Rajinikanth Turns 70: A Filmic Political Journey Through The Superstar’s Punch Lines
bool(false)
bool(false)

Happy milestone birthday, Superstar Rajinikanth.

So you’ve finally done it. You’re making the jump. This time, it’s really happening, say the headlines. Having seen the announcement on Twitter, I feel like I’m hearing all your punch lines in a new meaning. Take “Idhu eppidi irukku?” It feels like that’s what you’d have mind-voiced after tweeting that you’ll launch your own party next month. There’s a nice ring to the timing. Last January, you had Darbar. This January, you’re planning an… arasiyal darbar.

As an aside, it’s nice to see the most-asked question for an earlier generation of film fans (“Neenga Rajini fan-aa Kamal fan-aa?) spill out of the cinema halls and into the political arena. As another aside, I wonder what you two might have discussed in earlier times, when we had a different Chief Minister. I feel like I’m hearing a title of a film you both did in a new meaning. Did you two shrug your shoulders and say: “Aval appadithaan?” And now, here you both are, in a whole other version of… Aadu puli aattam.

It’s amazing how many lines of yours have been tailored for politics:

From Baasha: Naan oru thadava sonna, nooru thadava sonna maadhiri!

You know what? It really seems like we’ve heard a hundred announcements about your political entry, until this one.

From Dharma Durai: Nallavana irukkalaam, aana romba nallavana irukka koodathu.

Can a good man, a really good man, thrive in politics?

From Muthu: Naan eppo varuven, eppidi varuven-nu yaarukkum theriyaadhu. Aana vara vendiya nerathula correct-aa varuven.

Everyone remembers Neelambari from Padayappa as a veiled reference to a former Chief Minister. But even in Muthu, you had a scene where you put a powerful woman in her place. I’m talking about the scene where Meena is performing on stage, and you keep sneezing, and she gets annoyed. You rebuke her with a long line, and she says anyone can speak from the stands. “But try making a speech from this stage, and you’ll see it’s not easy.”

What follows is classic image-building, worthy of MGR. The people around you — i.e., the “masses” — sing your praises. Meena is unimpressed. She says: “Medai yera mudiyuma?” Can he climb this stage? The “masses” continue to speak for you, and you pretend to be in that “don’t make me do this, guys” zone. That’s a great zone. It shows you don’t really want to be on a stage, but it’s these people around you who are making you get on one: you’re becoming a sort of reluctant messiah, so to speak. “Naama dhaan avara medai yethi vidanum”, say the masses. He won’t do it himself. We have to be the ones to get him on stage. The deed is done. You end up on stage. You end up delivering an amazing performance.

And then, we get the icing on the cake. The masses applaud. Meena asks, “So you think you’re a big guy if they clap for you?” And you reply, “It’s only their applause that makes one a big guy.”

Of course, you’ve always had a preference for “putting strong women in their place” roles. Take Mannan, for instance, where you reduce corporate strongwoman Vijayashanthi to a simpering housewife, packing your lunch dabba and blushing about your skills in the bedroom. But that was in 1992, and Muthu was in 1995. In just three years, the same “putting strong women in their place” scenario seemed to have acquired a distinct political hue, and by the time Padayappa rolled around, in 1999, there was no doubt anymore. (A long time later, there was some news that Neelambari was not actually you-know-who but inspired by Nandini from Ponniyin Selvan, but most of us just rolled our eyes and said: “Really!”)

From Padayappa: En vazhi, thani vazhi!

This, too, seems to have taken on a different hue, right? A saffron hue, if I may? Almost every actor-turned-politician from Tamil Nadu was a rationalist, in the hallowed tradition of their predecessors. But in your tweets, you promise something called “aanmeega arasiyal,” spiritual politics. Can politics in a state groomed and governed by the Dravidian movement ever be spiritual? Maybe that’s why some of your famous punch lines directly reference God.

From Arunachalam: Aandavan sollraan, Arunachalam seiyaraan.

From Uzhaippali: Nambala padacha aandavanukku dhaan theriyum yaara yenga eppidi vekkanum-nu.

And from real life, around 1996: “Even God can’t save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa returns to power!”

The Uzhaippali line, too, comes with amazing image-building. The bad guys think they have hired you to act as the heir to a fortune. But you are only pretending to be an impostor. Because you really are the heir to that fortune.

Radha Ravi (one of the bad guys) asks who you really are. You say you are an orphan. Radha Ravi says, “Okay, so you don’t have parents. Do you have an address?” And you say, “Tamil Nadu.” And the reel-you begins to blur with the real-you in this 1993 release. The real-you is from Karnataka. The reel-you says, “The day I left my hometown and came here in search of a career… anni lendhu indha ooru dhaan enakku sondham.”

You add, “I may have no father or mother, but I have crores of brothers and sisters in this state.” Forget ‘Mannan’. You are now… ‘Annan’. I’m now reminded that your forthcoming film is called… ‘Annaatthe’!

Anyway, back to Uzhaippali. Referring to God, you say, “Yesterday, He made me a coolie.” (One can read that as “conductor.”) “Today, He’s made me an actor.” (You play an actor, an impostor, inside this scene, and of course, you are an actor in real life, too.) “Tomorrow?” You laugh and shrug, as though you don’t know what He has in store for you.

But surely one part of you always knew this day would come? Otherwise, it’s too much of a coincidence to see two decades-worth of such pointed punch lines. And that day is finally here.

From Baba: Naan late-aa vandhalum, latest-aa varuven.

Your recent tweets have your most powerful punch lines yet, in the form of hashtags.

#weWillChangeEverything

#ifNotNowThenNever

Allow me to add a couple:

#fingersCrossed

#Happy70thRajinikanth

Subscribe now to our newsletter

SEND 'JOIN' TO +917021533993 TO CONNECT WITH US ON WHATSAPP
x