Rajini
Meet those who walk Rajini, talk Rajini, act Rajini and want to be Rajini.
Rajini Prakash as Rajini in Enthiran

You know you have called a Rajinikanth fan when you hear ‘Oh Nanbaa’ as his ringtone. Senthil Kumar says he will change the song that introduces Rajinikanth in ‘Lingaa’ to ‘Neruppu da’ only on July 22, after he watches ‘Kabali’ first day first show. Senthil with make-up is Rajinikanth, a lookalike who walks, talks and dances like the Superstar. 

“He is my soul, he takes care of me,'' says 40-year-old Senthil, who goes by the name of Rajini Senthil in Kollywood. For the last 15 years, Chennai-based Senthil has played Rajinikanth at shows, where his Rajini dialogues, songs and dance are lapped up by any audience.

But unlike Rajinikanth, whose films see a frenzy that is unmatched by any other actor, the world of Rajinikanth has stiff competition. Tamil Nadu apparently has 20-odd dupes of the Superstar. `Rajini' Ravi is one of the seniormost in this copycat genre. This 42-year-old who quit his job at an automobile showroom two decades ago to become a `Rajinikanth' says the whistles just don't stop when he dances to `Vanthen da Paalkaren' from `Annamalai'. A three-hour show with Rajini Ravi mimicking the style king, is pure entertainment. The Rs 4000 he gets per show keeps his kitchen fire burning.

“In the last one month, I have incorporated Kabali dialogues and the Neruppu da song into my shows and they are already a rage,'' says Ravi, who is based in Salem. While many of the old-timers appreciate Rajini's punch dialogues from his films in the 80s, the younger generation prefers him to enact the Rajini of ‘Sivaji’, ‘Enthiran’ and now ‘Kabali’.  

Rajini Senthil with Rajinikanth

His neighbour in Salem district, 43-year-old ‘Rajini’ Annadurai is one better than his contemporaries as he has played a Rajini dupe on the big screen too in ‘Idayathil Oruvan’. Unlike Ravi, whose lifelong wish to meet and speak to Rajinikanth has not been fulfilled yet, Annadurai has met him twice. 

“I met him at his home during the shooting of ‘Rajadhi Raja’ in 1989. He had just finished puja when I met him. The second time was during the shooting of `Lingaa' in Karnataka. He is so humble. He asked him if I do all this when I showed him photographs of my Rajini acts. He even remembered that we had met 25 years back,” says Annadurai. 

Annadurai's wife says she likes it when she is referred to as “Rajini's wife”. The identity crisis does not seem to bother any of the dupes. Ravi says, “No one calls me Ravi. Inga vaanga Rajini (come here Rajini) is the usual way of calling me.”

From left: Rajini Ravi and Rajini Prakash

‘Rajini’ Prakash is donning make-up ahead of his show, when I call him. Compared to the time around Pongal, where he performs almost every day, not many shows are held in this inauspicious month and he has to make the most of what he gets now. A resident of Tiruppur district, 38-year-old Prakash has been playing Rajini for the last 15 years. “I do not care about the competition because I believe I have a distinct Rajinikanth style. No one can play Rajini Sir in ‘Johnny’ or ‘Billa’ better than me,'' claims Prakash. 

From left: Rajini Prakash as Manickam, Rajini Senthil as Baasha, Rajini Senthil in anoher Rajini avatar

In 2001, Senthil became Rajinikanth because the person who was to play the dupe, did not turn up. His ‘Baasha’ act became a hit. But though Rajini said `Naan oru thadavai sonna, noor thadavai sonna maadri' in the film, Senthil has repeated the line hundreds of times over. 

Senthil is also a dancer who was part of the group dancing behind Rajinikanth in ‘Chandramukhi’ and ‘Enthiran’ as well as the ‘1234 get on the dance floor’ number in ‘Chennai Express’ with Shahrukh Khan.  

How is life being someone else all the time? While being Rajinikanth makes each one of these dupes feel special, a cut above the rest, they also attract barbs. “A lot of people insult, tease, say openly that one is not looking good. It is best to ignore,” says Senthil. 

Their Aadhaar cards have them as Ravi Kumar and Senthil Kumar but in the digital world, where Truecaller is pretty much your identity, each one of them shows up as Rajini Prakash, Rajini Senthil, Rajini Annadurai and Rajini Ravi. 

Rajini Kabali would say “Magizhchi” !