How Rajinikanth — even as a politician — may defy logic but isn't illogical
Tamil politics is up for interesting times, especially after Jaya’s death and Karunanidhi’s almost retirement.
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Politics joins Rajinikanth! It may sound a ludicrous statement, but as social media went berserk with these very words last week when the Tamil superstar decided to join politics after two decades of "will-he, won’t-he" moments, it’s all but apparent that in the Rajini world the unusual is the normal — and the rational the incoherent!
Rajini has always been like that — a phenomenon bereft of any analysis. For, how else can one explain why he did not retire as a Marathi bus conductor in Bengaluru, and instead become "the superstar who can have theatres go up in flames if he is ever killed at the end of a film", as Manu Joseph writes in a 2010 essay, much to his exasperation?
But then "superstardom" is like that — more so in south India where the death of MGR overwhelmed 31 people to commit suicide in 1987. The closest the north could ever go was when Amitabh Bachchan was fighting for his life at a Bombay hospital after a mishap on the sets of Manmohan Desai’s Coolie in 1983. Maybe it's because the stardom in the north is mostly PR-driven. A star appears when his film is about to release. The relationship is thus product-based. So is the stardom. Also, Bollywood stars — with their obsession, real or manufactured, with toned muscle, suave look, et al — make a conscious effort to look "different".
Rajinikanth, on the other hand, is just like any of his fans. He is almost bald, with whatever hair left turned white, his clothes discreetly simple, and body frail, worn out and unremarkable.
"If Kamal had said, ‘Don’t cast Rajini,’ nobody would have taken me!" Photo: PTI
This awareness of being "different" is inherent in the psyche of the north. Thus when a Shah Rukh Khan gets detained at an American airport, he gets perturbed.
All hell breaks loose. How can a "mega star" be treated so disdainfully? In down south, Rajini appears self-assured. He doesn’t play victim. All he has to do — as Rajini did in 1992 when he was told that no traffic could move for the next 30 minutes till then chief minister J Jayalalithaa drove past — is get out of his car, cross the intersection, go to a kiosk, buy a packet of cigarettes, and start smoking.
Soon there’s a stampede-like situation and the CM is stranded. Cops realise their mistake and beg him to drive away!
Naman Ramachandran, a Rajini biographer, brings out another humble side of Rajini when he recalls filmmaker P Vasu asking him why he appears in public with his white hair and beard. "He could have said that he was just acting his age, but he didn’t. He said that he was allergic to dyes," said Vasu.
MK Raghavendra, a noted film scholar, believes there’s another reason for Rajini’s popularity. "He is Marathi-speaking, but he embodies Dravidian values in his persona. He may have grown older but his flamboyance is still inimitable and it represents Dravidian in a way that age cannot dull," says he.
For him, the stars in Bollywood rely entirely on their personal charisma — rather than identity groups — which fades with time and age. "Amitabh is himself, but Rajini is Dravidian."
With Kamal already showing his eagerness to join politics, the iconic filmy rivalry will now continue in politics too. "I welcome brother Rajini’s sense of social responsibility and political entry," wrote Kamal on Twitter.
Interestingly, Rajini began his filmy career as an anti-hero in a 1975 film, Apoorva Raagangal, starring Kamal. After working together in several movies, the two decided to part ways. But, they remain close friends, with Rajini confessing he would not have become the superstar he is had Kamal not supported him initially. "If Kamal had said, ‘Don’t cast Rajini,’ nobody would have taken me!"
Maybe that’s why Rajini was in the audience when Kamal shared his political plans late last year. And with Rajini coming up with spiritual politics and Kamal left-of-centre, some say Kejriwal-type, Tamil politics is up for interesting times, especially after Jaya’s death and Karunanidhi’s almost retirement. As of now, Rajini has gotten serious with having a party name and logo.