Newsmaker: Rajinikanth holds political script close to his chest

Could you think of another film actor who has been “successful” in Tamil Nadu politics apart from the Big Three – MGR, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi?

Sivaji Ganesan tried. He was one of the big greats in Tamil cinema. But, despite popularity and fabulous acting skills, he was not a success in politics. He started in the Congress, lost the faith and launched his own party, Tamizha Munnetra Munnani, which contested all seats in the 1989 Assembly elections. He could not win, losing the seat he contested by about 10,000 votes to the DMK. “When we take wrong decisions, we have to face disappointments,” he later philosophised. 

True. Probably why Kamal Haasan keeps dipping his toe in the political waters, not confident enough to wear the itsy bitsy polka dotted garment and take the plunge — while the discourse and the will is there, the spirit is unwilling. There are so many fears and insecurities — of losing what capital there is as a film star, of being reduced to being a khadi-clad commissar.

The same fears are possibly haunting Rajinikanth, who had given hints of joining politics in the past. However, the clearest repudiation of those hints came earlier this week, when he said he was not thinking of joining politics at this time.

The example of Vijayakanth is before us. He might have thought that as the Karuppu (dark) MGR, he could follow the MGR route to state and maybe even national politics. What a mistake that turned out to be! Sarath Kumar also tried, but got nowhere. 

Kamal Haasan is postponing taking a decision — and it does look as if Rajinikanth has postponed that decision as well. Not necessarily a copycat move, though the two are competitors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called on Rajinikanth at the latter’s home a few days before the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, a cordial meeting. After that, the Bharatiya Janata Party let it be known that it would welcome him in the party, although many there made no secret of the fact that they thought it would be a wrong move. Rajinikanth did the equivalent of a referendum among his fans and then made no forward move. “Please don’t ask political questions,” he begged reporters when they quizzed him earlier this year. To his fans, the actor said: “My life is in the hands of God. I’m not sure what he has in store for me. I will always perform the duty that he bestows on me. So, don’t feel disappointed if I don’t enter politics.”

Make what you will of that.

Why Rajinikanth? The former bus conductor in Karnataka, who made good in Tamil Nadu’s Kodambakkam, is extremely popular in Tamil Nadu. Known as Thalaivaa (leader) in the state, he can do incredible things on screen — split a bullet in two, for instance. He is neither a hero nor a villain but an anti-hero and, in his case, the gestures make  the man. His film, Enthiran, was a runaway hit, the biggest grosser among all Indian films in 2010. Baashaa in 1995 is still remembered and while Chandramukhi was a Malayalam remake, it outdid itself as a horror film, grossing upward of Rs 65 crore.

Rajinikanth knows he is a highly monetisable commodity on the movie circuit — but also knows that what sells as fantasy might have no real value in real life. Not much is known about his politics. This in itself is a challenge. The era of Dravidian rhetoric is gone. Setting off caste discourses is a double-edged sword, as it can be used against you. So, ending poverty and corruption, and world peace is all that’s left – all good goals but voters could yawn and ask, what else is new? That Rajanikanth absolutely does not want. So, maybe in 2018? Who knows?