A hero, not just on screen
Sujatha Narayanan traces the quintessential politics to cinema route in Tamil Nadu
Rajinikanth’s first-day speech (at the recent fans meet) is the best he’s ever spoken. He took criticism head-on. His self-referencing to his so-called bad habits and what his detractors say about him when it comes to his ‘stunts’ ahead of his movie release meant he was ‘aware’. He left the bigger question unanswered, yes, but that to me is his prerogative. He can take his time, and in the meanwhile, let us decide our state’s future too? I ran a Twitter poll to assess how many of us would like to see Rajnikanth in politics. The result was a ‘hung-parliament’. While 50% wanted to see him in politics, the other half wanted him to remain a Superstar. It is a tiny indication that we are as indecisive about Rajinikanth’s next move as he is himself.
So what do we want for our state? Cinema has always been the dipping pond to look for Chief Ministers. It all began with 'Puratchi Thalaivar' M G Ramachandran, the on-screen messiah who never lost any election. MGR became Jayalalitha’s lucky mascot after his death; and he had set the template for all ‘heroes’ with political ambitions, at least those who could beat up ten goons in one shot (add the low-angle shot and punch dialogue).
MGR’s persona was carefully built around his period flicks like Malaikallan, Madurai Veeran and Mannadhi Mannan. He topped those films with his own directorial venture, Nadodi Mannan. His philosophy-espousing songs spelt the Dravidian tenets and he spoke to every individual Tamilian via his film tropes: the mother/sister sentiment, the lyrics, the meagre attention to romance, the fight against money and corruption, the show of machismo with the hero-centric climax, and the I-will-make-your-world-good assurance in the end. This template was so successful that it went from MGR to Amitabh Bachchan who mixed adequate personal anger at society and served the concoction to the hilt.
When Rajinikanth came into films, the Bachchan era was in full swing, and every Hindi film there would be remade here with Rajinikanth in Tamil and Chiranjeevi in Telugu. The title of Superstar bestowed on Rajnikanth became the first such nomenclature and the one and only hot seat coveted today by every hero gunning for the king’s throne with their every release. Ajith and Vijay films follow the same MGR-Amitabh-Rajini template. Before them, Vijaykanth and Sarathkumar tried but their success was limited both on and off screen.
Rajinikanth hasn’t moved from the image of being a ‘do-gooder-hero’ after MGR, but has the world moved on from MGR’s times or do we still seek ‘film heroes’ to save our day? Tamil Nadu’s leadership swings on headless but why should the pressure/mantle fall only on Rajnikanth? Why can’t a hero emerge from the unknown backyards of education or business? A CEO-CM instead of an actor-CM, anyone? Also, why do we work ourselves into a frenzy when we hear the word 'Pachchai Tamizhan'? MGR had his family roots in Kerala. And this ‘out-of-TN origin' factor is another commonality that Rajnikanth shares with Tamil Nadu’s best loved Chief Minister.