At 62: Rajinikanth on his marriage, Kamal and Sivaji

Among the slew of festivities that his fans and family are planning to celebrate southern superstar Rajinikanth’s 62nd birthday, are two biographical books, a 3D-reloaded version of his 2007-hit Shivaji the Boss, and a commemorative song.

Innumerable charity initiatives, temple offerings and other events are also being announced across Tamil Nadu and other parts of the world by his fans.

For his family, colleagues and fans, this birthday is unique because it falls on 12-12-12. We are happy to present some interesting excerpts from Rajnikanth - The definitive biography by London based journalist-writer Naman Ramachandran. Published by Penguin Viking, the book has been released today, on his birthday, 12-12-12.

This biography offers an unprecedented access to many aspects of the actor’s personal and professional lives. The author, with the help of the star himself, his family, friends, colleagues and his extensive body of work, tells us why Rajinikanth is indeed a unique phenomenon in this part of the world

On his marriage

It was on the sets of Thillu Mullu that Rajinikanth met the person who he would spend the rest of his life with. Latha Rangachari had a Bangalore connection as her father was employed there and had a house in the city’s Malleswaram locality, a stronghold of the Iyengar community that the Rangacharis belong to. The first time Latha, a student of Ethiraj College, met Rajinikanth was when she went to interview him for the college magazine. Her first impression of the star was favourable. ‘I somehow felt very comfortable with him, it didn’t feel like I was meeting a film star. It was as if I had known him for a long time,’ says Latha.

The cover of the book Rajnikanth - The definitive biography

‘During the interview Rajini asked her if she would marry him,’ says Satyanarayana. ‘She felt shy and told him to ask her parents.’ Latha adds, ‘He had just had a serious nervous breakdown, he had some health problems. When I met him, he was just coming out of it.’ The meetings blossomed into mutual affection. As they got to know each other, Latha gradually learnt about Rajinikanth’s childhood with its lack of creature comforts, his family’s struggle for survival and the fact that he had lost his mother at a young age. As somebody who looks at the child in each person, Latha was drawn to him. ‘I felt strongly that he needed motherly affection, which he had probably missed out on,’ says Latha.4 While his career was shaping up extremely well, what Rajinikanth needed at the time was an anchor, and in Latha he found one.

The task of convincing Latha’s parents fell to the actor Y.G. Mahendran who knew Rajinikanth right from the days of Apoorva Raagangal and had been a near-constant comic presence in many of his films. It helped that Mahendran was married to Latha’s sister Sudha. Satyanarayana and Murali Prasad also met Latha’s parents and permission was duly obtained from the Rangacharis. ‘Around that time I’d gone to Madras and visited Rajinikanth at his Poes Garden residence. He was a bachelor then. He told me that he loved a girl and wanted to marry her. “You must meet her,” he said,’ recalls Raja Badhar. ‘He called her and she came over immediately. “This is the girl,” he said. She was nice. After she left, I asked him several questions about her, including what caste she belonged to. He said he really liked her. I told him to get married then.’
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Rajini on Kamal Hassan
‘In the beginning, in 1975, just how big a star Kamal Haasan was, today’s generation does not know,’ says Rajinikanth. ‘He was an even bigger star in 1975 than he is now. Old or young, a new artiste had never shaken all of India like he did. I had just entered the cinema industry then. Apoorva Raagangal, Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, these were all my guru K. Balachander’s films—I became a hero with these three films.

K Balachander launched Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan

After that the films that came, big films like 16 Vayathinile, Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu, Aadu Puli Attam, Aval Appadithan—these were all hit films. For those films, if Kamal had said, “Don’t cast Rajini”, nobody would have taken me. I got Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu solely on Kamal’s recommendation. So I acted in all these films and then, after I became a big actor, one day Kamal called me and said, “Rajini, only if you act alone will you get your own space. If you say no, the cinema world will use us, and you won’t be able to grow.” I listened to all that he said. After that I worked on my own. Then, after I became a big man, Kamal called me again one day and said, “Rajini, you have to be cautious in Tamil cinema. I have seen from a young age—MGR and Sivaji, though they had no rivalry between them, the cinema industry separated them. And because the industry separated them, their fans also separated. That shouldn’t happen with us. The producers and directors I work with, you should work with them too.” I don’t know how to thank him.’

Rajinikanth adds, ‘In other industries, people like Mammootty, Mohan Lal, Venkatesh, Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan and even Dilip Kumar look at me and are amazed how I managed to make a name for myself as an actor in an industry where Kamal Haasan exists. The reason is simple. I grew as an actor just by watching Kamal Haasan acting. I had the good fortune of being able to observe Kamal Haasan from close quarters.

