although the man before me resembles none of those heroes. His smile is warm and there is a friendly twinkle in his eyes. “A big fan sir...” my voice trails off and before I could finish my sentence I am whisked away by an official! “She has not taken the photo,” a voice calls from behind. It belongs to none other than the Superstar!

The official reluctantly lets me go, and I run back to Rajinikanth to click a selfie. Later, we manage to gather a few quick words from him. “Almost seventy-five per cent of  Kabali is shot in Malaysia,” he tells me. And, what can your fans expect? I get a child-like smile and a thumbs-up gesture for an answer.

Outside, the crowd has grown thicker. Rajasri, a Malaysian Tamil, is beaming with joy because she has managed to click a picture with him. “I have grown up watching his films,” she says excitedly.

The star is not new to Malaysia; he is equally popular among Malaysians and Tamils. Malaysia has a large Tamil community, says Iqbal, my tour guide. “Many of them were brought by the British who colonised parts of Malaysia. They were recruited in government departments. Since then, Tamil culture has held sway here.”

Rajinikanth is very much a part of that culture. The streets in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca are filled with shops selling CDs of his earlier films. His posters deck the walls of these shops. “He is a star for the entire world. But, he does not carry that aura,” states the Malacca Governor Tun Mohd Khalil Yaakob, an ardent fan of Tamil movies. “I love  Muthu and  Baasha. These films talk about social issues and class divide. More than the star, it is the man that I like.”

The star and the Governor move to the gates. Rajinikanth shakes hands with him. The press huddles around him, but before they can get a word from him, he gets into his car. The windows are raised and the white Mercedes drives away. In a few hours, he will don the make-up and transform into Kabali.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 6:38:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-rendezvous-with-rajini/article7818205.ece

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