Who Will Inherit Rajinikanth's Throne?
Image: Venkat Ram
Forbes India Celebrity 100 No. 28
Ilayathalapathi (young commander)
Kadhalukku Mariyadhai, Ghilli, Nanban, and Thuppakki
What makes him click
Complete package: Comedy, dance, fights
Why producers are betting on him
A mass hero, with a fan base across age and gender
Son of director/producer SA Chandrasekhar, campaigned for AIADMK
“Oru Vatti Mudivu Pannitenna En Peacha Nane Kekkamaten”—Pokkiri (Once I’ve made a decision, I won’t even listen to disagreement from myself)
Superstar yarunu kaeta chinna kozhandayum sollum
(If you ask who the superstar is, even a small child will tell you)
- from a song in Raja Chinna Roja
I am a little star, aaven naan superstar
(I will become a superstar)
- from a song in Samsara Sangeetham
There was a time in Tamil Nadu when these two songs would blare from every other tea shop loudspeaker, on All India Radio programmes (like Neyar Viruppam, or ‘Audience Choice’), and on tape recorders in drawing rooms across the state. There were no similarities between the two, either in tune or in setting. One featured Rajinikanth, the undisputed superstar, and the other a five-year-old boy, the son of an ambitious producer, director and actor. But the first lines of both songs captured a reality and an aspiration that defined Tamil cinema in 1989, the year those films hit the screens.
And they capture the reality today, 23 years later: Rajinikanth is still the superstar, and it’s every actor’s dream to inherit the title from him.
Much is promised to the winner. Superstardom means the extreme affection of the people. In May 2011, when Rajinikanth was hospitalised, many of his fans cried and went without food for days, praying for his recovery. There were special pujas in temples and at homes.
Superstardom also means immense political influence. Even though Rajinikanth has kept himself out of politics in the last several years, many remember how his campaign in 1996 dethroned Jayalalithaa. (His famous line, ‘Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu if the AIADMK returns to power’, went viral, just like the ones he delivers on screen.)
It also means national recognition. While most Tamil stars are hardly known outside the southern states, Rajini is well known across the country, and even in a few overseas markets (he has a huge fan following in Japan). His fame seems to be only growing, says SP Muthuraman, who has worked with Rajinikanth in 25 films. And, of course, it means wealth: Rajinikanth gets Rs 35 crore for a movie, according to at least four people in the industry.
Rajinikanth is still the undisputed No. 1 in Tamil cinema. But things have changed too. Despite what the innumerable jokes—or the kind of roles that he takes up in movies—suggest, he is getting older: He is 62. He is not doing as many films as he used to. In the year Raja Chinna Roja was released (1989), he acted in six other movies. Now, he takes up one project in two-three years. His next film, Kochadaiyaan, is an animation feature. While no one suggests the Rajini phenomenon has run its course, talk about who will occupy his throne once he vacates it is getting louder in his adopted home state. (Rajini is a Maratha. His original name is Shivaji Rao Gaekwad).
This is not the first time that the topic has come up. Several names have popped up in the past, including Vijayakanth, Karthik (son of yesteryear actor R Muthuraman) and Prabhu (son of Sivaji Ganesan). Rajini outran all his prospective successors. Vijayakanth and Karthik have launched political parties; Prabhu plays supporting roles.
In theory, any of the top actors have a chance of claiming the title. Vijay, Ajith, Suriya and Vikram are at the top rung. On the rung below are Dhanush and Silambarasan—both relatively young and still in the process of establishing their fan base. Vikram has delivered a number of hits, but lacks the base that the top three have.