People’s hero, Rajinikant, the Thalaivar, gets the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award

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Superstar Rajinikanth is awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award

For many critics and cinema aesthetes, Rajinikanth may not the classiest actor but to his ardent fans, numbering millions, their Thalaivar or Thalaiva, (meaning boss or leader), is the best! Now, their love and confidence in him is proved as he becomes the recipient of the 51st Dada Saheb Phalke Award.

Announcing this the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said that the Award for 2019 will be conferred to legendary actor Rajinikanth on May 3, along with the National Film Awards.

Born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad he is popularly known as a Rajinikanth – a name he was christened with by veteran director K. Balachander in his debut film “Apoorva Raagangal”. The short villainous role was praised by critics and cinema buffs alike. From there started the journey to stardom steadily!

As the youngest sibling in a Marathi household settled in Bengaluru (then Bangalore), Rajinikant was always attracted to acting. Interestingly, his stage debut began in Ramakrishna Math, where he besides theatre, he learnt Vedas, and history! To make ends meet, he joined the Bangalore Transport Service as a conductor but the acting bug never left as he continued to enact parts in Kannada theatre. Joining acting course in Madras Film Institute was indeed ominous as Rajinikant was spotted by Balachander, who asked him to learn Tamil, which he did.

From Vanquished to the Victor!

Even though the tinsel town brands you irrevocably, examples are not unknown of many actors becoming heroes after essaying villain roles. Shining instances are Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha in Bollywood. The same holds true for Rajinikant.

In his earlier phase, Katha Sangama to Anthuleni Katha to Moondru Mudichu to Baalu Jenu he held on to the evil streak but courted success and recognition. From 1978, he moved to the lead roles and these too his fans loved.

An unabashed admirer of Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikant has essayed the former’s roles in several remakes. These include Shankar Salim Simon ('Amar Akbar Anthony') and Billa ('Don').

It was 90s which saw Rajinikanth’s ascendency to superstardom leaving everyone behind, including Kamal Haasan. Now he is regarded as a mass entertainer, who does a single project which is eager awaited by his fan club.

According to Naman Ramchandran, author of “Rajnikanth: The Definitive Biography” in an interview in Times of India: “Unlike other stars, Rajinikanth does not overexpose himself. He doesn't do commercials or endorsements, unless it is for charity, and there is always a gap between his films. His public appearances are also rare. That's why there is a natural need for his people to see him and express themselves whenever they can. And because of this, not much marketing is required. For example, when the Kabali teaser released, it reached 30 million views in no time.”

Commenting about his physique, Ramachandran also says, “If you look at the phenomenon historically, he is the first people's hero - someone who looks like the average Tamil male (although he is of Marathi stock) and he is one of them - as opposed to the Brahminical heroes of past years.” But the biographer rightly put his finger on the sense of festivity attached to his films. “With Rajinikanth films there is no distinction between masses and classes. A Rajinikanth film is an event, a festival, a holiday and that's that.”

The actor’s popularity and his sway can be gauged by what Rinku Kalsy, who made a documentary on him “For the love of a Man” says on what triggered her to make the film. “The idea came through the producer Joyojeet Pal who was a researcher in Microsoft in Bangalore and during some work in Tamil Nadu found that Rajinikanth's role in a film called ‘Sivaji’ was a major factor in encouraging children to want to become software engineers. That got us started thinking about the value of the star in the lives of people.”

Being what he is!

One aspect of Rajinikanth that sets him apart from other film superstars across India is never modifying his real self in public appearance. Donning simple kurta-pyjama and slippers without attempting to hide his baldness or age, he simply comes across as an unassuming star. Kalsy explains: “He comes across as more ‘real’ than some of the stars who try to appear relatively more ‘star-like’ - this adds to the value that people attribute to his simplicity.”

What really impressed one more than his stardom was his honest and forthrightness. Addressing the audience in an event related to his film Robot, he narrated an incident which transpired when he was visiting his brother in Bengaluru. A neighbour dropped by, looked at his bald patch and commented about Rajinikanth growing old. Accepting it, the actor when asked if he has retired, said he was doing a film with Aishwarya Rai. Intrigued, the gentleman asked him who the hero was? On being told that it was him, the neighbour refused to believe, and even wondered what was wrong with Abhishek and Amitabh Bachchan allowing her to be his heroine. Laughing loudly along with the audience, he stole everyone’s heart when he said: “Thank you Aishwarya” to his heroine who too was seated on the dais along with Amitabh!