Rajinikanth, just for roars and laughs

Politics is a joke, but not a laughing matter. When superstar Rajinikanth, the father lode of fun and funny, took the plunge into ballot burlesque, the BJP wept with joy. It’s now clear that his coy “Will I, won’t I?” oscillation for ages was only a clever act on the political stage. It is yet to be known whether voters of Tamil Nadu will grin and bear it next year when they queue up to elect a new government. Kamal Haasan apart, 2021 is to be the first election after almost four decades in which film stars were not expected to play the lead. But Rajinikanth went into Thalapathi mode, announcing he would formally launch a political party to contest all 234 Assembly seats.

His script says, “It’s now or never” with a unique marketing pitch that promises, “Spiritual secular politics without cast, creed or religion,” vowing “a miracle will definitely happen”. Is talking spirituality in politics yet another Rajinikanth joke? His fantastical roles as sci-fi Superman, Super cop, Super citizen, Super NRI and Super Romeo has defined him as the nemesis of evil and victor over villains, thereby creating a whole new humour genre — a joke deluge that bills him as invincible, unputdownable and an everlasting icon.

‘Why does an earthquake occur????? Because at that time Rajinikanth’s mobile is on vibration mode!’ The RajiniQuake will make political vibrations but it could be the Dravidian Geiger counter that will be laughing all the way to the vote bank. For Rajini fans, nothing is impossible for the Thalaivar — which, incidentally, means Chieftain. ‘Before Tom Cruise, Rajini was approached for the film Mission Impossible, but Rajini declined as he found the title insulting.’ This not a laughing matter. The versatile actor always stuck to the plot in which he alone is the focus of the film — in about a hundred of 165 movies. No surprise that the joke, ‘Rajinikanth’s next movie is called Twitter. He plays 140 characters,’ seems too real to laugh about.

His Mission Possible makes him the most sought after youth icon after MGR and Sivaji Ganesan in Tamil Nadu. Like him, neither were Tamilians. For the past three decades, Rajni kept Mission Real Politics impossible. Though he has promised to take on “corrupt“ politics, he had been testing the waters until now. Next year will reveal whether the joke will become a reality. For the past 15 years, Rajinikanth has been promising a political plunge. As long as Jayalalithaa was alive, he confined himself to just announcements. Soon after her death, he told his fan club in 2017 for the first time that he was serious.

But he is yet to formally announce his party and its agenda for governance. Fans chuckle, ‘Rajinikanth first takes the gold medal and then the race starts.’ Is that what this race is about? It won’t be easy. The hero’s announcement has left Tamil Nadu politics cold in spite of the wisecrack that ‘Rajinikanth can create fire by rubbing two ice cubes together!’ His artificial celluloid persona hasn’t disturbed even the traffic on Mount Road. Rajinikanth is no Amma or Kalaignar — his popular connectivity is only through the silver screen. He doesn’t have any ideological, cultural or social bonding with Tamilians who exult in their Dravidian heritage. The BJP finds Thaliavar’s nonalignment mode an ideal foil to Dravidian dominance.

Modi took the first initiative in 2014 when he visited the actor’s residence right before the Lok Sabha elections. Now the Southern Star has exposed his saffron leaning by inducting former BJP functionary Arjunamurthy as the chief coordinator of his fans’ association. The BJP has been wooing him either to join it or become an ally. It is aware that Rajinikanth enjoys huge credibility in Tollywood. Once his name is attached to a film, it causes a money monsoon. But his share in the political market is merely minimal. Though Rajini’s address is Poes Garden from where Karnataka-born Brahmin Jayalalithaa ruled and dominated the state for over four decades, Thalapathi is yet to show his electoral net worth. Rajinikanth’s prospective national ally hopes he will be the next Big Deal — ‘once a farmer put Rajinikanth’s photo instead of a scarecrow in his farm,you won’t believe what happened. The birds were bringing back the crops taken last year!’

Rajinikanth is expected to bring to his fold his party followers, fans and even film stars from political parties. However, even his core admirers are sceptical about Rajini Magic’s mojo to dent the highly polarised Tamil electorate. No doubt, he is multi-lingual but does not espouse a Dravidian cause or ideology. But he can harvest an additional vote crop only if he is in a position to offer an alternative model with a better ethical and stable yield. He has been inconsistent in his affiliations. He supported the DMK in the past and shifted to the AIADMK later. He has spoken against Hindi imposition by the Centre. Yet he has been rewarded by the BJP. In 2000, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government conferred the Padma Bhushan on him. Sixteen years later, Modi bestowed the Padma Vibhushan on him.

While he may be garnering more viewers for his thrillers, he hasn’t attracted reputable leaders from any Tamil party. Rajini’s backers hope this may soon change. The razz, ‘once Rajinikanth was standing on the balcony with a coin in his hand. The coin slipped from his hand and fell down. Rajinikanth on reaching the ground was searching for the coin but he couldn’t find it. Guess why? Because he reached the ground before the coin did,’ hints that they are betting on the Fast and Furious Rajinikanth style. Cinema goers get kicks out of action films for the Valour over Villain format with some sacrifice thrown in. Today, action stunts are technology generated and unreal.

The jibe goes that ‘Rajinikanth wears sunglasses to protect the Sun from his rage.’ The superstar could now face the rage of both his adherents and critics who consider him a political disruptionist. His dilly-dallying on crucial issues coupled with the lack of a timebound road map minimises his maximised magnetism. Rajinikanth may have roared in reel life, but in real life, he looks like a fake lion seeking a meaningful role desperately at 70 years of age. Experts of Tamil culture feel that the Thalaivar is unlikely to be even a king-maker let alone become the king himself. The joke is on him.

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