Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Rediscovery of Rajnikanth

Welcome to the rediscovery of Rajnikanth!

Every time a Rajnikanth film hits the marquee mainstream press and commercial Hindi cinema starts to eulogize the Thalivar all over again. Apart from the almost patronizing news stories in the electronic media, reams of anecdotes in the print media and the never-ending plethora of Rajni jokes that flood the inbox for the non-Tamil speaking majority the chance to celebrate the superstar sadly depends on watching reruns of the dubbed version of his previous outing, Sivaji The Boss.

While you wait to catch Robot at a theater near you here is a list of films that truly allow the less conversant with Tamil cinema to truly discover the juggernaut called Rajnikanth.

Today Rajnikanth might be the biggest reel life hero but many would be surprised to know that he started his career playing the baddie. Trained at the Madras Film Institute, Rajnikanth started acting in 1975 with Apoorva Raagangal but it was in 1977 that he played the protagonist for the first time. Up until the end of the decade Rajnikath had made his mark as an actor who was accepted by the masses but it was Billa (1980), a remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s Don that unleashed the superstar to the masses.

While his stylized mannerisms were adored by the audiences Rajnikanth balanced the stardom with some interesting choices of films like Netri Kann (1981). In one of his best acting performances Rajnikanth played the dual roles roles of a rich womanizing industrialist Chakravarthy and his son Santosh, who ends up marrying a woman his father rapes.

Netri Kann

Many Rajnikanth films during the 1980’s were remakes of Amitabh Bachchan hits like Padikkathavan (Khudaar), Thee (Deewar, Velaikaran (Namak Halal), Dharmathin Thalaivan (Kasme Vaade), Mr. Bharath (Trishul) and Maaveeran (Mard). Rajnikanth first Hindi film Andha Kanoon (1983) saw him share screen space with Amitabh Bachchan but stint in Hindi films was not as triumphant. Yet he is fondly remembered for his characteristic cigarette flicking inspector Hussein in Geraftaar and the madcap Jaguu taxi driver in Chalbaaz amongst others like Hum. A deeply spiritual man Rajnikanth’s portrayal of Sri Raghavendra is one his personal favorites.


The 1990’s not only continued to consolidate Rajnikanth as the biggest box office draw in India but gave him an opportunity to work with Mani Ratnam. While the essence of Rajni was intact Thalapathi managed to break new ground for the actor. Based on the Duryodhan-Karna friendship from the Mahabharat, Thalapathi was a mainstream film but gave Rajnikanth a role that went beyond the usual trappings of Rajni traits. In Annamalai Rajnikanth reprised the role of Shatrughan Sinha in Khudgarz and the part comedy-part serious act was yet another resounding success.

With two big hits in Basha and Muthu 1995 was the watershed year for Rajnikanth. The remake of Hum, Basha’s great one-liners like ‘Na orre dareve sonn noor dareve sonna madari’ (If I say it once, it’s like I have said it a hundred times) are part of folklore now. Muthu is the film that introduced a whole new world of audience to the magic of Rajnikath and made him a star in Japan out of all the places! The impact of Muthu’s success in Japan was so much that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a special note about the reach of this film among the Japanese in one of his official speeches in Japan in 2006!

Rajnikanth in Muthu

Replete with great comic timing and some funny lines such as ‘Aandavan solluraan, Arunaachalam mudikkuraan’ (God proposes, Arunachalam disposes), Arunaachalam, a remake of Malamaal, is yet another Rajni gem and so is Vidhuthalai, a remake of Qurbani, where Rajnikanth has some great scenes with Sivaji Ganesan who plays Amjad Khan’s role.

Most of these films are now easily available on DVDs with English subtitles and that should be reason enough to pick them up! To call Rajnikanth the biggest star on the basis of dubbed versions of his films or news worthy events like the success of Sivaji and Endhiran without truly enjoying some of his Tamil films is like missing out on the best part of the journey!

10 facts you never knew about Rajinikanth's Robot

Endhiran is all Rajnikanth and special effects!


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