Once, writer, Leo Tolstoy said, “In all great stories, a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Superstar Rajinikanth’s life journey fits this description very aptly. Many know that Rajinikanth was a bus conductor in Bengaluru before he entered the film industry. But, before Shivaji Rao Gaekwad became one of the biggest movie stars in the world, he worked as an office boy, a carpenter and even a coolie at Mysore Machinery for a brief period. He later landed a job as a conductor with the Bangalore Transport Service in 1970 along with his driver-friend Raja Badhar, who is his best friend to date. Raja Badhar would also play an important role in encouraging Rajinikanth to pursue an acting career in the film industry.
Rajinikanth had been gifted with a unique crowd-pulling magnetism. He had a fan following even when he was a conductor. Critic Naman Ramachandran’s biography of the Superstar, Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, recounts how Shivaji Rao Gaekwad cast his spell on passengers on his bus with his infectious style and charisma. “Passengers would let earlier buses go empty and wait for the bus where the entertaining conductor was on duty and crowd in. Shivaji definitely knew how to work a crowd and play to the gallery even then,” Badhar recalls in the biography.
After working gruelling shifts on various bus routes, in evenings Rajinikanth with his friends use to rehearse for the plays backed by the transport service he was working for. Looking at his talent in acting, his friends suggested that he will make a famous villain in films if he were to pursue acting as a career. Shivaji took on his friends’ advice and joined Madras Film Institute and began his journey with show business.
When Rajinikanth went to give audition for a minor role in legendary director K. Balachander’s film, actor Kamal Haasan, who was already a star at the time, was afraid that the novice actor may bag an interesting role in the film. Balachander, who mentored Kamal, Rajinikanth and many other iconic actors, calmed Kamal’s concerns by reminding him that he was the hero of the film. That was the first Kamal saw Rajinikanth. And it seems like he knew right at the moment that Rajinikanth would go on to become his major rival in the film industry.
Balachander rechristened Shivaji Rao Gaekwad as Rajinikanth and launched his acting career with Apoorva Raagangal in 1975. Rajinikanth played minor roles, including villains and mostly second fiddle to Kamal, before he began doing solo movies as a lead actor. He started playing the leading man with Bairavi in 1978 and the rest, as they say, his history.
Another important life-changing moment happened in Rajinikanth’s public life in 1996 elections. He led a campaign against late political icon J Jayalalithaa and her party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, which resulted in a landslide for Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led front. And the political world woke up to the influence the actor wielded over the people of Tamil Nadu. And soon every known political party in the country that wanted to establish itself or strengthen its roots in the hard-core Dravidian state began vying for his endorsement.
Rajinikanth came very close many times but stopped short of taking the plunge in active politics. In 2004, he openly pledged his vote for the BJP-AIADMK alliance during the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP lost that election. That was arguably the last time, Rajinikanth ever openly endorsed a political party.
On December 31, Rajini finally ended the ‘will he, won’t he’ suspense and announced his decision to enter politics.
While Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have been great offscreen friends for nearly 50 years now, the rivalry between them professionally and now politically will seemingly continue. The matinee idols, are now all set to add interesting chapters to India’s political history.
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