The height of emotional
response that 'MGR' could evoke was evident when in 1987 during a critical illness, 22 people committed suicide in the hope
their deaths would save him! Stories of poor people selling their blood in order to get money to see his films on first release
Born Marudur Gopalamenon
Ramachandran in Kandy, Sri Lanka, his family moved to Tamil Nadu where they lived in poverty. When he was 6, he joined a theatre
group - the Madurai Original Boys. Here he picked up acting, dancing and swordplay.
MGR made his screen debut in Ellis R. Duncan's Sati Leelavathi (1936) but his first major breakthrough
came much, much later with Rajakumari (1947).
MGR's 1950s screen persona in adventure films constructed an image of political as well as physical invincibility.
Often the themes of his films were derived from heroic ballads which are part of the oral tradition of rural Tamil Nadu. For
example - Madurai Veeran (1956), one of his most popular films, is based on the legend of Madurai Veeran, a popular
deity of Southern Tamil Nadu. His legend has been the subject of various ballads and plays and this was the second filmed
version of the story.
In the 1960s MGR turned to more 'realistic' fantasies mostly in a contemporary setting often playing someone from
the oppressed class - a peasant, taxi driver or fisherman. For millions of fans, his image as the knight in shining armour,
saving damsels in distress and being totally dutiful towards his mother was in fact a reality. Mother tongue, motherland and
motherhood were what he based his popularity on. To quote M.S.S. Pandian in The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and
"The social universe
of the MGR is a universe of asymmetrical power.......The conflict between the upper caste/ class oppressors and MGR as a subaltern,
and its resolution forms the core of the film. MGR, in the course of the conflict, appropriates several signs or symbols of
authority or power from those who dominate."
MGR used food, colour patterns (black and red, symbols of the DMK) and masquerades (often through double roles
of oppressor and oppressed) to construct this universe. In Engal Thangam (1970) for example, MGR playing a truck driver
Thangam, fights, sings, cares for the poor and preaches against smoking and drinking. The DMK colours - black ands. He even
appears as himself in the opening scene at a Small Savings Function. Thangam is in the audience and even refers to him as
'vathiyar' (teacher), the reverent title by which he was known to his fans!
MGR had joined the DMK
party in 1953 and remained its member till 1972. This included a brief stint in the Madras Legislative Council from 1962 -
64, being a member of the Legislative Assembly (1967) when the party won the state elections and the DMK Treasurer (1970).
He fell out with the DMK chief Karunanidhi and used the DMK's propaganda idiom against the DMK itself in Nam
Naadu (1969). In 1972 he set up the rival Anna - DMK party claiming allegiance to the DMK's founder, the late Annadurai.
In 1977, his party renamed
the AIADMK won the state elections in alliance with Indira Gandhi's Congress party. MGR became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu
and was re-elected for three consecutive terms. As Chief Minister, he organized a totalitarian crackdown on all political
dissent while introducing populist schemes such as the Chief Minister's Nutritious Meal Programme.
Having survived a bullet
wound when he was shot at by fellow actor M.R. Radha in 1967 (which affected his speech), he achieved demi-god status following
a paralytic stroke in 1984 which he survived for three years thus acquiring the label 'thrice born'. When he died in 1987,
his funeral procession was attended by over 2 million people!
A temple has been built
in Madras with MGR as deity.
LIGHTLY ON THE THALAIVAR!
A bit of a recluse, Rajni may be. But everyone who’s had the privelege of a darshan with the thalaivar
has come away with a spring in his step and a warm glow in the heart. Warm, friendly and affable, he’s the sort who
deserves all the superstardom he’s earned. Such men, indeed, are rare...
It’s been 25 years, believe it or not, since the Periya Thalaivar (big boss) made his debut with an inconsequential
role in a Tamil film. From villain and antihero to blockbuster supernova, the gifted actor has made the most of every outing.
And he’s deserved every bit of the success. SCREEN analyses why...
It's a wide angle shot. A
man is seen opening a gate, dressed in rags and smoking a beedi. A terminally ill disease writ large on his face. Precisely
on that frame appears the Sanskrit term shruthi bedham, coupled with an off screen voice, an undoubtedly inauspicious start
to any debutante’s first screen appearance, especially in the maiden frame.
