Before leaving to
Frankly, Rajini may remember his pals from the bus conductor days, still love and respect brother, and the rugged childhood he grew up into, but he certainly forgot how he rose as a star and became not just an idol, but a family member in the households of many south Indians or those of that origin all around the world. Not to mention a bunch of Japanese. But they are weird, so let’s leave them out of the equation for now.
When he first appeared in a supporting role Apoorva Raganggal, he was just another guy in torn jacket who dies standing. When he appeared as sadistic anti-hero in Moondru Mudichu who’s responsible for Kamal’s death, he already made a three year old boy cry. I still remember the tears. Then, he went on, appearing in one film after another, building fanbase, converting nay-sayers and fair-skin worshippers, appearing with other stars and conquering their fans, moving forward shoulder to shoulder with his buddy/rival Kamal, till the Tamizh film fans, which has lost MGR to politics, and endorsed a brilliant actor called Sivaji Ganesan to wear silly wigs and sillier costumes, realised that these two are a force to reckon with.
While Rajini proved that he can be a damned good actor if he damned well pleases, he was more concentrating on crowd pleasing stuff. Armed with cigarette flipping gimmick that nobody got tired of for decades, he created the orphaned illiterate persona that takes on big guns. An underdog bent on avenging his murdered parents, sister, brother, buddy (restricted to human being, though he spent an entire movie chasing after a baby elephant not for retribution purpose).
That’s the image of late 70s early 80s Rajini – his teeth bared to express intense displeasure of having kick bad guys ass again, messy hair showing life does not warrant time to go to the hair saloon, simple costume when who needs fashion when it’s going to be splattered red. Needless to say, males of his age then (20s/30s) were his biggest fans when they are not picking fights with the Kamal fans of the same demography.
Post marriage (1980) Rajini was slowly shedding off the “I am an angry orphan, hear me roar” image to something more family friendly. Though there were comedy sidekicks in his movie, comedy became his sidekick. It was his dagger when he was not blowing the shotgun. His costume got better, his hair a lot more in place and he smiled a lot. Killing bad guys was no longer a major pre-occupation. His characters accept challenges like living as a simpleton in a village, or to convert a woman into queen. He occasionally goes back to his root like going vigilante in Nan Sigappu Manithan or though once, he let go of a bad guy in the end of Kai Kodukkum Kai (at the same climax a bull killed another bad guy in what may be termed as a separate incident). With brilliant composer Ilayaraja’s backing, he gets to mouth many beautiful melodious songs and that won many music fans.
Female fans who are deeply disturbed by Kamal’s penchant to do mouth to mouth rescucitation with conscious heroines, took to Rajini as their ideal hero. Still, kids were torn between the two, with my family sticking firmly to Kamal. We had a great time making fun of Rajini, whatever foible he had then, picking up fights with his fans, especially those who are smaller. I still do that with my hardcore Rajini fan wife.
Towards late 80s, Rajini parted his hair in the middle, perhaps symbolically as he took dual acting assignments, one in Tamizh, and another in Hindi film, which may have contributed a lot to the amnesia that he was fine actor. Suddenly my brothers and I, hardcore Kamal fans then, started to grudgingly admire him. I suppose this happened to Kamal fans of that time elsewhere too. Admit it, Rajini is not going to win an Oscar anytime soon, but dammit he does have something in him doesn’t he.
By this time, his smile has become more charming. The everyday man look has evolved into a manly handsome matinee mug. His urgent style of walking was included in his “style” list. He started mouthing searing dialogues, the way Eastwood would do with his .44s. He even can manage few easy steps of dancing. And his comedic skill, most of all, won us. And he was really working on it in the late 80s shitty films like Panakkaran, Siva or Dharmattin Talaivan which we watched repeatedly for his comic antics. He’s no threat against the post Nayagan Kamal. We can always go to two theatres, or rent two VHS tapes.
As he entered the 90s, he took last few shots in the dramatics; beating the crap out of his brothers with teary eyes in Dharma Dhurai; making sacrifices for his buddy in Thalabathi; refusing to be henpecked in Mannan and willing to be totally in white traditional garb in Ejamaan. His biggest break, as if he needed one, came when he played a don in Badsha. Till then, my dad, an MGR fanatic and hardcore Kamal fan, broke down and pledged loyalty to Rajini. Imagine what it would have done to the others. His fans are now everywhere. A year later, a bunch of Japanese took to liking Muthu and retitled it Dancing Maharaja. That’s like retitling Nayagan as Singing Godfather.
What followed was lazy foray into occasional acting gigs with scripts he endorsed. Arunachalam was tolerable, but not the hedonistic women hating Padaiyappa. Yet, fandom was growing. Younger heroes declared, directly and indirectly, than they want to become the next Rajinikanth. Becoming the next great actor was a thing of the past; becoming Rajini is the current goal. They are fans of him, these young stars. Imagine their own fans.
He became an everyday subject of conversation in most families, in the same tone you’d use on your uncle, or a brother, or in my wife’s case, a father. Little toddlers love him, and eats only when his song is played on TV. People hardly say Rajini now; they have joined the chorus of those who say Rajini-sir or Rajini uncle, and even Rajini-taataa. During the last ten years there were scores of stage events featuring the Tamizh Nadu chief minister, with Rajini and Kamal as the main guests. The TV shows of the stage shows would edit it in a way that both of their speech would appear right at the end; and we would all wait, sitting through idiotic dances, boring speeches, stupid jokes; sacrifices we make so that we could see our two beloved stars’ speeches.
So, Rajini, no need confusion as to why the fans love you so much. Just get better, come back and do what you do the best: entertain us. And those weird Japanese.