Rajinikanth bags country’s highest honour in cinema: Can Tamil Nadu voter be wooed by dangling Rajini bait?

India’s highest honour in cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, has been conferred on actor Rajinikanth. The announcement for the 51st award, for the year 2019, came from the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shri Prakash Javadekar on Thursday. Rajinikanth was unanimously chosen by the jury comprising singer Asha Bhosle, actors Mohanlal and Biswajit Chatterjee, singer-composer Shankar Mahadevan and filmmaker Subhash Ghai. Dadasaheb Phalke award was instituted in 1969 and Rajini is the fourth personality from the Tamil film industry to have bagged it after film producer L.V. Prasad in 1982, actor Shivaji Ganeshan in 1996 and Rajini’s own guru, filmmaker K Balachander in 2010.

The minister described Rajinikanth as “an iconic actor who has ruled the hearts of Indians for over fifty years”. “Popular across generations, a body of work few can boast of, diverse roles and an endearing personality” is how Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to talk about him in his tweet. Rajini, in turn, dedicated the award to all those who have been a part of his journey, especially his fans around the world. In a long note in Tamil he thanked his bus driver and friend Raj Bahadur who discovered his acting talent, his brother Sathyanarayana Rao Gaekwad “who sacrificed a lot while we were struggling in poverty to make me an actor”, his guru K Balachander for creating ‘the Rajinikanth’. He also thanked Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam, opposition leader MK Stalin, his colleague and friend actor Kamal Haasan.

The announcement met with cheers from his fans and the film fraternity. Rajini, or Thalaiva as he is popularly called, made his debut in 1975 in K Balachander’s Apoorva Raagangal and has been ruling the roast with films like Baashha, Bairavi, Padayappa, Sivaji, Enthiran, Kuselan, Kabaali, Kaala.

There were the quintessential, quirky Rajini brand of jokes doing the rounds about “Dadasaheb Phalke award bagging Rajinikanth”.

On the other hand, there were also those questioning the award, stating that the honour for “outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema” could have gone to other senior stalwarts from the South film industry, an icon like actor B. Saroja Devi, for instance.

However, it’s the timing of the awards, just five days before the April 6 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections, that has caught everyone’s attention, making people wonder if there was more to the choice than meets the eye. Is it politically motivated? Can the Tamil Nadu voter be wooed by dangling the Rajini bait? BJP is contesting in 20 seats under National Democratic Alliance with AIADMK, among other parties.

Incidentally, the national awards, announced on March 22, had also seen a clutch of honours for the Tamil cinema notably Dhanush winning the best actor award for Asuran along with Manoj Bajpayee for Bhonsle and Vijay Sethupati getting the best supporting actor award for Super Deluxe. And BJP’s favourite actor Kangana Ranaut will soon be seen as the lead in Thalaivi, a biographical film on J. Jayalalitha, set to release on April 23.

After tightening its grip on the Hindi film industry and having some of the leading superstars at its beck and call, BJP went on to indulge in open horse-trading while seeking the Bengali film personalities’ support and loyalty in the state elections. The party, however, has been on a much tougher turf when it comes to the film industry in the South which has already been a strong political entity for long what with MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha transitioning successfully from the screen to the electoral arena and emerging as the top leaders of the state. However, the legacy in Tamil Nadu is not of Hindutva politics but that of the Dravidian movement and Tamil identity and nationalism. So, the political observers feel that the Tamil Nadu voter can’t be swayed by superficial starry crumbs.

Incidentally, in December 2017 Rajinikanth had announced his decision to contest in the forthcoming elections in all 234 constituencies and later withdrew on account of ill health. Political analysts feel that Rajini has been more ambiguous in his political enunciation than Kamal Haasan who seems to be building up a reasonable base among young urban voters with his Makkal Needhi Maiam party.

When it comes to BJP’s own members in Tamil Nadu there are no heavy weights from the film industry other than actor Khushboo Sundar. The other popular draw for BJP is actor Radha Ravi, who is also tainted by several controversies including charges sexual misconduct and harassment. He was suspended from DMK for making misogynistic remarks against actor Nayanthara. Singer Chinmayi accused him of expelling her from the dubbing union because she had exposed him in the #MeToo movement. In fact, she tweeted just today about the on-going case: “If you’re reading this – I am requesting you to send me a prayer / good vibes. It is another Court day of BJP’s Mr. Radha Ravi banning me from working in the Tamil industry. It’s been 2.5 years of being banned. While molesters are given a free hand to work (abuse and molest)”.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply