The Legend of Rajinikanth Turns 68: Happy Birthday Thalaiver

Rajinikanth 68th Birthday today.

“Is it number 1 or number 2? I am the only super one existing!” There is a little indication of self-confidence in his voice as he speaks out the lines to the crowd which is eagerly waiting to round it up. That line is quoted from S. Shankar’s dystopian 2.0. This is not a man but a robot with updated software and lines of red hair on his head. There is no reward for predicting right who the robot is. He is none other than one-size-fits-all Rajinikanth who celebrates his 68th birthday today.

Also featuring Pakshirajan officially known as Akshay Kumar who is an avowed save-the birds campaigner. He launched what has been termed as an ornithological tsunami during his fight against the mobile devices, 2.0 to be exact, is what the Rajini’s devotees have been eagerly waiting. The success of 2.0 is attributed to its ability to follow the below-par box office display of Kaala that was launched in June. It is a rare happening for the Tamil star to release two of such the same year and in quick succession. It is also a rare occurrence to have poor ticket sales similar to that of Pa. Ranjith directorial Kaala.

Declared as the most expensive movie in India costing over Rs 500 crore, 2.0 has reached a global-office mark of Rs 600 crore as of today and it backs up Brand Rajini as the most bankable movie legends in India. “I will take your screen into another level,” said Chitti in 2.0 making the bold statement to beat birdman Pashirajan. He has made quite a good start as things stand since the fil has dominated the box-office for some time now.

Fans of Rajini film say that it is not just a film but a state event. It is more than a festival and many times worth celebrating. The star who is ageing slowly crowned with the lofty status normally reserved for the gods and goddesses and has been defined by people as a cult, half fantasy and half reality whose body complexion which is slightly larger than normal goes against all the logic. Many adjectives have been used to describe this one man called Rajinikanth whose name has been used as a shorthand for a traditional force. People have still in a confusion just how this ex-bus conductor has emerged to be one of the iconic cinema artists in India. “He used the elevator to go ahead of his competitors who used staircases,” said the veteran K. Balachander. Balachander had all the reasons to describe the rise of Rajini since he was the one who introduced him together with others into the cinema industry back in 1975.

Fans believed that Rajini’s film is more than just a film. They describe it as something more of a festival or an event worth celebrating. (Express archive photo)

Apoorya Raagangal played a leading role with Kamal Haasan as a young Sanjay Dutt while the new recruit Shivaji Rao, famously known as Rajinikanth was in charge of the secondary billing. This promising young artist was noticed by the filmmaker and even the entire public despite being allotted limited screenplay time. In some of his debut films, he played the small roles such as half a dozen sinister and depicted the unforgiving type of a character. He never forgives and forgets but somehow find his way back to revenge.

The Rajinikanth debut was particularly memorable. He first featured in a film where he acted as a husband to Srividya in Apoorya Raagangal and appeared for more than half of the film time. He depicted a long-lost husband who abuses his marriage. After his debut film, he played violent and negative roles in other films. All the good-boy roles were played by Kamal Haasan. In Moondu Mudichu released in 1976, he found himself within a love triangle surrounded by K. Balachander, Kamal Haasan and Sridevi. In one of the scenes, Rajini’s ex-lover didn’t save one of his best friend named Haasan from drowning. The ending of the actions sent Sridevi back to be embraced by his father. She is his current mother. He again appeared in the Avargal film directed by K. Balachander and released in 1977 where he played as a sadistic husband to actress Sujatha.  He also featured as a rowdy ruffian in 16 Vayathinile released the same year. On the same year also came the Aadu Puli Attam where his strongest opposition was Kamal Haasan. It has been reported that the phrase “This is Rajini style” originated from the very film.

Rajinikanth was very successful in the 1980s. It was still the same period that he made a breakthrough in his career after the discovery of Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay. The man was described as an angry young man of Don, Deewar and Zanjeer. All these releases were meant for Tamil Cinema which changed the formerly known as a bad boy of Kollywood into a celebrity. Rajinikanth courted Bollywood and many others such as Hum, Chalbazaz and Andha. However, he has never been accepted by the Hindi audiences.

Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth in Andha Kanoon. (Express archive photo)

Notice the progress he made in life. From his humble background and many years spent in the wilderness as a coolie as well as a bus conductor and emerged all the way to become an icon and a celebrity who is the talk of the day. His story is more of a myth and no one could have believed it if this Tamil cinema actor was never born. No one would have written a fictitious story about him. Maybe S. Shankar would have tried through his technical wizardry. “This boy has an unusual burning sensation in his eyes. One day he will be a hero.” Those were K. Balachander’s prediction way back before Rajinikanth became somebody. His words have been proven right.

Today, even many years after the dismiss of K. Balachander, his spirit must be pleased as his students such as S. Shankar and Pa Ranjith have become the new-age filmmaker and have taken it to another level. While sticking to the original megastar’s appeal, these two filmmakers have a way of mixing the film’s storyline with sci-fi, 3D, fifth dimension, Dalit politics, and Tamil identity. We are all aware that Rajinikanth-on-screen is fond of being close to the small guy. A number of Rajini’s hits defy the notion that justice only comes through the right systems. He has his own way of achieving the same. After 40 years and featured in hundreds of films, Rajinikanth’s personality has become the icon that Shankar had to depict him as a fictitious figure. A scene in 2.0 shows robots which are set free before Pakshirajan. Thousands of Rajinikanth came as if one was not enough to meet the public’s expectations. By a coincident, in one of Pa Ranjith recent Kaala, holding on to the Dharavi strongman’s assurance, everyone in the crowd wears the Kaala mask. That marks a dramatic climax of the film as they engage the land-grabbing politician Hari together with his army.

The message is home. Just one Rajinikanth will not do it on his own. He signals his maker to produce many more. Is Dr Vaseegaran hearing this?

(Shaikh Ayaz is a renowned writer and journalist headquarterd in Mumbai)

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