‘Waited for decades...’: Fans-turned-political workers feel dejected as Rajinikanth moves on
As actor Rajinikanth is set to return to Chennai on Friday from the US where he underwent a health-check up and is readying for his new Tamil release in November, some of his fans are still picking up the pieces after being abandoned in his political quest.
A dejected, SM Rabik has left Rajinikanth’s fan club in Madurai of which he was one of the founding members since 1977. He was also working as part of the Rajini Makkal Mandram (RMM), a conglomeration of all his fans clubs launched when the superstar announced his entry into politics in December 2017.
“I’ve relieved myself from everything since he has decided not to pursue it,” says Rabik. “I was never interested in any other political party. But I was waiting for decades for him to enter politics,” he said not wishing to elaborate further.
The RMM was packed with Rajinikanth’s cult following, with no background in politics, but they turned into his foot soldiers as he began from scratch.
Another fan and RMM functionary, who wanted his identity protected, resigned from a private software company in Chennai, three days after Rajinikanth announced his exit due to excessive trolling he faced in his office and online. The actor returned from his shooting from the sets of ‘Annaatthe’ and on 29 December 2020, he announced that he will not pursue politics due to his health condition.
“I had canvassed for votes for him everywhere including my office and everyone kept telling me he will back out,” he says. “So when he did back out, my colleagues humiliated me for wasting my time. One friend even got me a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum (this too shall pass)’.” He shifted jobs and his new company isn’t aware of his association with Rajinikanth’s brief stint in politics.
For some Rajinikanth fans, the questions remain if he was forced into politics for multiple reasons. “And if he did it for commerce,” says a fan who wrote a book on the superstar and he didn’t want to be identified. “Rajini was this duck who laid a golden egg with a film every two years and fans would crave for it. Ever since he announced his political entry he has been making back-to-back films and none of them had any hint of his politics.” He says he compared Rajinikanth straddling films and politics with his predecessors like MG Ramachandran and Vijayakanth.
Tamil Nadu is after all a pioneer in fusing silver screen and politicking. “But with Rajinikanth, several things were off the mark so disappointment with him is something that happened slowly unlike his hardcore fans for whom it was a big bang disappointment,” the writer says. He adds that he was wondering how Rajinikanth would plan an exit strategy after his press conference in March 2020 where he announced he would lead the party but someone else would be chief minister. “The hardcore fans told me I should be thinking loyally not logically. For them, Rajinikanth is God and God will never do anything wrong to us. While some still hold on to that belief, this shattered for a few others.” He gives the example of a 60-year-old RMM functionary who was a Rajinikanth’s fan club president and pawned his wife and children’s gold jewellery and spent 6-lakhs on Rajinikanth’s birthday on December 12 2020. He moved on to another party.
Several others, including those who held key positions in the RMM, have joined other parties such as the DMK and the BJP with Rajinikanth’s blessing. Political greenhorns like Gayathri Srinivas believe that RMM gave them a political launchpad. She was the RMM’s district secretary of the women’s wing in south Chennai who joined the BJP earlier this year.
“Along with family and friends, I joined RMM to work towards social causes and bring about an alternative politically,” says Srinivas. “I’m a huge fan and meeting him just once for me was a divine experience. I had no idea about joining politics until he announced his entry. Now that I’ve learnt so much over the last three years, I didn’t want to waste the experience.” She adds that she chose BJP as she felt their ideology aligned with Rajinikanth’s politics.
Despite the disappointment, sections of his fan base remain intact such as 27-year-old Nagaraj Jayakumar who was RMM youth wing head of Chennai’s Alandur. “We wouldn’t have learnt the basics in politics in established parties like the DMK and the AIADMK but here we completed work in 70% of the booths,” says Jayakumar. He had started a YouTube channel, Samaniyar exclusive for Rajinikanth to bust fake news about him. But he says it’s been hard to move on. “I worked for the party during weekends. We have spent a lot of time on party work, so it’s frustrating and several people are still stuck not knowing what to do next. I’ve continued with my day job.”
The kind of impact Rajinikanth’s brief political foray and exit had on his fandom could be indicated by the response to his new film, ‘Annaatthe’ slated for a Diwali release. The film is produced by DMK patriarch late M Karunanidhi’s grand-nephew Kalanidhi Maran’s Sun Pictures.