Rajinikanth: Who Really Is the Super Star?
It was sheer chance that he even got thus far. He was noticed in a Kannada play at the Film Institute in Chennai, by none other than director K. Balachander. “Learn Tamil,” the director told Rajini before leaving. And there has not been a better career advice in Chennai’s film industry before or after.
The next time Rajinikanth was in Bangalore, he insisted Bahadur speak to him only in Tamil. “He picked up the language very fast,” his friend remembers.
Balachander offered him a small role in Apoorva Raagangal (1975), which had Kamal Hassan in the lead. But few failed to notice the dark man with a mop of hair, showing such attitude in such few seconds. Director S.P. Muthuraman, who watched the movie, was impressed. Later, when he was looking for an actor to play a small part in his movie, he remembered Rajinikanth. “When I saw him walking towards me, I changed my mind. He had that kind of presence. I didn’t want to give him a small role. I wanted to see him as a hero in my next movie,” he says.
But Muthuraman’s Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri (1977) turned out to be an exception for a while. Rajinikanth’s unconventional, devil-may-care looks meant he mostly got to play the villain, which he did with gusto.
The origins of ‘punch dialogues’, for which he became so famous, can be traced to his days as a villain. In 16 Vayathinile (1977), he would do a mean thing and check with his friends “Idhu eppadi irukku?” The same punch line made a comeback in another Rajini movie years later. “Howeezzit?”
For Bahadur, who has watched every one of Rajini’s movies, nothing can equal Badshaa. In it, Rajini plays an autorickshaw driver — helpful, devoted to family, averse to violence. But he has a past: He had been a feared don in Bombay. But history and enemies catch up with him, transforming his character from a peaceful guy to an action hero, a piece of dynamite that punches with the weight of a locomotive.
One of the first things Rajinikanth did on that Bangalore trip in November was to ask for his favourite non-vegetarian food prepared at Bahadur’s place. He came and ate with everyone. “There is no need for him to do that. He can afford to have food in a five star hotel every day. He is so big. He need not talk to me. He need not call me his friend. But he does,” Bahadur says, his voice choking for a moment.
“A couple of years ago, we went on a trip. That day happened to be my birthday. Rajinikanth threw me a surprise party. He said, ‘The world might want to celebrate my birthday. But I will celebrate yours’.”
In fact, there are things that Rajinikanth envies about Bahadur. “Oh, he is envious of my hair. When I seem to be taking special care of it, he would ruffle it and say, ‘What, are you showing off?’.”
Bahadur is Rajinikanth’s only hope of living the ordinary life he once did. “He was once a poor man. Very poor. He used to carry luggage on his shoulders for 50 paise. He has struggled a lot. He doesn’t want to forget that.”