Tamil Nadu: Sarath Kumar takes on Rajinikanth as Kollywood's 'star wars' take centre-stage

His fans consider him the biggest Tamil superstar but as far as colleague Sarath Kumar is concerned, Rajinikanth is just an "outsider" Kannadiga who stepped into Tamil Nadu to find work. Actor-turned-politician Kumar who contested on the AIADMK symbol in the Assembly election from Tiruchendur in Tamil Nadu in May 2016 and lost, has declared that he will be the first to oppose Rajinikanth if he tried to turn politician.

Within hours of his diatribe against Rajinikanth, Kumar who has acted in over 130 films in all major South Indian languages, was trending on Twitter in Chennai. Rajini fans tore into him, with memes — both ridiculing and abusing him — having a field day. At some places, Kumar's posters were burnt by Rajini fans. In a state where Rajinikanth is seen as a demi-god, Kumar's atheism spoilt the Pongal cheer.

What triggered this outburst from Kumar who prefaced it by acknowledging Rajinikanth's superstar status? It was Rajini's speech at the Thuglak annual event, meant also to remember former editor Cho Ramaswamy who passed away last month. Rajinikanth, displaying uncharacterstic candour, spoke of an "abnormal situation" prevailing in Tamil Nadu since the passing of J Jayalalithaa.

Kumar saw that as an opening.

 Tamil Nadu: Sarath Kumar takes on Rajinikanth as Kollywoods star wars take centre-stage

File image of Rajinikanth. News18

Taking Rajinikanth head on, Kumar taunted him, asking if he is not able to step out of his home and asked him not to make loose comments. Kumar said chief minister O Panneerselvam had travelled to Delhi to seek help after Cyclone Vardhan and had also visited Vijayawada to ask for water from his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Chandrababu Naidu, and pointed out that all this showed there was nothing 'unusual' about the political situation in Tamil Nadu. Kumar said a functional government was in place in Chennai. He derided Rajini as someone who would comment when he wants to and only on issues that suited him. In other words, he described Rajinikanth as opportunistic.

Rajinikanth, by virtue of having been born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad and having worked as a bus conductor in Bengaluru, was always in a dilemma during disputes between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. He had to do a deft balancing act between his mother state and the state that made him a Superstar. This was always exploited by his critics on either side who took him to task for not supporting their respective sides

Given Rajinikanth's larger-than-life persona in Kollywood, it is not easy for any actor to criticise him. That Kumar did so, certainly points to a larger purpose. And the reason is pretty obvious. RSS ideologue Gurumurthy, who is the newly appointed editor of Thuglak urged Rajinikanth to take the political plunge at the same event.

Now this again is not a new request. For over two decades, the 'will he-won't he' question has dogged Rajinikanth. When he said, "Even God can't save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa is elected back to power" ahead of the 1996 elections, it decimated the AIADMK and helped the DMK-Tamil Maanila Congress combine to come to power.

But after that, Rajinikanth has maintained a 'touch-me-not' equation with politicians despite Cho telling him several times to embrace politics. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi visited Rajinikanth at his residence, giving rise to speculation about the actor's proximity to the BJP's prime ministerial candidate. That Modi was also addressing the Thuglak event via video conference is a point not to be missed.

Is Kumar batting for the AIADMK? Looks quite likely. The ruling party even though quite convinced that Rajinikanth does not have the stamina for politics, wouldn't want to take chances. The party has tasted the destructive power of his one-line-punch dialogue in 1996. The question that arises is whether by "abnormal situation", Rajini was referring to Sasikala taking over and giving Panneerselvam the cold shoulder at most public events. Would Rajini then do a 1996 to Sasikala?

The AIADMK will also note with a touch concern the BJP's ambitious muscle-flexing in Tamil Nadu. The saffron party's biggest disadvantages are in its being seen as a North Indian party and the lack of a popular face in Tamil Nadu. If it succeeds in roping in Rajinikanth and brewing a new political cocktail, they could overcome both hurdles in one shot.

Kumar's diatribe against Rajinikanth, saying only a Tamilian should rule Tamil Nadu and that outsiders can do business in Tamil Nadu, but not politics also does not make sense. AIADMK founder, MG Ramachandran, was after all from Kerala. Jayalalithaa was a Tamil Brahmin, born in Mysuru. Both were embraced and loved by people of Tamil Nadu.

At a personal level, Kumar is also using the Rajinikanth name to stay relevant. He lost control of the Nadigar Sangam, the actor body in Tamil Nadu that he controlled for three terms from 2006 to 2015. And now that he is no longer a lawmaker, he has to indulge in political pinch-hitting to remind the new AIADMK selectors that he has the firepower.

And what could be better net practice than belting Rajinikanth for a six?

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 14:01:24 IST