During the shooting of Avargal I was sitting outside when K. Balachander noticed this and got angry. He sent word for me to return to the set and asked me, “Did you go outside to smoke? Kamal is acting; observe him. Only then will your acting get even better.” From that time, when Kamal acted I wouldn’t go anywhere; I would just sit there and watch. This is the honest truth.’
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36 films in two years
‘He was working round the clock. If he got even an hour’s break, he’d promptly find a quiet spot and take a quick nap,’ Rajinikanth’s best friend Raja Badhar says, referring to the punishing schedule that the actor was putting himself through. In 1978–79, the formative years, career was clearly above self. In these two years, Rajinikanth had a staggering thirty-six releases, many of which marked cinematic firsts for him, and there were some films that have stood the test of time and won him critical acclaim. The films were in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Rajinikanth was working multiple shifts in locations in different states; on occasion, he would shoot during the day and travel by night to the next set, and vice versa. Kamal Haasan’s schedule was nearly as manic as he had thirty-three releases during this time. Meanwhile, MGR had bid adieu to acting with Maduraiyai Meetta Sundara Pandian (The King Who Recaptured Madurai City) which he also directed.
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Sivaji
‘One day, Rajini came to my room,’ says M. Saravanan of AVM Studios which produced Sivaji. ‘He told me that we have to produce a big film. I told him that for a big picture, we have to go to Shankar. So we went to see him. Rajini was hesitating to talk to Shankar because there was some misunderstanding between them— Shankar had done a story and Rajini had not given the dates for it. It was the same Sivaji subject that had been prepared some years ago. Shankar had doubts whether Rajini would do the film. Rajini had doubts whether Shankar would do it. My son had a talk with both of them and finally the combination became possible. There was no budget. The bank was financing the film and we were producing it. It was a risk, but we had no choice.’

AVM is one of the most prominent studios in south India and many actors would give their right arms to work there. However, this doesn’t mean that the studio underpays them. Instead, all actors get their fair market rate. ‘For Sivaji, after we discussed Rajinikanth’s remuneration, he said he’d take the money only after the film was complete,’ says Saravanan. ‘“I’ll not take the money now because you’re borrowing and producing such a big film and it’s such a big risk. I also have to be a part of it. Pay me after the film does business,” he said. He was very cooperative. Once he accepts a film, Rajinikanth is excellent to work with. He takes his own sweet time to decide on a film, but once he does, it’s maximum cooperation with the producer. Even a new artiste may not cooperate like him.’ There was persistent speculation that Rajinikanth’s remuneration for Sivaji was in the region of Rs 26 crore. Saravanan rubbishes this, saying, ‘It was not as much as that.’

During the film’s Pune schedule, AVM had booked a suite for Shankar and a bigger one for Rajinikanth. The Superstar refused. ‘He said, “Give me a single room. I want a place to sleep, do yoga, meditate, and have a little bit of food. That’s all I want,’” says Saravanan. ‘Anywhere he goes, he’s like that. He refuses large rooms, he doesn’t want anything posh.’ A hot case with food must be placed outside his door. ‘After he’s finished his yoga, meditation and drinks, he takes the food inside, eats, washes the dishes himself, leaves the case outside and shuts the door. He’ll never leave a dirty dish outside—he always washes them. He never wants anyone to enter his room, right from the time he reaches the hotel. He comes out when it is time to leave for the shoot. He doesn’t require anybody’s company while drinking, or while eating. He is a lonely bird and stays in his room alone. That is his nature,’ Saravanan reveals.
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Enthiran (Robot)
Before beginning the shoot, Rajinikanth asked Shankar that he was used to playing characters like a ticket tout, taxi driver, rowdy and autorickshaw driver, but how should he play a scientist? The director and the actor planned the body language, mannerisms and costumes, and arrived at a solution. As for playing the robot, they decided to figure it out as they went along while shooting. Shankar did an immense amount of research. Rajinikanth on the robot character and imparted his knowledge to Rajinikanth during the shoot.

‘I thought that playing Chitti the robot would be very difficult. He is a machine. His movements should not be like a human being’s. We had to draw a line. If I deviated even slightly, Shankar would point it out and say that I was being too human. After four to five days of shooting, we found a rhythm,’ says Rajinikanth.

‘But it is after the robot gets human feelings that we really, really had to think. He couldn’t be fully like a machine because he now has feelings, and he can’t be fully human. We were wondering where to draw the line. We struggled till the end to find the correct mix. Finally, Shankar told me to let go because the spontaneity was being lost. I told Shankar to free me now, not draw any borders and see what I did. And Shankar loved it. He asked me to forget about what the critics would write. We didn’t want awards, but rewards.’19

Enthiran (Robot in its Hindi and Telugu versions) cost around Rs 130 crore to make. Even by conservative estimates—and they have to be estimates collated from different sources as, sadly, Indian cinema box office figures are not transparent—the film recovered more than three times its investment, making it the highest grossing Tamil film ever.

Excerpted from RAJINIKANTH: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY, By Naman Ramachandran. Releasing on 12.12.12, Published by Penguin Books India Viking (Penguin India) Rs 699, www.penguinbooksindia.com