Rajinikanth: Exceptional actor, style icon and much more, writes a fan

On Superstar Rajinikanth’s birthday, a doting fan writes about growing up watching his movies, admiring him, his style, his acting, and his humility off the screen.
Superstar Rajinikanth in Baasha
Superstar Rajinikanth in Baasha
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My social media is already filled with posts celebrating Superstar Rajinikanth’s birthday (December 12). Every post I read brings back a memory. Each feels very personal, as if it’s about someone I personally know. To an extent, this is true. I grew up watching his movies, admiring him, his style, his acting, and his humility off the screen.

Baasha, the 1995 blockbuster, is the first Rajini movie that I remember seeing, and it’s no surprise that I became a fan of the man who ruled the screen as Manickam, the innocent auto driver protecting his family, a faithful friend in the flashback, and as Baasha the don who avenges his friend’s death and protects Mumbai from the villain Antony. Starting with the ‘Naan autokaaran’ song till the last scene, the movie is so etched in my memory that even now whenever I catch it on TV, I sing the ‘Tododooo’ background music whenever it plays, thanks to music director Deva. I’m wondering if there’s anyone who didn’t cry when Manickam is tied to a pole and hit by goons with SPB’s ‘Piece-u piece-ah kizhikum podhum yaessu pola sirippa paaru daaa’ playing in the background.

Thinking about it, I realise that he had a knack for making you cry for him, with him every single time. He never had to scream or cry out loud. He could silently look at a goods train with Raja Sir’s BGM doing the rest, and tell his stepdaughter, “Na karuppa irundhena, enga amma enna thooki potutanga” (Thalapathy), or “Rendu kai, rendu kaal ilanaalum pozhachukavan sir indha Kaali. Ketta paya sir avan” with worry written all over his face (Mullum Malarum) and it would break us. He may just look at his ungrateful brother and sister with a painful smirk (Aaril Irundhu Arubadhu Varai), or look out a car’s window imagining his long-lost wife, Pradeep Kumar crooning ‘Vaanam Paarthen’ in the background (Kabali), and we would cry. We would cry for the orphaned son, the pained brother, the hurt husband. The list does not end there, his performances in Engeyo Ketta Kural, Anbulla Rajinikanth, Bhairavi and Johnny, to name a few, stand testament to the exceptional actor that he is. My mom still says that I did not believe that Rajini could die when I watched Dharmathin Thalaivan and cried so much till the second Rajini came in and that I was jubilant that Rajini proved everyone wrong.

But he became more popular for his style. A style so unique that people were drawn to it immediately. Starting from his “Idhu epaddi irukku” in 16 Vayadhinile to his stylish walk with a speed that all of us tried to imitate and failed, and most importantly the way he’d sweep the hair from his forehead warranted songs to be written about it. Such was his style. I still remember being amazed by so many such things – the way a stick that he pins on the ground moved in a direction that he wanted when I saw Arunachalam, the swing scene from Padayappa, the manner in which he says “Kozhikari” in Kabali, his style has a separate fan base. To me, Rajini could do the unthinkable. I believed that those mountains were actually breaking when his sweat fell on them in the ‘Vetrikodikattu’ song in Padayappa. I feel sometimes Rajini the style icon overshadowed Rajini the natural actor.

All of his performances were elevated by his dialogue delivery. Every punch dialogue he uttered had that wow factor – be it “Enakku innoru peru irukku” (Baasha), “En vazhi thani vazhi” (Padayappa), “Naan veezhvenendru ninaithaayo” (Petta) to “Idhu Kaala killa” (Kaala). He could pull off any scene, any dialogue. His reach as a mass actor is unparalleled and so is the admiration he has garnered from the people of Tamil Nadu.

While Rajini was celebrated for his style, one cannot forget how he was initially ridiculed for his looks. For years we had fair-skinned actors playing the hero while dark-skinned actors were always shown in poor light. Rajini came in and changed that trend. In doing that, not only did he break stereotypes, he also instilled confidence in so many people, me included. A huge part of the population was able to connect with him because of this and that is one of the very many reasons for the special bond he has with his fans. Not only that, he paved the way for more such actors to enter the film industry, from Vijayakanth and Murali then to Dhanush and Vijay Sethupathi today.

When discussing Rajini, one cannot skip over his comedy scenes. His dynamics with Goundamani in Mannan, his role as a spoilt rich city brat pushed to live in a village in Thambikku Endha Ooru, his chemistry with Senthil in Arunachalam and Padayappa, and most importantly with Janagaraj in Raajadhi Raaja, Baasha, Panakkaran, Padikkadhavan and Annamalai show how capable he is of harmless comedy. His full-fledged comedy outing in Thillu Mullu remains my all-time go-to movie.

At times, I feel Rajini’s strength in all the other genres eclipsed his romantic roles. His easy chemistry with the late Phataphat Jayalakshmi in Mullum Malarum, the exemplary Radhika in Nallavanukku Nallavan, Moondru Mugam and Oor Kavalan (can anyone ever forget the idly scene?), the classic Sripriya, the gorgeous late Sridevi to the actors till date be it Nayanthara, Radhika Apte or Huma Qureshi, I have admired Rajini’s romantic scenes a lot that I’m still hung up on Kaala’s Kannamma. The beautifully shot proposal scene in Johnny brings a very pleasant feeling every time one watches it. How can one ever forget Rajini cutely asking “En apdilam pesitinga?” and Sridevi’s even cuter “Apdi dhan pesuven”. Director Mahendran’s Rajini alone would require a separate article! While some of the films later in his career had misogynistic views and dialogues, Rajini as an actor has never had issues with the female lead having an equally strong role or at times the central one like in Chandramukhi.

I enjoyed seeing Rajini as a doting father in Padayappa, a loving uncle in Raja Chinna Roja, the stylish guitarist in Ninaithale Inikkum, a loyal friend in Chandramukhi, a protective brother in Padikkadhavan and an uber cool college warden in Petta.

I could go on and on with childlike enthusiasm about Rajini, for that is how I feel when I think of him – the child who became a fan of Baasha. The child who grew up watching his movies, laughing with him, crying with him. And seeing all his pictures and birthday posts, I realise that I will forever be that child, who laughs when he laughs and cries when he cries.

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