‘Naan oru thadava sonna, nooru thadava sonna maadiri’ (‘If I say something once, it’s like I’ve said it a hundred times’). When Rajinikanth said these words in the 1994 Tamil film Baasha, his fans were ecstatic, and another chapter was added to the ‘Rajini’ phenomenon.
The country’s highest-paid actor who rose from a very ordinary background to become one of India’s most adored superstars, Rajinikanth was born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in Bangalore on December 12, 1950. His father Ramoji Rao was a police constable. His mother Jijabai died before he turned 10. Rajinikanth had a tough childhood. He studied at a government school inBangalore. Later, after doing various odd jobs he was employed as a bus conductor with the Bangalore Transport Service (BTS).
Naman Ramachandran in his book Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography writes: “It was at the BTS that Shivaji met the person who he describes today as his best friend. Raja Badhar was the driver on the bus on which Shivaji was the conductor . . . ‘There was no one faster than him in issuing tickets,’ remembers Badhar. ‘He would give out tickets with a flourish, return change in style. It was all about style. Passengers would look on in amazement'."
Meanwhile, he started doing mythological plays on the side, and acted in various roles thanks to the support he got from playwright and director Topi Muniappa. He later joined the Madras Film Institute. Tamil filmmaker K. Balachander who noticed Rajinikanth’s performance in a play urged the actor to master Tamil. Rajinikanth made his cinematic debut in the 1975 Tamil film ‘Apoorva Raagangal’, starring Kamal Haasan and directed by K. Balachander. Rajinikanth played the minor role of an abusive spouse in the film which went on to win a national award. He followed this with the Kannada film ‘Katha Sangama’ (directed by Puttanna Kanagal) and the Telugu film ‘Anthuleni Katha’ (directed by Balachander).
In the initial phase of his career he played many negative roles. “Rajini played negative roles with ease, and it was just such a villainous role that first offered him a chance to flick his cigarette in the air and flourish his sunglasses. The film was ‘Moondru Mudichu’…in which he played the friend who creates trouble between Kamal Haasan and Sridevi. The movie became a hit and established Rajinikanth as a super villain,” Manisha Lakhe wrote in Forbes India magazine in September 2010.
In the 1977 film ‘Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri’, directed by S.P. Muthuraman, he played arguably his first positive role. Muthuraman went on to make more than two dozen films with Rajinikanth. In 1978, he played the role of the main hero in ‘Bairavi’. He made his Malayalam debut in ‘Allauddinum Albhutha Vilakkum’. In all Rajinikanth has acted in more than 170 films. These include films in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam.
He married Latha Rangachari in 1981. His reputation as a bankable star began to grow in the 1980s. Some of his popular films over the years include ‘Endhiran’ (2010 film directed by Shankar in which Rajinikanth has a dual role as a scientist and a humanoid); ‘Sivaji’ (2007 Tamil film directed by Shankar that has Rajinikanth playing the role of a techie working abroad who returns home and fights the corrupted system ); ‘Chandramukhi’ (2005 Tamil remake of a Kannada film has him playing a dual role of a psychiatrist who disguises himself as a king to cure a mentally-ill woman); ‘Padayappa’ (1999 Tamil film described as a “heady cocktail of comedy, action, songs, sentiment and the usual mannerisms” by a critic); ‘Annamalai’ (1992 saga of two friends ); and ‘Thalapathi’ (1991 Mani Ratnam film said to be loosely based on friendship between Karna and Duryodhana in the epic Mahabharata.).
Rajinikanth acted in the Bengali film ‘Bhagya Debata’ that was released in 1995. He starred in the Tamil film ‘Muthu’ which was directed by KS Ravikumar and later dubbed in Japanese. He is known to have a dedicated fan following inJapan.
“His ‘Billa’, an almost frame-by-frame copy of the Bachchan-starrer ‘Don’, made more at the box office than the original. ‘Billa’, in fact, marked the beginning of the Rajini cult. It was clear from here on that he could carry the weight of a movie by himself,” Lakhe wrote.
Film critics and social commentators have tried to come up theories that explain the fan hysteria that surrounds Rajinikanth. Deconstructing the frenzy, film critic Gayatri Sankar wrote in 2011: “On screen . . . he [Rajinikanth] convincingly romances girls half his age. However, what is unique and praiseworthy is that Rajini isn’t someone who is conscious of looking older and different in real life from his screen self. He still rules the hearts of millions and is followed by a sea of humanity even if he is sporting grey stubble and a bald head. Surprisingly, the man has never been part of any controversy… Seldom do entertainment professionals manage to live a spotless life. Perhaps that is something that makes Rajinikanth a demigod.”
Also on this day:
1919 — B.B. Nimbalkar, Indian cricketer, was born
1905 — Mulk Raj Anand, Indian writer in English, was born
1940 — Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party leader and union defence minister, was born
1981 — Yuvraj Singh, Indian cricketer, was born
2005 — Ramanand Sagar, Indian film and television director, passed away