When a son, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad , the third in the family was born to Police Constable Ramoji Rao Gaekwad and his wife Ramabai in Bangalore on December 12, 1950, they had no idea that he would one day become one of the biggest super stars of Indian cinema. Likewise, those who bought tickets from him when he was a bus conductor in Route 10 A of the Bangalore Transport Service would not have dreamt that one day he would rule the silver screen. They still talk about those days when Rajinikanth (as he later became known as) impressed them so much with his antics that people traveled by his bus routes just to see him perform his duties as a conductor with extraordinary flair and style.
Shivaji Rao Gaekwad became Rajinikanth when well-known Tamil film director K Balachander gave him a break in his film, “Apoorva Raagangal” in 1975. Then followed a series of movies in which Rajinikanth played the villain. His mannerisms and crisp dialogues brought him a huge fan following. People still remember his distinctive and inimitable style of casually flipping a cigarette into his mouth. Later he graduated to being the hero.
This article in The Hindu details some of his best roles as an actor in his early years. His latest movie “Kabali” seems to have taken the world by storm. The Wall Street Journal too covers the frenzy of his fans! The movie was released across 12,000 screens in India, Malaysia and the UK. Reports vary about the collection since it’s July 22 release but there is no denying that it is raking in money- and lots of it. There is no denying the extent to which people have gone to publicize the movie and the frenzy created by “Kabali”. His fans throng the theaters from the USA to Japan to see their ” Thalaivar” in action the way only he can.
Apart from being a cult figure, Rajinikanth in real life is an unassuming 65-year-old. Many remember that he was grateful to P Raj Bahadur the driver of the bus when he was a conductor who loaned him money to move to Madras and join the Madras Film Institute in 1973 recognizing a rare talent in him. Stories abound of how the super star still is in touch with his friends from over 40 years ago when he was a nobody. Recently theater owners in Bangalore tried to get Raj Bahadur to their theater to watch his old friend in action!!
A measure of his popularity is the huge number of jokes based on Rajinikanth. Traditionally jokes about a person or a community have a derogatory touch to them. In India, for example, we generalize and joke about the stinginess of the Marwari or the dumbness of the Sardarji. This phenomenon of bias is not restricted to India. Indeed, it is universal. You have jokes about the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, the blondes and so on.
Here’s a huge difference in the legion of Rajinikanth jokes. All of them stem out of awe for his “supernatural” powers! There is nothing, it would appear, that Rajini can’t do. Here are a few:
- Rajinikanth can make a dog say, “Meow”
- Once Rajini used the support of a building to tie his shoe laces. That building is now called the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he found there were already two missed calls from Rajinikanth.
- Mona Lisa got her smile from Rajinikanth.
- The sun doesn’t rise until Rajinikanth says, “Good Morning!”
Of course, there are thousands more developed over the decades, being topical with the changing times! The best way to conclude this post is by relating one that sums up the phenomenon called Rajinikanth. His assistant says , ” Sir, there are thousands of jokes about you” to which Rajini replies, ” There are only two or three- the rest are facts”!!!!
Debdutta Ray said:
Prem, enjoyed reading your take on the Rajinikanth phenomenon. Appreciate the amount of background research that must have gone into writing it, and that too in a couple of days! I must also complement you on your post. You do write very readable prose!
Prem Rao said: