“I Go, You Go, Why Ego?”
(To mark his 69th birthday, we pay a tribute to RAJINIKANT by reproducing this interview of his by JYOTHI VENKATESH which appeared first 37 years ago in the now defunct Eve’s Weekly issue dated December 18, 1982)
If you happen to bump into him on the street, you wouldn’t bother to look at him a second time. He is very dark and has an aggressive look which can very well put you off . Yet down South today Rajinikant is a super star who has even dwarfed the popularity of his arch rival Kamal Haasan. Following in the footsteps of Kamal Haasan, Rajinikant is also inching his way slowly and steadily towards the tinsel world of Bombay. He is already working in two Hindi films made by South Indian producers in Madras. In Andha Kanoon, he has been cast along with Reena Roy, Madhavi, Hema Malini and Amitabh Bachchan while in Jawab Ka Jawab his co-stars are Rakesh Roshan and Anita Raaj.
The Bombay producers are waiting for the outcome of Rajinikant’s debut in the Hindi film industry. If he clicks in a big way as Kamal Haasan did, Rajinikant may find himself overnight in the enviable position of being sought after not only in Madras but also in Bombay. His climb to the top has been a hard one. His is a rag to riches story which perhaps has no parallel. At one stage in his life he has worked as a coolie and lived a hand to mouth existence. He also has worked as a bus conductor in Bangalore for five years. Before the acting bug bit him he enrolled himself at the Adyar Film Institute conducted by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, where K. Balachander spotted him and gave him a break in Apoorva Ragangal (Tamil).
Rajinikant’s actual name is Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. It was K. Balachander who gave him his screen name. He has acted in almost 50 films down South in various languages including Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam. By birth, Rajanikant is a Maharashtrian by birth. “I do not want to sign films left right and centre and thus overexpose myself to the audiences. By God’s grace, I have had everything that I wanted down South. I will not work in a film only for the sake of money. I should be given a meaty role, which will call forth performance on the part of an actor. I have turned down a couple of offers because I did not want to get saddled with an image of a tough hero. I know I am capable of doing different roles as I have proved in Madras with my Tamil films.”
Rajinikant is honest enough to admit that it was only because Kamal Haasan’s Ek Duuje Ke Liye has turned out to be a big hit that producers have dared to cast him also as a leading man in Hindi films. “I do not deny that Kamal Haasan has been a pioneer in this manner. His success in Bombay has given me the impetus to try my luck in Bombay.” Rajinikant does not mind calling a spade a spade. He confesses that he does not care much for art films. “Who is interested in seeing boring art films? I’d rather see a film made by Prakash Mehra, Manmohan Desai or for that matter V. Shantaram than sit through a Satyajit Ray film. I enjoyed watching Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, Zanjeer, Amar Akbar Anthony and Muqaddar Ka Sikander. I am in this profession only to entertain the audience.”
Rajinikant is confident that he will be accepted by the audience when his maiden venture Andha Kanoon is released.”The audiences always go in for action movies in a big way. I do not mind playing to the gallery. Let’s face facts. I am not a saleable face as far as the Hindi films are concerned though as far as the Tamil film industry is concerned, I may be the Amitabh Bachchan. To play safe, I am making my debut with a film in which Amitabh Bachchan is putting in a special appearance.” Rajinikant is very fond of Amitabh Bachchan. He makes it a point to see every film in which Amitabh has acted. “Though I am very fond of seeing films with the audience in theatres, I am not able to go to cinema houses only because of the crowds. Most of the time, I have to be content with watching a video film”, he sighs. To see Amitabh Bachchan at the Breach Candy Hospital and cheer him up, he had come all the way from Madras to Bombay a couple of months ago. The macho man is not only married but also the father of a daughter, who is now nearly a year old. He has christened her Aishwarya. After his marriage, his popularity has in fact increased. “My wife Lata has proved to be my lucky mascot”, he beams with pride.
Rajinikant is down to earth when it comes to confessing. If you ask him if he ever dreamt that he would end up as a super star, he will confess that he never had thought that he would. “Let alone becoming a star, I didn’t even dream that, with the kind of face that I have I would even become an extra. Whatever is pre-ordained has got to happen. You cannot change your destiny.” Rajinikant hates to be dubbed as the Shatrughan Sinha of the South. “I hate to be labeled as somebody else’s duplicate. I have my own individuality. Shatruji and I are good friends. On his visit to Tirupati some time ago, he had even dropped in at my bungalow with his wife and twins. It is only the industry which has typed me. I do not think that the public would dub me as the Shatrughan Sinha of the South.”
Rajinikant is prepared to do the kind of work which he will be called upon to do in Bombay. “I have heard that there is chaos in Bombay, and there is no sense of discipline or punctuality. I am used to reporting at 7 am or 9 am on the sets as the case may be, with my make up ready. If Amitabh can continue to be punctual and disciplined in Bombay, tell me why cannot I be too?” Rajinikant asserts that money actually does not at all interest him. ““I have seen people from close quarters, right from the Prime Minister of our country to the Chief Minister. I have also seen almost every top industrialist. Though all of them have money, I find that they are all insecure. Today money does not interest me at all. Though people feel that I have changed, I am at heart the same guy who had worked as a coolie and a bus conductor in Bangalore before K. Balchander Sir spotted me at the Adyar Film Institute and offered to cast me in a cameo role in his Apoorva Ragangal which had Kamal in lead”.
