India’s biggest superstar and therefore one of the biggest stars in the world, Shah Rukh Khan recently paid tribute to another superstar via the Lungi Dance – the tribute was to Rajinikanth, aka Thalaiva aka The Boss. In an industry crowded with super-sized egos and myriad insecurities, this gives us only a hint of the enormity of Rajinikanth’s popularity and his super-superstar status.
The fact is that a superstar such as SRK felt the need to play the Rajini card in order to endear himself to the South Indian movie fan; to ensure that more people from there would deign to watch his Chennai Express. Other than Jackie Chan, Rajni is the highest paid actor in Asia. What is it about this unashamedly bald, nondescript looking 62 year old man that makes him the object of such remarkable devotion and reverence?
Rajinikanth fans simply adore him
The special adoration that we Indians have for our actors is of course well known. The phenomenon is probably even more pronounced in the South where former actors win elections with landslide majorities and continue life as highly successful politicians. Even in a land where fanatical devotion to cine stars is common, the Rajini phenomenon is in a class by itself.
A couple of years ago, when Rajinikanth had been ill and undergoing treatment for a kidney ailment in Singapore, his fans were so happy and relieved that the superstar overcome his illness that they proceeded to shave their heads – all 1008 of them! They offered prayers at the temple of Lord Muruga at Palani in Tamil Nadu and also arranged free meals for some 1,500 people.
According to some reports, in the Kolar District of Karnataka, Rajini “devotees” dedicated a temple to him. This was supposed to be for the prosperity and well being of Rajinikanth and the temple was properly consecrated by the chanting of Vedic mantras and other prayers.
Rajini is…. Just Rajini!
Born Shivajirao Gaikwad, him humble beginnings as a bus conductor in Bangalore are well known. His impoverished childhood, the true blue rags-to-riches story that is his – this is the stuff of legends. The superstar is probably best known for his Tamil films, but Tamil was a language he learnt as an adult at the recommendation of film director K Balachander.
He unaffectedly and unabashedly appears in public shorn of any star props. He lets the media photograph him as he is: in comfortable, traditional dress, without wigs to cover his bare head, looking his age! One cannot help but contrast this nonchalant refusal to be anything but himself, with the carefully coiffed and presented sartorial elegance of our other true blue superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Big B never appears in public unless he is perfectly turned out; not a hair out of place, beard perfectly shaped to make the best of a lined countenance and with the appropriate matching eye-wear. Whereas Mr. Bachchan’s personal stylist evidently has a full time job, Rajini’s personal stylist is probably twiddling his or her thumbs.
Rajini is famous even in Japan where he is well known for his film Muthu. He is known as the “Dancing Maharaja” there.
And then there are the Rajini jokes! Apparently Rajini’s website is the only one that runs without the internet! Rajini once warned a girl to be “good” or else – the result was Mother Teresa! Also Rajinikanth doesn’t wear a watch. He decides what time it is. And it was Rajinikanth who killed the dead sea.
But jokes apart, Rajinikanth is the only actor who features in a CBSE textbook, in a chapter entitled From Bus Conductor to Superstar. This is meant to highlight the importance of the dignity of work to students – certainly a salutary story.
No one can do what Rajini can do
His style, his mannerisms, his gravity defying stunts, his punch lines and his persona have all spawned a generation of imitators and mimics. But no one can quite replicate the matchless manner that is uniquely and essentially Rajini!
This 60 year old man can brazenly appear in a film as a young man and romance women half his age or less, and no one raises an eyebrow. He is Rajini – he can carry it off. In fact just being in the same movie as Rajini has launched the careers of countless starlets!
Even off screen, he is well known for his philanthropy and deep interest in spirituality. He and his success story are an inspiration to legions of fans, making them believe that it is possible to achieve success even for an ordinary person coming from nowhere. Always humble, he is known to be consistently punctual; never keeping lesser mortals waiting for shooting or other events.
While his acts of charity and support for worthy causes is well known, the superstar steadfastly refuses to join politics in spite of various entreaties and requests. And his next film? Well rumour has it that God himself will be directing it.
By – Reena Daruwalla