When you hear the name RAJINIKANTH, what comes to your mind? The famous cigarette toss, punch dialogues, those terrific on-screen signature moves, gravity-defying jumps and so on. But who was Rajinikanth before he became a Superstar? It was K Balachander, who offered him a 15-minute role of a drunkard in Apoorva Raagangal. Even as a beginner, Rajinikanth made an impact and earned a name for himself in the Kamal Haasan-starrer. The rest, as they say, is history. How this 70-year-old guy transforms magically into a young chap every time in front of the camera? Well, only Rajinikanth can answer this. The actor expanded his repertoire in the late 1970s by featuring in roles that audiences could largely identify themselves with. In fact, they saw Rajinikanth as one among them—the reason behind his success.
Let’s take a look at the movies that made us forget the ‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth.
Apoorva Raagangal (1975)
Rajinikanth played the role of Srividya’s husband in this K Balachander directorial. In an interview, the filmmaker had said, “Though Rajinikanth’s role wasn’t big; I knew people would remember him because of his performance towards the climax portions.”
Balachander added, “He’ll make a big mark in the future.” The veteran director was right, after all! Apoorva Raagangal was remade in Hindi as Ek Nai Paheli (1984).
Moondru Mudichu (1976)
The film starred Kamal Haasan in the lead, and Rajinikanth played Haasan’s roommate. Remember the iconic scene, in which the revenge-driven Rajinikanth watches Haasan drown to death? Meanwhile, did you know Sridevi’s salary was much higher than Rajinikanth, those days?
K Balachander considered Avargal as one of the best performances of Rajinikanth to date. In the film, Rajini played Sujatha’s jealous husband. Eventually, Balachander remade the film in Telugu as Idi Katha Kaadu (1979).
16 Vayathinile (1977)
The film, directed by Bharathiraja, is considered a cult film in the history of Tamil cinema. Even today, we remember the film for being a trendsetter for realistic portrayals of rural life. Rajinikanth played a village guy, lusting for Sridevi’s character. The makers initially thought of titling the film ‘Mayil’.
Aadu Puli Attam (1977)
This film has Rajinikanth mouth the famous dialogue, “Idhu thaan Rajini style” (This is Rajini style). While Kamal Haasan was the ‘hero’, Rajinikanth played the main villain in this SP Muthuraman-directorial. Written by Mahendran, the film was remade by Muthuraman in Telugu as Yetthuku Pai Yetthu.
Directed by R Pattabhiraman, the film is based on the story Gayathri written by Sujatha Rangarajan. According to Panchu Arunachalam, it was this film that defined Rajinikanth’s acting career and later he was cast in Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri.
Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri (1977)
SP Muthuraman made this film when Rajinikanth was doing back-to-back action films. His character Sampath demanded that he underplayed his star image then. The film focuses on the lives of two friends with conflicting ideals. Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri is one of the five films Rajinikanth considers “close to his heart.”
This was Rajinikanth’s first film as a solo hero in Tamil cinema. In the film, he played the iconic role Mookaiah, the loyal henchman to a zamindar. Apparently, during the promotions of Bairavi, a 40-foot cut-out of Rajinikanth was erected at the Plaza Theatre in Chennai and the posters were printed referring to Rajinikanth as the “Superstar”. That was the time MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan were still alive.
Thappu Thalangal (1978)
Even as Rajinikanth’s angry-young-man image was getting etched in the minds of audiences, this film, directed by K Balachander, came as a breath of fresh air. Headlined by Saritha, who plays Sarasu, a sex-worker, the film was way ahead of its time. There’s a certain vulnerability attached to Rajinikanth’s role which played out to the film’s biggest advantage.
Mullum Malarum (1978)
Written and directed by J Mahendran, the film was based on Uma Chandran’s novel of the same name. Mullum Malarum tells the story of Kali (Rajinikanth), a winch operator and his dear sister Valli (Shoba). Mahendran made the film, which went on to become a textbook example of an unconventional Tamil film, sans melodrama, excessive dialogue and duets. Mullum Malarum had cinematography by Balu Mahendra and music by Ilaiyaraaja. Though the film opened to mixed reviews, it had a theatrical run of over 100 days due to word of mouth. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Mullum Malarum was a breakthrough film for Rajinikanth as an actor.
Ninaithale Inikkum (1979)
Though Kamal Haasan was the lead, Rajinikanth played an important role in this K Balachander-directorial. Post this film, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan decided that they would not act together. Written by Sujatha Rangarajan, the film was simultaneously shot in Telugu as Andamaina Anubhavam. Ninaithale Inikkum was a blockbuster at the box office.
Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979)
Directed by SP Muthuraman, the film chronicles the life of Santhanam (Rajinikanth), the eldest son of a poor widow who struggles to make ends meet. The film was screened for 25 weeks in Midland theatre, Chennai. Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai was remade into Telugu as Maharaju (1985) with Sobhan Babu, and in Kannada as Poorna Chandra with Ambareesh.
Written and directed by J Mahendran, the film featured Rajinikanth in a dual role. Johnny became a critical and commercial success. In an interview, Rajinikanth had said Johnny was his most favourite film featuring Sridevi.
Thillu Mullu (1981)
The first edition of Thillu Mullu was a remake of the Hindi film Golmaal. This Rajinikanth-starrer revolves around the life of Chandran, and the lies he tells his boss, played by the hilarious Thengai Srinivasan. It is still a crowd puller on TV channels. Critics were all praise for Rajinikanth’s performance, as he was known for doing action films up until that point in his career. This was the first film that Rajinikanth was seen donning a clean-shaven avatar. A remake was released in 2013, which bombed at the box office.
Directed by SP Muthuraman, the film featured Rajinikanth in a double role as father and son. The film’s story and dialogues were written by Visu. Netrikann was bankrolled by Balachander under Kavithalayaa Productions. It was remade in Hindi as Rangeela Raja with Govinda playing the lead.
Sri Raghavendrar (1985)
Based on the life of Hindu saint Raghavendra Swami, this devotional film (also Rajinikanth’s 100th project) was directed by SP Muthuraman. The film traces the life of Raghavendra from birth till his Mahasamadhi, besides highlighting some of the miracles the saint performed. In an interview with indianexpress.com, SP Muthuraman had said, “It was K Balachander who gave me confidence that a hero of the masses would be accepted in a film on a spiritual subject. Rajinikanth lived as Swami Raghavendra for four to five months. The whole crew followed his footsteps. We didn’t eat non-vegetarian food until the release of the film.” Rajinikanth did it with aplomb, without bothering about his ‘star’ image.
This Mani Ratnam-directorial and Kamal Haasan’s Guna hit screens the same day on Deepavali. While Thalapathy became a hit, Guna turned out to be a dud. The market was flooded with Thalapathi paraphernalia and Rajnikanth’s hair-style in the film went on to become a rage in the south. Reports suggest that Rajinikanth got Rs 40 lakh for Thalapathy! In an interview, Rajinikanth himself admitted that the film was a turning point for him.
As rightly mentioned by Naman Ramachandran in Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, “Whatever Superstar decides to do, for die-hard fans, he will always be the larger-than-life thalaivar.”
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