Among the mega stars of Tamil cinema, actor Rajnikanth has a primary place. For the last four decades, he has been acting as one of the top heroes, singing duets with young actresses and delivering punch dialogue. On most of the occasions, his films have been money spinners for the producers. It also cannot be denied that his films have met with unforgettable failures on some occasions. Films like Maaveeran, Sriragavendrar, Pandian and Uzhaippali, Arunachalam, Baba are some of the examples.
There is often talk about how stars use cinema to gain political leverage. But Rajinikanth used politics as one of the weapons for his films’ success. Though, he failed to click in real politics, his ‘film politics’ helped him a lot. Will the same film politics aid the success of his next film ‘Annatthe to be released on Deepavali day is the big question among every one. The question arises because for the last two decades from the film ‘Muthu’ in 1996, whenever his films were released he was propelling them into box-office hits by delivering political speeches at functions or hinting that he would take the political plunge.
‘Annatthe’ is Rajinikanth’s first movie that will hit the screen after he had declared that he would not enter politics. This is the appropriate time to go down the memory lane and see how the relationship between his films and politics began.
Rajinikanth, who was introduced by director K Balachandar through the film Appoorva Ragangal (1975) became the leading star in Tamil cinema within the next three years. Through the continuous success of his films, his name became a household one throughout the state. However, in a land where matinee idol MGR captured power, Rajinikanth’s name was mentioned in the political arena only after MGR’s demise.
In 1987, on the occasion of celebrating the success of his film ‘Oorkavalan’, produced by RM Veerappan, who was an important leader in the AIADMK faction headed by MGR’s wife VN Janaki, Rajinikanth wished for the victory of Janaki in the next assembly elections. His speech hit the headlines in all the newspapers at that time.
Though he spoke politics, in 1988, in his film ‘Raajathi Raja’, he acted in a song which had the punch lines “Enakkoru katchiyum vendaam; oru kodiyum vendaam’ which meant that he did not want to enter politics. However, the actor’s speech wishing success for Janaki did not go down well with J Jayalalithaa, who led the rival faction. In 1989 assembly elections, the AIADMK faction headed by Janaki was routed. Rajini’s open greetings to Janaki was the beginning of the rift between him and Jayalalithaa.
In his next movie, ‘Mapillai’, Rajnikanth donned the role of a young man taming a rich and arrogant mother-in-law. The resounding success of this movie must have given impetus to his tactics of giving a political colour to films. Fifteen years after entering films, it was necessary for him to move in a different direction and this was facilitated by politics.
In ‘Athisaya Piravi’ released in 1990, actor Cho, in a particular scene, pointing to Rajinikanth’s face remarks that this face was highly valued in this world and even politicians were afraid that he would join a race with them. How did Rajinikanth who is not interested in politics allow such a dialogue? Such ruses were useful to him to sway his fans. Without openly declaring anything, he used to place the choice at the hands of God, keeping his fans in eternal ecstasy.
The actor was personally aware that politics would not suit his nature, but he continued with political flavoured dialogue since he believed that it would steer the film to success.
That Rajnikanth resided in Poes Garden area where Chief Minister Jayalalithaa too lived became handy for his political game. It was customary to stop traffic in the area whenever the Chief Minister passed through it. A film star like him did not take this routine easily. One day, when his car was stopped, Rajni got down and walked to his house and this hit the newspaper headlines again, which would have drawn the attention of Jayalalithaa. Such incidents compelled him to interfere in politics. Every punch dialogue in his films ‘Mannan’ ‘Pandian’, ‘Annamalai’ was given a political colour by his enthusiastic fans.
In his 1993 movie ‘Uzhaippali’, Rajini, in a punch dialogue says yesterday he was a labourer; today an actor. Without completing the sentence he would stop the word’ tomorrow’ and laugh. His fans used to resonate with the cries of ‘Thalaiva, tomorrow you will be Chief Minister”.
The actor was personally aware that politics would not suit his nature, but he continued with political flavoured dialogue since he believed that it would steer the film to success. He drew everyone’s attention when he spoke in the function to celebrate the success of his movie ‘Basha’ on 14 July 1995 by speaking about bomb culture in Tamil Nadu.
This added to the friction between him and Jayalalithaa. Political observers including the actor’s political counsellor Cho Ramaswamy felt that the chances of his political entry was bright during the 1996 assembly elections. But, Rajini bungled the wonderful opportunity as he stopped with just lending his voice for DMK victory without taking the political plunge. The number of films he acted too came down after 1996. He used to act in two to three films every year, but only a single film was released in two to three years afterwards.
As he grew older and entered his fifties, he started delivering punch dialogue heard in cinemas in real functions. He offered his opinion on major issues like opposing the PMK, Cauvery water row, Sri Lankan Tamils issue and police firing in Tuticorin, just before the release of his movies. The media was full of stories speculating the political entry of Rajinikanth and fans flocked to watch his films with the hope that their hero would be a political leader sometime.
This tactic did not help him all the time but it was customary for him to use this technique. Keeping his cards close to his chest, he never revealed that he would not enter politics. For the first time, his film is going to be released after his fans know that their hero would never enter politics in his life.
Will ‘Annatthe’ meet with the same grand reception that his films used to receive thirty years ago, when Rajinikanth was celebrated as an actor with no political hues. Even now, he tries to revive the political drama, by replacing the full stop with a comma. Will Rajinikanth mislead his fans and will they get misled? This will be decided when it is known whether ‘Annatthe’ is a ‘Basha’ or ‘Baba’.