As the recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the superstar of Tamil cinema Rajnikanth crosses yet another milestone in a career that spans 45 years and continues to go strong. Rajnikanth was presented the 51st Dadasaheb Phalke Award at the 67th National Film Awards function by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu in the national capital on Monday.
The Phalke Award is the latest of several honours that the thespian has garnered through his career. Apart from four Tamil Nadu State Film Best Actor Awards, and a Filmfare Best Tamil Actor Award, Rajinikanth is the recipient of Padma Bhushan in 2000, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2016. He is the second Tamil actor after Sivaji Ganesan to receive the prestigious film award.
However, bracketing Rajinikanth as a Tamil movie star would be a grave injustice to the legions of fans and admirers he has acquired across regions and languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi - he has acted in all the movie industries. His popularity breaches regional and national boundaries too. There was a time, when Rajinikanth was a big time craze in faraway Japan.
His life itself is reminiscent of some of the rags to riches roles he has successfully portrayed on the big screen. Born in erstwhile Mysore state as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, in a middle-class Marathi family of Bangalore, young Rajinikanth took up several odd jobs before landing a job as a bus conductor in the Karnataka capital. The acting bug caught him pretty young, and egged on by his bus-driver friend Raj Bahadur, he took off to then Mecca of south Indian cinema - Madras, now Chennai.
Interestingly, the 70-year-old superstar who has held sway over the silver screen for several decades, began his career as the quintessential bad man on screen. Legendary director K. Balachander's find, Rajinikanth made his debut with a small role in 'Apoorva Raagangal' in 1975. Thereafter, a series of negative roles in a succession of movies ensured he became a known face to movie-goers. His inimitable style quotient included mannerisms such as popping a cigarette and lighting it, or rocking on his heels while rattling off long dialogues, with a sneering smile plastered across his face.
In real life too, in the conservative Chennai society of the 70s and 80s, Rajinikanth briefly enjoyed a reputation as a bit of a bohemian. His smoking and alcohol-loving lifestyle used to be the talk of the town. Incidentally he first met his wife Latha, when she came to interview him for a college magazine.
Gradually, Rajinikanth took control of his life and turned a new page altogether. For some time, he made the headlines for his visits to his Himalayan guru's abode, seeking solutions to many of society's ills.
But throughout, Rajinikanth never lost sight of his cinematic career goals. Thanks to a couple of lucky breaks, including the hit movie 'Priya' where he portrays a detective, Rajinikanth had transitioned to lead roles. Along the way, he worked in Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam movies, in addition to the occasional Hindi movie like 'Andha Kanoon' and 'Hum' to name a few.
It was movies like 'Baasha', 'Annamalai', and 'Sivaji' that cemented Rajinikanth's cult status. The poor young man with a heart of gold, who wins over the rich and mighty is a recurring theme in many of his movies, and something that fans relate to everytime he appears on screen.
Rajinikanth is also known for his sense of fair play. Just as he commanded astronomical remunerations for his movies, his conduct was said to be exemplary if his films tanked at the box-office. The Tamil film industry saw a new trend set when he supposedly called his film producers home and reimbursed their losses.
But Rajinikanth has also not stepped back from challenging roles either. Be it 'Chandramukhi' which dealt with the paranormal, or 'Enthiran' which set the ball rolling for sci-fi in Indian movies, Rajnikanth has done it with elan.
The superstar had also tried his hand at politics but better sense prevailed and ahead of the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, he disbanded his political party on December 31, 2020. Earlier too, he has been politically active, albeit from the sidelines when Jayalalithaa as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister made it to the headlines over her alleged corruption, Rajinikanth railed against her and contributed to the DMK victory in the polls of 1996. In later years, Rajinikanth cozied upto the BJP but never went beyond verbal support for the party.
With age and health concerns turning out to be hurdles, Rajinikanth has become choosy about his roles. 'Annaatthe' is his latest big screen outing currently under production. Meanwhile, the younger generation comprising of daughters Soundarya, Aishwarya, and son-in-law and actor Dhanush are active in the filmmaking business.
Dhanush too figured in the honours list on Monday, bagging the Best Actor award for his role in Tamil feature film 'Asuran'.
Forty-five years ago, few including the plain-looking, swarthy young Rajinikanth himself, would have imagined that the most prestigious cinematic award of the land would be his. But on Monday, 70-year-old Shivaji Rao Gaekwad a.k.a. Rajinikanth did just that. And he didn't forget the people who made it possible - his brother Satyanarayana Rao, friend Raj Bahadur, mentor K. Balachander, and his fans.