Superstar Rajinikanth defies all conventional analyses—no one has reigned Supreme for as long as he has in the world of Indian cinema. With over 150 films under his belt, many of them blockbusters, he still plays the hero at seventy, and the devotion of his legions of fans has not waned during the forty-odd years of his stardom.
In a state that saw the Dravidian self-respect movement propagate atheism, fans worship his cut-outs and bathe them with milk and beer, as if he were their God. In a society famous for its pride in its language, It is curious that a Kannadiga whose family hails from Maharashtra, an outsider, should emerge as a ‘thalaivar’, or leader. With the death of the charismatic J. Jayalalithaa, a former actor, and M. Karunanidhi, who was a scriptwriter for films—leaders of the AIADMK and DMK respectively (The two main Dravidian political parties that have been ruling Tamil Nadu for more than sixty years)—rajinikanth’s fans believed there was a political vacuum that only he could fill. While the actor has been dabbling in politics, by making pronouncements on certain issues, including jayalalithaa’s policies, the Cauvery water sharing problem between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, bomb attacks in the state and so on, it was only in 2017 that he promised to form his own party and contest all 234 seats in the 2021 assembly elections.
For decades, his fans had been awaiting this moment, believing that he could solve all their problems and give them a life free from strife and governance free of corruption. His fan clubs went into high gear to turn themselves into the foundation of their thalaivar’s political party, attracting more members and working on the ground all over the state. For three years, every utterance of rajinikanth’s was analysed and debated even more vociferously than anything he has said in the past.
Political opponents questioned his experience and pointed out that (even after forty years) he was an outsider who did not understand the undercurrents of Tamil Nadu politics; his detractors criticized the lack of a clear ideology behind his promise of ‘spiritual politics’; political analysts who saw that rajini was close to the BJP anticipated that he might enter into an alliance with them, allowing the right-wing party a foothold in the state.
Ultimately, however, the seventy-year-old superstar withdrew from the political arena citing health concerns. The fans were hugely disappointed but understanding. With their continuing support and excitement for the next rajini-starrer, he remains a giant in the field of entertainment. Rajinikanth: a life is the best account yet of the man who was born Shivaji Rao gaekwad—once a Coolie and a bus conductor in Bangalore and now virtually a God in Tamil Nadu.
Rajinikanth: A Life by Vaasanthi Sundaram
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