The man behind the persona named ‘Rajinikanth’

Everyone knows that Rajinikanth’s real name is Shivaji Rao and that his life started in namma Bengaluru. He worked in this very city issuing bus tickets during his tenure with the BTS (KSRTC now) and was put on the route 10A. He was close to his colleague and driver of the same bus, Raj Bahadur.

While citizens and netizens are busy congratulating Rajini, we meet four of his close friends who know him as Shivaji Rao and have been a part of his struggle. The men, who continue to be friends with Thalaivar, take us back in time and introduce us to the man Shivaji Rao behind the larger-than-life Rajinikanth. For them, he is still their good old Shivaji Rao.

My real name is Venugopal. So till date, I am Venu to him and he is my Shivaji. We were not just classmates, but also room mates in South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce’s film institute. It offered us acting courses in four languages — Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Shivaji and I were in the Kannada batch and megastar Chiranjeevi was our junior.

We have all been friends ever since. We were notorious on campus. Umpteen books have been written about our escapades (laughs).

Today, I am thrilled with him being conferred with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award. He should have got it a long time ago. Still, better late than never. My only regret is that he could not enter politics. Had he forayed into that field, he would done immense humanitarian work, for he is that kind of a person. It was due to health reasons that he backed off. Now he is better, and has resumed shooting too.

He was in Bengaluru to recuperate in January. For me, Shivaji is a miracle. I have seen him transform from a bus conductor to a superstar. When he was a conductor, his looks and body language were crude. He would smoke and drink and was a total ruffian.

The manner in which he transformed himself, be it in his body language or style in the last 40 years is amazing for us friends to see. I see him as our prodigy. He is a genuine person and does not behave like a star at all, a true gem.

Shivaji is one person, who never gets jealous if someone is doing better than him.

It was during our film institute days that we discovered his passion for acting. He was bitten by the acting bug when he worked for BTS. They had a cultural union and he was an active member. In fact, he was famous for his portrayal of Duryodhana and Kamsa on stage. I would always see him in front of a mirror, practising his style and expressions. We friends prayed hard for him to succeed as an actor.

And when he did get a break, we all celebrated. Director K Balachander moulded him and Shivaji has the desire to learn at every step and appreciates the good. Unfortunately, he did not get a good opening in the Kannada film industry and had to migrate to Tamil Nadu to become a star. I don’t find that strange as, in cinema, 10% per cent is our efforts and 90% luck. Fate also plays a huge role in cinema. No one can predict who will click and who will not.

Those days he would tell me that he dreamt of being a notorious villain on screen like Vajramuni, Tooghudeepa Srinivas or Tiger Prabhakar. He would also tell me that his looks were suited for a villain and that I would be a hero. And soon I should hire him as my manager!

Then I would tell him to just wait and that the tables would turn for sure. And look, where he is today. It was harder for my generation to become actors as those days this line was looked down upon by friends and family. We would become jokes at social gatherings. Yet, we went ahead and each of us have achieved something.

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