‘A great celebrity, who remembers his roots... and his friends’

A file photo of a garlanded poster of Rajinikanth’s film Lingaa at Lavanya theatre in Bengaluru.  

When Rajinikanth worked in Bengaluru, issuing bus tickets as a conductor with the BTS (now BMTC), his friends and colleagues knew him as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. Those who were aware of his struggles as a youth and continue to be friends with the ‘Thalaivar’, recall the man Shivaji Rao behind the larger-than-life Rajinikanth.

“My real name is Venugopal. So till date, I am Venu to him and he is my Shivaji,” said actor-producer Ashok. “We were not just classmates, but also roommates in the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce’s film institute. Shivaji and I were in the Kannada batch and Chiranjeevi was our junior.” They have been friends ever since. “We were notorious on the campus, and books have been written about our escapades,” added Mr. Ashok, who expressed his happiness when he heard that his friend had been honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. “He should have got it a long time ago.”

Rocky road

The actor-producer is one of the few people who has seen Rajinikanth transform from a bus conductor to a superstar. His path to super-stardom was not easy and he was often met with prejudice. Cinematographer B.S. Basavaraj recalls an incident in 1975, when he was still an up-and-coming actor.

“It was during a shoot of a Kannada film at Prasad Studio, Chennai, when Shivaji visited us. The director wanted to cast him, but the producer was not willing as he found Shivaji’s complexion too dark. And today, he is is the winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award,” said Mr. Basavaraj.

Street cricket

Assistant director Huli Chandrashekar is thrilled for his childhood friend. “We were neighbours in Hanumanthanagar where I still live. We are 70 years old now. Our homes were just one street apart,” he said. As young boys, they were part of the street cricket team.

“We were a group of five to six boys who would take off to the Harohara mountain to play cricket. We do meet often and every time he comes to Bengaluru, he makes it a point to meet all of us,” said Mr. Chandrashekar

Watching movies

“As a youngster, Shivaji was energetic and over enthusiastic. We would sit in movie tents and watch screenings of films of Dr. Rajkumar, Sivaji Ganesan, and MGR and then head to a local bar to discuss cinema. Some days we would be so broke that we would sit outside the tent and listen to the dialogues,” he recalled.

In a fight

According to Mr. Chandrashekar, Shivaji was a man to have in a fight. “One night we were at our regular Naidu bar. Some man provoked Shivaji and he took on a group of tough men on his own. I was impressed by his strength and agility.”

His friend Vijay Kumar recalled an incident outside Vijay Vani studios in Chennai. “We saw a huge cut-out of MGR and Shivaji asked us, if we too would have cut-outs like that. And we all laughed. Today, he is a great celebrity, but one who remembers his roots. And treats his friends with the same love that he had when he was young.”

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 5:31:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/a-great-celebrity-who-remembers-his-roots-and-his-friends/article34227647.ece

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