Editorial: Superstar to supernova

The recent admission by actor Rajinikanth on the condition of his health and medical advice to refrain from politics is unlikely to have dampened the spirit of his followers at Rajini Makkal Mandram, who look up to him to take the plunge and bring about a change in Tamil Nadu politics as he had promised.
Editorial: Superstar to supernova


But the admission has shown a glimpse of the superstar’s persona that had never been revealed before. Forty-five years ago, when Rajinikanth aka Sivaji Rao Gaekwad made his debut in Tamil cinema in the film Apoorva Ragangal and went on to become a bankable star, the former bus conductor had already busted several myths in tinsel town becoming the first dark-skinned hero of Tamil cinema. Over the years, he became the quintessential angry young man of Kollywood who feared none and stood up for the weak and vulnerable. This onscreen image of Rajinikanth was adored and, at times, worshipped by his fans whose numbers continued to multiply as the decades went by earning him the title of ‘Superstar’ of Tamil cinema.
For an actor commanding such a huge fan base in a state well known for producing chief ministers out of movie stars, Rajini had carefully kept himself away from the murky political waters until 1996 when he famously stood up against the then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and urged his fans not to vote for her party claiming that if Jaya was voted to power again, even the gods couldn’t save TN. In political circles, the crushing defeat suffered by the AIADMK in the 1996 Assembly polls is still attributed to that single statement made by Rajinikanth.
Since then, the actor had kept his fans guessing with politically-loaded dialogues against those in power that only enhanced his demi-god public persona as the man who would stand up against the mighty and powerful just as he did in his movies. As the governments kept changing every five years in TN, Rajini remained a political recluse coming out with occasional political rhetoric, often timed around the launch of his big films, only to go back to his life as a full-time actor.
When he finally announced his political entry in December 2017, many in TN thought it was already too late and Rajini was well past his prime. But the screen image of Rajinikanth as a leader of the masses still carried him through as was evident in the support his Rajini Makkal Mandram garnered soon after it was launched in 2018. However, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Rajini once again shied away from the political fray and told his fans that he would step up only when the time was right. Two years have passed since, and the actor is yet to launch his political party. With the next assembly polls barely six months away, the most recent admission of ill-health by the ageing star could well be the anti-climax of Rajini-as-political-leader soap opera that has dragged on for 25 years now.
In a state where a former Chief Minister won an assembly election with a thumping majority from his hospital bed in Brooklyn, New York, and another Chief Minister completed two full terms despite being incapable of walking unassisted during both the tenures, Rajini’s admission of ill-health and his revelation of the doctor’s advice to stay away from contesting in polls, might just have tested the patience of even his most loyal fan a little more than was warranted. Perhaps, Rajini could end his political saga as a cyclic narrative and repeat his 1996 act - by simply pointing his finger at the candidate he believes in, behind whom his fans could throw their weight instead.

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