Not just a Superstar: 5 roles that defined Rajini, the actor

As a matter of fact, there are at least ten films where the actor was saddled with well-defined roles.
Not just a Superstar: 5 roles that defined Rajini, the actor
Not just a Superstar: 5 roles that defined Rajini, the actor
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With the release of his latest flick ‘Kabali’, Rajini-mania has again peaked and frenzied fans have begun flocking the theatres screening the film.

It has been quite some time since Rajinikanth, who has a Diploma from the Madras Film Institute, was introduced to the world of celluloid by the man with the Midas touch, K Balachander in the Kamal Haasan-Srividya starrer ‘Apoorva Ragangal’. He played a cameo in this film as the terminally ill husband of the famous singer Bhairavi, (a role essayed with aplomb by the late Srividya).

Rajini has been treading the path of commercial cinema and most of the roles that have come his way in recent years have rarely focused on his ability to emote or to prove his acting chops. This is not to undermine any of his performances, which, in films like ‘Sivaji’ and ‘Robot’, both directed by Shankar with whom he is presently shooting for Robot 2.0, have been larger than life and captivating. So sincere have been his portrayals that the roles have appeared tailor-made for him.

The films have been thumping successes raking in the moolah at the box office and smashing records set by the superstar himself. But there is another Rajini whose filmography boasts of a number of films where he has proved that character roles too are right up his alley, and that given a role he can sink his teeth into, he can come up with a commendable performance worthy of his steel.

One of the most acclaimed directors of yesteryear J Mahendran who directed Rajini in films like ‘Mullum Malarum’ and ‘Johnny’ has opined that Rajini is a brilliant character actor, a statement that is hardly debatable as in both these films Rajini has stolen the thunder with magnificent portrayals in diverse roles that could have tested the mettle of any actor. A study of just five films that Rajinikant has done in his long and eventful career should afford a glimpse to his legion of fans, especially the younger lot who might not have had the opportunity to see them, into the histrionic heights achieved by the Superstar in his avatar as a Super Actor.

As a matter of fact, there are at least ten films where the actor was saddled with well-defined roles. What is interesting is that most of them came to him when he was fairly new to the field.

And what might sound ironic today at a time when his star status has reached its zenith is that a few producers of that era were apprehensive of casting him in lead roles as he had been stereotyped as a villain and it was left to the directors to put their feet down and coerce those producers to sign him on.

The ten films where his performances were nothing short of outstanding are Bhuvana Oru Kelivikuri (1977), Pathinaru Vayadhinile (1977), Bhairavi (1978), Mullum Malarum (1978), Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979), Johnny (1980), Yengeyo Ketta Kural (1982), Nallavanukku Nallavan (1984), Sri Raghavendrar (1985) and Thalapathi (1991).

‘Bhairavi’ was perhaps the first film in which Rajini put in a powerhouse performance and it was also the first time he found himself cast as a solo hero. Directed by M Bhaskar, this film featured him in a tough and rugged role as ‘Mookiah’, a villager with a forbidding presence and it was after the film turned out to be a smash hit that the tag of Superstar began to be attached to his name. Strange as it may sound, that was a period in which the two towering titans of Tamil cinema, MGR and Sivaji Ganesan were very much around.

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One film that has always remained dear to the superstar is the Mahendran directed ‘Mullum Malarum’ and many critics who have written tomes on the star have been unequivocal in their praise for the actor’s performance in what could be termed as a role with several different shades. Based on a story by Uma Chandran, the film marked the debut of the talented director Mahendran. Rajini played the role of Kali, a tough as nails winch operator whose entire world revolved around his sister Valli. Rajini excelled in the role of a loving brother, an angry worker and a despondent physically handicapped individual who loses his right hand after he is run over by a truck as he lies prone on the street after a drunken spree. The role could have taxed a less talented actor but the superstar effortlessly enacted the character without going over the top in even a single scene. Excellent support from his co-stars Sharath Babu and the late actresses Shobha and ‘Fatafat’ Jayalakshmi also enabled Rajini to give off his best.

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One of the leading directors in the seventies and eighties and one of Rajinikant’s closest advisors and well wishers S P Muthuraman has wielded the megaphone for several Rajini starrers, and almost all of them have hit the bull’s eye at the box office. Muthuraman spotted Rajini’s talent early and his films like ‘Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri’ ‘Aarilrunthu Arubathu Varai’ ‘Yengeyo Ketta Kural’ and ‘Sri Raghavendra’ should find a place among the actor’s better efforts.  Both ‘Aarilirunthu’ and ‘Yengeyo’ shot on shoestring budgets, were shorn of the usual box office ingredients.

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They featured Rajini as a typical family man, simply attired in a dhoti and shirt, and these were roles that were in stark contrast to the kind of flashy, flamboyant roles that he was to associate himself with, in the later stages of his career. The role in ‘Aarilirunthu Arupathu Varai’ was first offered to actor Sivakumar who however turned it down. It was said that even Rajini initially had his own misgivings but his trust in the director paid off and this film along with Yengeyo’, both box-office hits added sizably to his fan base especially among women.

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The last but certainly not the least in this list of five films is ‘Thalapathi’ directed by Mani Ratnam which was not a mythological but had its roots in the Mahabharatha with Malayalam star Mammooty as Duryodhan and Rajini as Karnan his bosom friend. This film, which released in 1991, was significant in that both Mammooty and Rajini had by then acquired phenomenal fan following and Mani had to balance their roles well, a feat he achieved with distinction. Cast in the character of Surya, a man with righteous ideals who could not brook any injustice towards the poor, Rajini had enough meat in his role to rise above the script and deliver a towering performance, matched equally by Mammooty and a debutant named Arvind Swamy who was later to act in Mani’s super hit film ‘Roja’. Needless to add, ‘Thalapathy’ was a money-spinner at the box office.

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Rajinikant has been the toast of Kollywood for several decades now and has had several highs in his career and ‘Kabali’ which carries excellent reports should go a long way in erasing the memories of two straight debacles ‘Kochadaiyaan’ and ‘Linga’. As a crowd puller, Rajini has always been a class act but as an actor and performer too, he has always vindicated the faith placed in him by the directors with whom he was worked in his career, which after four decades is still going great guns.

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