The film was Apoorva Raagangal
(1975). The film itself was thick in controversy, and nobody took notice of the young newcomer, who was on screen barely for
fifteen minutes, muttered a few apologetic words to the wronged woman and ultimately died an unsung, unheroic death.
No one in the audience, even
in his wildest imagination, would have thought this nondescript man, who had won the least attention in the film would ever
win over millions of hearts in Tamil Nadu. Or ride the state like a colossus. Or even that his sway over the masses would
be so intense that he could rewrite the fate of Tamil Nadu politics, exactly two decades after the release of his first film.
K Balachander, the director
who has an uncanny knack of creating stars, first met Rajnikant at the film institute, where he was a student. Balachander
glanced at the dark young man and crisply asked him to meet him in his office the next day. When Rajnikant walked into his
office gingerly, Balachander informed him he was going to act in his next film. Overwhelmed by the sudden offer from a ‘big’
director, Rajnikant just could not believe his ears. It’s a feeling Rajni still recounts whenever in the mood of reminiscence.
Later, Balachander confided
in his close friend and associate Ananthu, “Watch out! There is a fire in the young man’s eyes. One day he will
take Tamil Nadu by storm.” How true the prediction turned out!
Born in Bangalore, in a lower
middle class conservative Maharashtrian family, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad (that’s Rajni’s real name) was employed as
a conductor with the Karnataka Road Transport Corporation. Hid hidden histrionic talent was sometimes ventilated through amateur
plays staged by his friends now and then. The response Rajni got for his performances acted as a catalyst, and in a moment’s
decision, he chucked off his salaried job and took the next bus to the film institute, the gateway to the eternal Dream Merchant’s
K Balachander who gave him
a minor role in Apoorva Raagangal, a role that would have otherwise gone to an insignificant junior artiste, did not dump
him after it. Balachander’s Moondru Mudichu had Rajnikant featuring in the entire film (the other hero, Kamal Haasan
‘died’ in the first half) not as a hero, not even the traditional villain, but as a negative character who kills
his own friend out of sheer jealousy because the girl he loves falls in love with his friend. This time, Balachander, whose
penchant for strong characterisation is well known, presented Rajni effectively, and for the first time, the Tamil audience
was exposed to an absolutely new character, neither hero nor an archetypal villain.
In Moondru Mudichu, Rajnikant
first introduced a new way of lighting a cigarette — he’d place it on his left palm and pat, the cigarette would
land on his lips, all in the fraction of a second. Apart from this, Balachander let Rajni engross the audience, all courtesy
a few other gimmicks that would immediately catch the attention of the audience. Rajnikant’s rapid-fire dialogue delivery,
stylish gait and ready laughter were fully exploited in Moondru Mudichu. Though the film was a box-office disaster, Rajnikant
became an instant hit.
Until then, the Indian audiences
had followed their favourite film stars’ dress and hairstyle — but now, for the first time, a star’s mannerisms
had come to be the subject of discussion in drawing rooms. Rajni became a sort of trendsetter who could attract the attention
of even those who are otherwise indifferent to the film stars and their antics.
What started off flippantly
in Moondru Mudichu, 20 years ago as “Rajni Style” still continues with the same vigour, unabated. In his latest
film, Padayappa, released in the 25th year of his career, Rajni’s fans walked into theatres expecting to see the thalaivar’s
exploits. Rajni has never disappointed his fans. Even in otherwise inconsequent scenes, he brings in those special Rajni touches
he’s famous for. The music directors add pep to the proceedings with special effects. Like Deva did in Badshah, with
Rajni uttering the now famous oneliner, “If I say something once, it’s like I’ve said it a hundred times.”
Even little kids could be heard lisping the line, thereafter, much to the amusement of their parents.
Having made a successful
dent in a negative character in Moondru Mudichu, Rajni made producers think of using him more in anti-hero roles. Even mentor
K Balachander who usually changes the popular image of artists, utilised Rajni’s acting potential only in negative characters
— as a sadist husband in Avargal and a vagabond in Thappu Thalangal.
While all these films were
critically acclaimed and Rajni stood out in them, he was yet to come out with an independent hit, a hit for which he could
take the entire credit.
