My mother Selvi, 58, grew up in a film family. Her maternal aunt is CID Sakunthala, known for her ‘femme fatale’ roles in the 70s, and two of her maternal uncles used to be a makeup man and a theatre manager. Obviously, dinner table conversations used to revolve around actors, writers, directors, singers, and dancers. They all lived and laughed together under one roof.
I remember her telling me that she didn’t have the habit of carrying her plate to the sink after finishing her meal. Someone or the other in the 20-plus-member household used to clean up after her. I guess that’s how life is for people born with a silver spoon.
Through her aunt, my mother received several film offers that she rejected without blinking an eye. She did a few films as a child actor, though. She’s the little Muruga in Kandhan Karunai. For a long time, my friends thought that the picture of a kid in Muruga’s costume with a smile plastered over the face was me. They were taken aback when I told them who it was! My mother liked the gossip and the glamor of the movie industry, but couldn’t fancy herself as a star. She discovered happiness on the other side of the screen, nevertheless.
And Rajinikanth had a big role to play in this phase of her adolescence. Like the evening breeze at Marina bewitches walkers and the passersby, Rajinikanth took possession of my mother’s heart. When he stepped into the gallery of Tamil cinema, my mother was 14. His debut film Apoorva Raagangal was more like a cameo. It took a dozen or so films to unleash his style upon an eager audience. By the time Moondru Mudichu arrived a year later, my mother was an ardent fan.
She would pester her aunt to take her to meet the actor. Unfortunately, that never happened, as she was neck-deep in work. Her aunt was rarely home as she was constantly travelling from one set to another, one city to another. And, with Rajini making the switch from hardcore-villain to a swashbuckling hero with films such as Priya and Billa, my mother found her idol in the cigarette-smoking, hair-flipping star.
Back then, my mother mostly watched Rajini’s films First Day First Show, accompanied by family. She even managed to convince her strict mother to let her rush to the theatre during college days. College also gave her something else — her new-found love for a leading star gave her filmy ideas. She cut up pictures of Rajini from newspapers and magazines at home. Whenever she stumbled upon a picture of Rajini, she cut it in a manner that it would not look shabby or out of place. She patiently collected these pictures for a couple of years. Most of them were black and white – Rajini is in all kinds of poses, doing all sorts of things. He’s smiling, dancing with heroines, fighting in a cop costume, carrying little kids on his shoulders, acting naughty or coy, playing musical instruments, looking sober / angry / lost in thought … basically whatever emotion/performance was demanded of him.
One fine summer, she bought a non-ruled, 100-page book to stick those pictures in. It took her a month to do that. She didn’t take a random picture and paste it wherever she could fit it in. She calculated the length and breadth of each picture and made a neat collage with enough gaps in them. If there were multiple pictures from a single movie, she made sure they all went on the same side. For example, there are three significant pictures from Netrikkan alongside a large still of Rajini that occupies a side-by-side page. Most of these pictures, as you can see, are from the early phase of his career – Netrikkan, Johnny, Billa, Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai, Murattu Kaalai, Ninaithale Inikkum and Mullum Malarum.
I don’t exactly know why she didn’t fill out some more books with Rajini’s incandescent pictures. Maybe, she outgrew that phase! I’ll never know. What I do vouch for is, nonetheless, her admiration for Superstar that, still, is a talking point at home. My father teases her every now and then regarding this, and her reply is always a fiery comeback: “As if you aren’t a fan of Sridevi, Sripriya, Rekha, and numerous other divas.”
I’ve never seen amma downrate her favorite star’s movies. The farthest she’s gone is, “Rajini looks thin and old in Baba.” However, if you ask her to watch Baba again, she’d still come with you.
Her book opens to a picture of Rajini making hand binoculars, and moves on to a four-time folded (it’s that large) still of him grinning, and ends with his four – designed like a lotus – cinematic moods. And, when I discovered a particular page from this treasure at the age of four or five, I was startled. There was an invitation for Rajini’s wedding reception. I thought Rajini and my mother were buddies. I soon learnt that the intended recipient was my grand aunt; since she was shooting for a movie then, my mom lost the opportunity to attend the reception.
The book, older than my parents’ marriage, has travelled to more than a dozen houses in Mysore, and Bangalore, long before the cities saw a change in spelling. The book, about 40 years old, is in good condition, and it’s hard to believe that it has survived the drudgery of packing and unpacking. None of the pages is torn, or dog-eared. Some pages have yellowed due to the passage of time.
I have gone through the book more than a hundred times, and my admiration for my mother’s never-dying affection for a star has only grown. Her unabashed devotion towards Rajinikanth has taught me a great deal of life-lessons too. And, if there’s any inheritance that I’ll be proud to flaunt, it will be my mother’s infectious energy and her Rajini picture book.