Updated: April 2, 2021 5:13:52 am
Rajinikanth, the larger-than-life superstar whose near-mythical presence in the consciousness of the cinemagoing public has few parallels, will be bestowed the government’s highest honour for Indian cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
The announcement, made by Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday, may have raised some eyebrows—coming as it did amid a heated election season. But few would dispute Rajini’s claim to the country’s most prestigious honour for a cinema artiste, which will be conferred upon him on May 3.
And sure enough, the congratulatory messages poured in swiftly, even from political rivals. DMK chief and Chief Minister candidate M K Stalin said it was a delayed honour for the superstar—an “unparalleled performer” and a “dear friend”. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan said Rajini was the most appropriate artiste to get the award. He tweeted that Rajini had “proven that he can win over fans by appearing on screen”—a remark many interpreted as a subtle jibe at the actors’s on again, off again flirtation with politics.
— Rajinikanth (@rajinikanth) April 1, 2021
Rajini thanked them all. His friend, the bus driver Raj Bahadur (who he dedicated the award to), for encouraging him to travel to Chennai, then Madras, to pursue acting. His brother Sathyanarayana Rao Gaikwad, for the “many sacrifices” he made to fulfil his dreams amid the difficulties in early life. His mentor, the late Tamil filmmaker K Balachander, who gave him his “first break”, catalysing his transformation from Shivaji Rao Gaikwad to ‘Rajinikanth’. His “friend”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Producers, directors, technicians, distributors, theatre owners and the media. And, especially, the “Tamil people who have helped me thrive, and my fans all over the world”.
Rajinikanth’s path to the very top of the pantheon of Indian cinema was anything but typical. After his early life as a bus conductor in Karnataka, he joined films at 25. His first big commercial hit came with his 25th outing. On screen, he performed in black and white, colour, 3D and motion capture. Off it, he never hid his balding pate and greying beard.
According to R Kannan, the author of MGR: A Life, Rajinikanth was an actor who defied the grammar of charisma.
He said Rajini was an equal to M G Ramachandran in his acting career. But the difference lay in the former’s reluctance in consciously building an image.
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