Producers went all out to
capitalise on this new “wonder” called Rajnikant, and a string of films projecting him as an anti-hero, with all
his stylish mannerisms in full swing, were released in quick succession. Gayathri had him shooting blue films of his wife
without her knowledge, Kali as an avenging hero, Bhairavi, Shankar Salim Simon and the like. Rajni had, by now, become an
indisputable star in his own right, a force to reckon with.
Though Rajnikant persistently
refers to K Balachander as his “guru” (even now he never smokes in his presence) it was director SP Muthuraman
who actually revamped Rajni’s image entirely. Muthuraman first experimented with him in a positive role in Bhuvana Oru
Kelvikkuri, as a villain in the first half and a refined man in the second, accepting a woman with a child ditched by her
lover. The success of Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri prompted Muthuraman to make a mushy melodrama with Rajni as a hero sacrificing
everything for his siblings, a role ideally tailormade for Sivaji Ganesan! That film was Arulirunthu Arupathu Varai, in which
Rajni’s mannerisms were totally missing and he even appeared as an old man in the last few frames. Even while the film
was in the making, Rajni had misgivings about whether the audience would accept him in tear jerkers of this kind. But the
film got made and its box-office success made Rajni popular among women audiences, too. These two films were a turning point
in Rajni’s career — he changed from an actor who merely enthralled the audiences, to one who also made them weep.
The acceptance of Rajni sans his mannerisms proved he’d at last become an actor from a star. Around this time came Mullum
Malarum, directed by J Mahendran, which established Rajni as a hero with a slight tinge of the negative.
Rajnikant’s entry may
have been humble, in an insignificant role but the success he achieved in a very short span was unimaginable. A popular Tamil
magazine brought out a special supplement at a time when his still on the make, and, he presto, the magazine’s sales
doubled with that issue alone.
Such mass adulation, the
thunderous rain of applause when Rajni delivered his lines, all put together, made him a phenomenon. It was at this point
that Rajni realised the onus had been thrust on him. The fate of producers hinged on him alone. This sudden exposure to the
glare of the media and the popularity and money he never imagined would be his, created a lot of stress in his mind. At that
crucial time in his career when his market price had just begun to zoom, he decided to opt out of films completely, sending
shock waves to his fans. Balachander and his other wellwishers somehow, coaxed him into staying on.
The second phase of his life
started with K Balaji’s Billa, a superhit disproving the canard spread by detractors that Rajnikant was “finished”.
He was accepted as a full-fledged hero. Billa was followed by a row of hits like Pokkiri Raja, Thanikkattu Raja, Naan Mahaan
Alla and the all-important Moondru Mugham, in which Rajni essayed a triple role. Even two decades after its release, the last
continues to be a box-office draw and Rajni’s fans can never tire of the thalaivar’s verbal clash with villain
Senthamarai. K Balachander’s first home production, Nettrikkam proved to be yet another milestone in Rajni’s career.
An analysis of Rajni’s
career graph shows a remarkable absence of fits and starts. It has been a slow and steady rise to the very top. As Rajni sings
in a hit song from Badshah, a man’s life may be divided into eight divisions. Rajni’s own career may be divided
into three segments. The first as a villain, the second as a hero with negative traits, and the third and present phase, as
the reigning czar of Tamil filmdom. With Rajni’s films fetching crores and his market price skyrocketing, the costs
of production of his films became unmanageable. And Rajni has since had to stick to a one film per year formula, which colleague
Kamal Haasan also follows.
The new trend where his films’
collections exceed normal regional film expectations started off with Badshah, followed by Annamalai, Arunachalam, Ejaman,
Muthu and Padayappa. It’s now an accepted fact that only a Rajnikant film can break records set by his own films.
As an actor, Rajnikant’s
greatest asset, apart from his style is his sense of humour and comic timing. Like Amitabh Bachchan is popular for his drunken
soliloquies, Rajnikant is famous for his comic encounters with snakes, repeated umpteen times.
In the early 80s, Rajnikant
made a foray into Bollywood with Andhaa Kanoon, a superhit. But Rajnikant could not concentrate on Hindi films because he
was already safely ensconced down South. He still made a few films in Hindi, to mention specially Chaalbaaz which had Sridevi
in a dual role. Rajni also enjoys a special kind of popularity in Telugu films and his Peddarayudu (remake of Tamil hit Nattammai)
seems to have broken all previous records. The Telugu version of Padayappa has been a money-spinner, too. Rajnikant became
a trendsetter recently with his Muthu and its songs becoming a rage in Japan and now, Padayappa running to packed houses in
the UK and USA.
