God’s Own Hero

Thursday. 27th March 1975. The camera was kept at a low angle looking up at a pair of closed gates. A dishevelled looking man sporting a stubble and wearing an ill-fitting suit appears in the frame. He slowly lifts his hands and flings the gates open with great force. And strides forward with a swagger. As the director shouts ‘Cut’, the unit hands break into loud, impromptu whistles and claps. They had just seen a thrilling entry style like never before. Apoorva Raagangal.  

At another shoot a few months later. The camera this time pans around an ancient temple courtyard and then stops on to a group of rowdies playing cards. One of them starts extolling the virtues of their gang leader : ‘For truth, Harischandra was born. For generosity, Karna was born. For game of cards – Kondaji was born’. Kondaji smirks into the camera and nonchalantly strikes a match with just one finger and lights a beedi. Effortless. Impossibly cool.

It was in his 3rd film that he perfected yet another iconic cult act. He pulled a cigarette out of the pack, flipped it up and into his mouth. All in a flash. It’s still the rage.

June 2007. 4 am. I was seated in a cinema hall in central Chennai. Full house. There were two people sitting in one seat. Some were standing and waiting with folded hands. Their eyes glued on to the screen. Lights dimmed. There was a hushed gasp. My crazed friend who was the one who had dragged me along started to shiver. Suddenly an ‘S’ appeared on the screen. The hush was shattered. Screams, wolf whistles and thundering applause greeted every other letter that came up on the screen: ‘S U P E R S T A R’.

When the final four letters came in, conch shells blared and grown men stood up on the seats, waving their hands in salutation, shouting inoherently with tears streaming down their eyes.

He celebrates his 70th birthday today. His parents had named him Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. A name he is proud of, but just slightly less popular than the one you already know.  

Story Notes:

Where can you be on this earth to not find something about Thalaivar. I was not a fan, in that sense, for a long time . I was never exposed enough to the mass hystreria and the god status until that early morning experience in Satyam Cinema in Chennai. It dramatically transformed my understanding of what hero-worship really meant.

Rajnikanth: The Definitive Biography written by Naman Ramachandran and published by Penguin Books in 2014 has been my primary source for the two incidents mentioned above. The first one incident is the first shot of his first movie, Apoorva Raagangal directed by K.Balachander. The second one is the opening scene in the Kannada movie : Munithayi, the 3rd of the trilogy of Katha Sangama. Naman does great research from whatever was available and throws light on the whole evolution of South Indian Cinema and its superstars alongside the story of his main character.

And yeah, the best of his jokes on his superpowers are here. Enjoy!

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