Born as Shivaji Rao Gaikwad 57 years ago, Rajnikanth made his first steps into tinsel town with his first movie “Aboorva Ragangal” in 1975. Since then in the last 31 years, he has won 14 awards for his movies. A harder look at statistics reveal that all of Rajnikanth’s movies ran for more than 100 days, including his latest movie “Chandramukhi” in 2005.
The above statistic easily makes him the most watched Indian superstar amongst his peers. So what intrigues me is what elevated him to that cult status?
Was it his villainous moves and the angry young man looked he portrayed in some of his earlier movies? Was it the panache he displayed in terms of his unique style of flipping his sunglasses or throwing a cigarette right between his lips? Or was it due to the fact that a majority of people could connect with his “bhola bhala ” roles in some of his movies post 80’s that had the look of a loser simpleton who won in the end?
Rajnikanth remains an enigma to me; in the few movies of him I have watched. There was nothing spectacular about his acting or dialogue delivery, but I feel some of his earlier movies had this arrogant stylish cocky image that caught the fancy of people and that just stuck on, and by the times the late 80’s and 90’s came, he blossomed into a ” people’s hero” with tailor made roles that had a sense of ruralness connected with the way he acted.
I remember the famous line “I can talk English, walk English, laugh English” which instantly made him positioned for the masses, with people easily relating some part of their lives with Rajnikanth. Not that I am against him, but I feel that Rajnikanth’s USP was his “pandering to mass” brand positioning that helped him come to the limelight.
Since his brand has grown over the years like a tsunami gaining force, I see a lot of people accepting Rajnikanth as their “hero” and when Rajnikanth got this vital support from the masses, he started concentrating on throwing in political entendres in his movies, to suggest a hypocrite image of “If I want I can be the CM, but let the people choose me”. There is nothing wrong with that too, he is a shrewd guy, who has learnt to capitalize on a certain brand positioning.
But If I were to pick the best Indian actor, I would definitely place Kamala Hassan and the late Sivaji Ganesan as one of the most versatile actors of this era. I’d then rate Amitabh Bachchan, for his dialogue delivery and that voice that has been the cornerstone of Indian cinema for a long time. If I remember right, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan owed a major portion of their success stories to the erstwhile singer Kishore Kumar, for some mellifluous songs that feature them, just as Rajnikanth owed some of his major successes to movies that had the “loser has the last laugh” image (most Indian movies have that, don’t they? )
Another reason why Amitabh and Rajesh Khanna figure higher than Rajnikanth on my rating would be the fact that the movies and the roles that they acted in were far more decent than some of the movies that Rajnikanth acted. In someway I feel Rajnikanth’s roles were limited by the paucity of the quality of Tamil films in the 80’s and 90’s to leave a lasting impression on the mind of a viewer called Kartik Kannan. Even though some of Rajnikanth’s movies were bordering on the run of the mill ” I am my Mom’s best son” types, it still had a huge fan following, while in the 80’s and the 90’s, Rajnikanth’s other adversaries had experimented with better movies and better roles.
So the argument is whether the quality of Rajnikanth’s audience a discerning audience at all? Were they swayed too much by the hype of a man, over a stuck up” middle class, loser who wins” image?
I personally felt he had no exceptional qualities as a hero, neither did he have any quality movie (except Dalapati) since the 90’s that could match the roles a Kamala Hassan or an Amitabh did. But I must say Rajnikanth’s star power in terms of the number of days his movies ran, is still a record for an actor, and I keep wondering whether the brand positioning was what elevated him to his current king status.
This one has been picked up from the Archives of Kartik Kannan’s personal blog with his approval.