Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography
By Naman Ramachandran
Rs. 699 pp 244
The front of this book’s cover jacket has a smiling Rajinikanth in glitter; the back has him in a fiery-eyed Shiva-like avatar. Very apt, since his legions of fans worship Rajinikanth.
Naman Ramachandran, who claims (or an over-enthusiastic blurb writer does) that “he was placed on Planet Earth with the express purpose of writing the definitive biography of Superstar Rajinikanth,” had to actually be given the go-ahead by the superstar’s (the word ‘star’ doesn’t do him justice) official fan club, before he could get down to the task of writing the book.
If someone could understand and explain, not just the Rajinikanth phenomenon, but much of south India’s peculiar tendency to deify their film stars, that would be the book to bet on.
But analysing the success of a Maharashtrian bus conductor called Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, who grew up in Karnataka and became a Tamil film idol, is a crazy endeavour.
Is Naman Ramachandran’s book ‘definitive’? He does write that he watched all of Rajinikanth’s films twice, so a large part of the book is just made up of synopses of those films (with lines like “A thunderstruck Prasanna scampers down the stairs and reaches Pandiyan.”).
Some of these lines sound so bizarre by today’s standards, you can see the huge span Rajini has traversed from those turgid early melodramas to the high-tech, mega-budget blockbusters he now stars in.
How does a writer avoid making his book a hagiography and yet record - quite truthfully, as it happens — how fans bathe giant cut-outs of their Thalaivar (chieftain) with milk on the day his film is being released? Ramachandran tries to hold back the gushing — though he can’t help using extravagant adjectives — and ends up with a curiously dispassionate tone.
Of course, the background and family details are included, but surely there is more warmth and passion in Rajinikanth’s life than comes across in this book.
Ramachandran also compiles needless facts — like listing the names of those who share Rajinikanth’s birthday (Who has heard of Darlene Carr, and who would remember just what Duane Dudley Chase was famous for?) and the historical events that took place at several points of his life.
Really, it’s not as if Rajinikanth had any great role in changing world history. There are too many digressions into the careers of his directors; the interviews and comments by his co-stars and contemporaries (Kamal Haasan is particularly gracious) are interesting but hardly illuminating, since nobody would have anything critical to say about the man.
In the light of his current stature, everything in his past glows in retrospect, as if he were a special child picked for divinity.
From all accounts, Rajinikanth is a nice guy — simple, humble, extraordinarily generous and totally lacking in vanity. How he keeps a level head with all that adulation enveloping him like a toxic cloud is perhaps explained by his bent towards spiritualism — that and his refusal to sever old ties.
His best friend is still Raja Badhar, the driver of the bus on which Shivaji Rao was the popular conductor. But apart from a few nuggets, there are no great insights to be mined.
In any case, in this day of information overload any search engine will throw up factoids — Rajini’s catchphrases, his cigarette-flipping style, his swagger, how he disguises himself to get a taste of ordinary life that is now beyond his reach as a megastar, his health problems, his fan following in Japan, and so on.
An earlier book, My Name is Rajinikanth, by Gayatri Sreekanth had gone over most of this territory.
This is not an easy, breezy read — it’s a plod-through. And that ‘definitive’ in the title definitely calls for debate. Still, as they say of so many of his films — the book is mainly for Rajini fans.
Deepa Gahlot is a journalist and Head Programming, Theatre & Film, National Centre for Performing Arts