What does stardom mean to you? I ask him. He shoots back, “I am aware of the fact that stardom isn’t eternal. I know that this so-called super stardom will not last long. What goes up has got to come down sooner or later. I am more concerned about retaining my current position. Stars in the past too have fallen the same way they have risen to fame in films. I should say that I am extremely lucky that I have been able to retain my position for the last several years”. Rajinikant confesses that his ability to dance or to be precise his inability to dance is his weak point. Says Rajinikant, as a matter of fact, ” I am jealous of Chiranjeevi who simply mesmerizes the cinegoers with his graceful steps. The credit ought to go to my dance directors for having made me perform my dances on the screen so well though I feel I have two left feet”.
Rajinikant confesses that he is not at all a power broker. “I do not have any power. I am just an ordinary citizen who is happy with what he is doing as an actor. I have no ambitions, political or otherwise. It is only when you are insecure that you’d look for some other field. And by God’s grace, I am secure. I have told this to you many a time before and let me tell this once and for all that I am not at all interested in joining active politics. If only I wanted to, I could have joined any political party or floated my own party but I am not interested in the dirty game”.Rajanikant cares two hoots about his image off screen. “Today I am in a position to see through people and also know what they expect from me. Honestly I am not at all bothered about my image off screen. I sport a salt and pepper beard and show my balding head off because I like it and I do not see any reason why I should explain this to people. However as an actor of the masses, I will certainly live up to the expectations of my fans but strictly only on the screen”. Rajinikant admits that it is true that these are times when he sincerely wishes that he should have been known only down South and not all over the country thanks to his stint in Hindi Cinema, because whenever he goes to Swami Dayanand’s Ashram in Hrishikesh to seek salvation and peace, he is often a major ‘hindrance’ for the other inmates.
Rajinikant has a reason for not doing multi star projects in Hindi. “K.C. Bokadia with whom I had worked in three films- Asli Naqli, Phool Bane Angaarey and Tyaagi as well as Ravi Shankar had approached me with offers but I politely declined their offers though they were not really convinced with my reasons for not doing their films. I do not mean to run down the new breed of stars but then after working with senior actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna, I do not think I can bring myself to work with aaj kal ke naye chokre. Why, even in Chennai I am working in only solo hero projects. I do not think I can be comfortable working in multi starrers in Hindi”
The last Hindi film in which he had acted in a cameo role in Hindi was Bulundi. “I did Bulundi which was the remake of the Tamil hit Nattammai though I had not played the lead in the Tamil original because I owe my Hindi break to T. Rama Rao who had cast me in Andha Kanoon with Amitji. I just couldn’t say No to him when he requested me to do Bulundi in which I thought my cameo role was powerful. Though the film bombed, I was happy with the way my role had been built up. In the beginning of my career, I had worked with Kamal Haasan in quite a few films in Tamil, where he had a bigger role and I was a raw new comer. I may work in a film produced by me with Kamal Haasan or it could be even vice versa in the sense that Kamal may work in a film produced under his banner with me. Nothing has been finalized as yet because each of us has his own fans and hence a proper script which projects us both equally has to be finalized first before we decide to go on the floors”, he says calmly.
Rajini signs off. “Even if I make it big in Bombay, I will never think of leaving the South, which has made me what I am. I was a zero before South took pity on me and made me a hero. I will continue to do as many films as possible in Madras even if I become as busy as Kamal in Bombay. Like Kamal, I also have plans to launch my own films in Madras”. In terms of sheer humility and down to earth nature, there is simply no one to beat Rajinikant. I remember in the late 70’s when Rajinikant used to sit with me at the bar of Sea Side Hotel in Juhu, he often used to spout philosophy in his own inimitable style. On one such occasion, when David Dhawan joined our table, Rajanikant deplored the virtue of having ego by stating to us both, “I go, you go, why ego?”
On yet another occasion, when I chided him for agreeing to act in Hindi films at a price which was even one sixth of what he used to charge the producers of Tamil films, Rajinikant simply shut my mouth by telling me, “Look here. Today I am known only from Tiruchi to Tuticorin or from Kochi to Kanyakumari or from Vijayawada to Hyderabad or from Bangalore to Mysore. By acting in a film even if I charge less, I make sure that I grow in stature outside India and my fans recognize me even in Canada and Greece. Is money more important or getting recognized all over the world?”
The self effacing guy who I met for the first time almost 41 years ago in 1978 when he came to Mumbai to attend Kamal Haasan’s wedding to Vani Ganapathy, who is my cousin and Kamal had introduced him to me asking me to escort him to places in Bombay, he has today grown in stature manifolds. After the release of Robot 2 and Kaala Karikalan, there are possibilities that the bus conductor of yesterday may even embrace politics in a big way and emerge as the C.M of Tamil Nadu by floating his own political party soon. You never know, but I do miss the good old golden days in the late 70’s and mid- 80’s when Rajinikant and I used to sit on the lawns of his bungalow at Poes Garden or his bedroom and spend the nights drinking his favorite scotch Black Dog, till his wife Lata used to remind us that it was time for dinner!
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