If Amitabh Bachchan was the angry young man in Bollywood, it had to be Rajinikanth in Kollywood. Both actors formed a mutual admiration society and their association resulted in memorable films like – “Geraftaar”, “Andhaa Kanoon” and “Hum”. The friendship has endured over the years.
However, Rajinikanth became a transformed man long ago. He was an angry young man in real life too. He was a man in a hurry – impulsive and impatient. Despite having a Dravidian black complexion (which works fine in Tamil movies), Rajinikanth is one of the few actors who also looked smart in his heyday. By the late 70s, Rajinikanth became famous but not enough to be a superstar. He got some great films to showcase his acting talent, such as Mullum Malarum, Arilirundhu Arubathu Varai or Chaturangam (all these Tamil movies became a huge draw at the box office).
Like Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna in Bollywood, Rajinikanth also made a successful transition from villainous roles to the roles of the hero. In the 80s Rajinikanth became a superstar after his movies set the cash registers ringing at the box office. That he did not have a great equation with MGR is well known – but the reason remains ambiguous.
For someone who aspired to buy a house in Poes Garden, the dream run at the box office was a great ego booster. Eventually, Rajinikanth fulfilled his dream of buying a palatial mansion in Poes Garden. He was bold and courageous and did not bow to anyone.
Somehow the screen persona of Rajinikanth seemed to have entered his psyche. It became difficult to discern between Rajini- the superstar and Rajini-the man.
Rajinikanth did not achieve a major breakthrough in Bollywood despite his Maharashtrian roots. He made the intelligent decision of never turning back on Kollywood which had given him name, fame, and prosperity. Tamil Nadu was the state that respected him, nurtured him and gave him bread and butter. So, Rajinikanth decided to pledge his loyalty to the state. His equations with TN politicians kept changing over the years. Punch dialogues became the hallmark of his movies. However, Kollywood lost Rajinikanth, a good actor, to Rajinikanth, a superstar.
Unfortunately, Rajini could never visualize himself in senior roles which his friend in Bollywood – the inimitable Amitabh Bachchan – took to, like fish to water. None of Amitabh’s contemporaries could match up Amitabh’s dexterity in doing justice to character roles. That Amitabh is prolific is another matter. But in Bollywood, roles continue to be written for him. Now how many actors have that kind of luck? So, Rajini continues to don wigs and cavorts with heroines like Anushka Shetty, Radhika Apte and Sonakshi Sinha who are half his age. He seems unmindful of the fact that age has caught up with him.
In the early 80s as Rajinikanth was hitting the popularity charts with gusto, he also became notorious for his short temper. When they were shooting for “Asli Naqli”, Shatrughan Sinha noticed that Rajinikanth was restless. Matters reached a boil when Rajini slapped a photographer on the sets. Sinha was shocked. He counselled the Tamil would-be superstar that this incident would harm his public image. As luck would have it, Rajini understood this.
In subsequent years, Rajini was a reformed man. His anger was decimated. He took periodic sojourns to the hills to meet his spiritual masters. He embraced Raghavendra Swami as his guru. He made a movie on the immortal guru of Mantralaya. He built a marriage hall in the name of Raghavendra Swami in Chennai. He has also contributed funds to a temple in Yerkadu that he surreptitiously visits. When Rajini was seriously ill with a kidney ailment, he had prayed to the powerful goddess in this shrine and had recovered.
In the last few years, Rajinikanth has become a producer – most of his recent films are either home productions or productions in which he had a stake. Even when he accepted "Chandramukhi" in 2005 to show his gratitude to thespian Sivaji Ganesan, he ensured that his slice of profits was given to him. Chandramukhi became a great blockbuster. Notwithstanding rumours about his fondness for some of his leading ladies, Rajini has successfully managed to maintain a squeaky clean image.
As an actor-producer, Rajini has made a fortune in the process. But he hasn’t distanced himself from his spiritual roots. For a man who began his life as a bus-conductor, achieving the zenith in Kollywood was not easy. It was an arduous journey. There were trials and tribulations. Periodic bouts of depression surfaced and resurfaced but these experiences resulted in the evolution of Rajinikanth as a transformed individual – someone who managed to achieve inner peace and calm despite the pressures stardom entails.
In the last few years, the Rajini style gave way to punch dialogues. One hopes that better sense prevails and Rajini accepts performance oriented roles suitable to his age that can do justice to his immense acting talent. I am sure that there is enough talent in Kollywood that can write specific characters roles for Rajini that befit his age and talent. Is Kollywood listening?