Basically a religious person,
Rajnikant has always owned up his faith. “I was brought up by the Ramakrishna Mission and it’s from there that
I have inherited this religious frame of mind,” he keeps saying. Even his films have him openly sharing his faith. In
Arunachalam he mouths that famous line, “God decides and Arunachalam executes it.” His public meetings are always
spiced with humour and embellished with anecdotes from mythology.
Married to Lata, an English
literature graduate, hailing from an elite Iyengar family in 1980, Rajni has two daughters who are carefully kept away from
the limelight. Lata herself a versatile singer, now runs a school called The Ashram. The couple indulges in a lot of charity,
the latest being converting his Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam into a charitable trust to help the poor and needy.
success and his sway over the masses make people speculate whether he will follow the footsteps of the late MGR and enter
politics. Though there has been a lot of pressure on him to enter politics by the likes of actor turned journalist, Cho Ramaswamy
(“Rajnikant is the best person for chief ministership because he has a basic integrity and simplicity, a quality which
is very rare these days”) Rajnikant has persistently maintained a diplomatic silence, except for the fact that he openly
supported the ruling DMK in the last assembly elections and discreetly in the recent Lok Sabha elections. When pressed, Rajnikant
answers in his own inimitable style, “Yesterday I was a conductor, today I’m a star, tomorrow what I’ll
be only He knows!”
Ego and starry airs are unknown
to Rajnikant. During breaks he hardly ever rushes to his air-conditioned makeup room. Instead, he prefers to sleep on the
sets, even without a pillow, merely covering his eyes with a wet cloth. He never comes to functions with a retinue behind
him and even prefers to drive his own car.
A bit of a recluse, he may
be at heart, but everyone who’s had the privilege of a darshan with the thalaivar has come away with a spring in his
step, and a warm glow in his heart. Warm, friendly and affable, he’s the sort who deserves all the superstardom he’s
earned. Such men, indeed, are rare.
Vijayakanth seems to have made up his mind
the actor get his act together?
One way or the other, actor Vijayakanth, who is expected to take
the plunge into politics later this year, will make his mind clear later this evening when he meets the media persons at his
Andal Azhagar Kalyana Mandapam.
Vijayakanth, who believes that he can create a major splash in
Tamilnadu politics, has major plans for the Assembly election that is due within the next one year.
Vijayakanth had earlier stated that he would float a political
party and contest the Assembly polls. He had even planned for a major conference at Madurai this September to announce the
launch. The name of his party, the flag and the office-bearers would be named at the Madurai Conference, he had said.
However with the ruling AIADMK
party having won the byelections to Kanchipuram and Gummidipoondi Assembly constituencies held recently, speculation is rife
that the State government may advance the Assembly elections. In view of such recent developments, Vijayakanth has expedited
all works with regard to entering the political arena.
It is said that following
a detailed discussion with the office-bearers of his fans association from various parts of the State, Vijayakanth has chalked
out a clear-cut strategy on facing the forthcoming Assembly polls.
He feels that he has to be
ready for the Assembly elections. But if the elections are announced later this year, he feels his party would have very little
time gap to get its act together.
Hence, he wants to hurry
his putative [party's launch.
Any way, things would become
clearer if the scheduled press conference later this evening goes as per schedule.
Sources close to Vijayakanth
said, the actor after detailed deliberations had reportedly named his party, 'Thamizhar Munnetra Kazhagam'.
It may be recalled that Vijayakanth
had recently said that the leaders of 'ruling party had threatened him with over his entry to the politics'. Of course, he
did not specify whether the ruling party was that of the State or the Central government.
Last week, the actor had
called on DMK president and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. Though it was said to be just a courtesy call, informed sources
suggest that there was more than what it met the eye to the meeting.
Even if Vijayakanth's draw
is totally untested in political waters, politicians are said to be slightly wary of the 'nuisance value' that an actor can
bring to the whole set of existing equations.
In that sense, every party
is keeping a keen eye on Vijayakanth and his moves. And in the past few months, the actor himself is making huge noises and
is building up a nice hype for himself.