My first interaction with Rajinikanth was such a memorable one. I was given time to interview him at his residence at 8 am, a time unheard of in Mumbai. I was told he would talk for half an hour at home and I could go with him to the studio where he would be shooting that day, if I wished to ask more questions. I reached his house at 7.30 am to be on the safe side and there was a crowd at the gate of his residence which somewhat unnerved me.
When I was escorted in by the valet, who knew his Sir was expecting me, I asked him about the crowd. He shrugged casually and told me that they were the few who were waiting to speak to him personally. The star’s manager then told me how a minimum of two thousand followers of Rajinikanth would be at the gate every day to see him in flesh and blood, and have their photographs clicked with him. Some of them would pour out their troubles and Rajini would tell the manager to give them the help they were seeking.
It could be anything from school fees to monthly ration, to money, to buying clothes for a bride, to hospital expenses for an aging family member. The standing instruction was that nobody should go away disappointed. During the interview when I asked him about the daily giving that I had heard from his manager, he simply said: “I am nobody to give. It is He who gives. I am just a medium. Anyway please don’t write about it. I will appreciate it if we can keep our talk confined to the work I am doing as an actor.”
That was many years ago. Nothing has changed I am told in his philosophy of giving. The amounts and the scope of his philanthropy have increased manifold. With each success and each step in his climb to the position of the biggest star in the Indian entertainment industry, “it is still HE who gives”, as far as Rajinikanth and his wife Lata are concerned.
Rajinikanth has been an exceptional phenomenon in Indian Cinema. His ascent to superstardom and his amazing staying power as a phenomenally successful super star, in the fiercely competitive and ruthlessly callous industry, bears a close resemblance to the rise and success story of Amitabh Bachchan. Like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth Gaekwad was drawn to the challenging profession of acting and had no contacts in the greasepaint world to take help from. It is no wonder that Rajini always speaks with awe about Amitabh Bachchan and Amitabh speaks with true affection and admiration about Rajini.
The story that I have heard is that one of Rajini’s two brothers recognized the passion and aspiration in Rajini, and he somehow found the required resources to enroll Rajini at the Madras Film Institute. The MFI training strengthened Rajini’s belief in himself and he approached several filmmakers for a suitable break. Though he was not discouraged, it took the discerning vision of Director K.Balachander to notice the promise, in the dark and lean actor who was raring to go. There is no Rajini follower who has not seen and admired the angst of the early Rajini in his portrayal of the cancer patient in Apoorva Ragangal. It opened the doors of the cinema industry for the hardworking and ambitious actor, but he was still reaching out for that turning point that takes an actor to his chosen goal which, in Rajini’s case, was to attain stardom as a hero.
After K.Balachander, it was S.P.Muthuraman who was chosen by Destiny to play a major role in shaping the success story of Rajinikanth. Muthuraman cast him in the hero’s mould in Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri and it clicked, bringing to public knowledge a new hero bristling with rare potential and the ability and will to succeed in a savagely competitive world. There was no stopping the advancement of the gifted and dedicated actor after the switch over to the hero mould. He was noticed by the fastidious Puttanna Kanagal in Karnataka, his home state, and he played the leading role in Kanagal’s Katha Sangama, which got him much-desired media attention and good reviews. During this phase Muthuraman’s Arileinthu Aruvathu Varayum and J Mahendran’s Mullum Malarum gave Rajini the opportunity to join the league of leading men who could be counted upon to draw audiences.
In both Amitabh Bachchan’s and Rajinikanth’s career, the common strain is the relentless hard work they have put in. It is evident from their respective career graphs that they both discovered the same success formula of combining tenacity with dedicated work. To find a career to which you are adapted by nature is indeed fortuitous, but to work hard at it and find the formula for success, and sustain the success, is entirely in man’s hands. The few who know this simple secret reach where they want to reach.
It is common knowledge that producers of Rajini starrers and Amitabh Bachchan starrers have never had complaints about the actors not reporting for work on time or dilly dallying about giving dates. Nor are the producers put in stressful situations about their travel, costumes, stunts etc. which are areas in which stars generally want to have a say, if only to assert their exalted and powerful positions as stars.
In Rajini’s case, when his starrer meets with that rare let down at the box-office, it is well known that he compensates the losses in his own quiet way. Media lensman Prakash, who accompanied him quite a few times when he slipped away to his favorite hide out in Himachal Pradesh says ” You can see how free he has become now. He roams around without a wig and wants to share his happiness and good fortune with everybody.”
Deserving recipient of the Padma Bhushan, he has been honored with the titles, Kalaimamani and Kalaichelvam by the Tamil Nadu Government and the South Indian Film Artistes Association respectively. His biggest award is, in his words, the unflinching loyalty and adulation of his fans.