When Rajinikanth bought a ‘foreign car’

You do not rub Rajinikanth the wrong way. It is an unwritten rule in the film industry.

But there was a time in the late ’70s, when the Superstar had yet to come into his own, and had yet to evolve into the leading man in his movies, when a producer straight up questioned his worth in Tamil cinema. Rajinikanth shared this memory of his with his fans at the audio launch of Darbar, which is directed by AR Murugadoss.

It was January 1977, a week after Bharathiraja’s 16 Vayathinile released.

“I had done a few films until that point, but it was Parattai (Rajini’s character in the film) that took me to the nooks and crannies of Tamil Nadu,” Rajini recollected.

At this time, a producer (whose name the actor did not reveal) approached him with an offer for a “good character role” in a film with another actor in the lead.

“I had the dates. So, we discussed the remuneration. I started the bargaining at ₹10,000, and eventually settled for ₹6,000. And, it was a practice to pay a token sum as advance, whether ₹100 or ₹200. I asked for ₹1,000 as advance, and the producer said that he did not have any money on him then. He told me that he’d pay the advance when the production manager would come around the next day to formalise the agreement,” Rajini said.

When the production manager arrived, he had no clue that he was to pay Rajinikanth. The actor added that he went to a telephone booth in the neighbourhood, and rang up the producer who assured him that he would receive his advance before he applied his make-up at the shoot location the next day. When the money still did not make it to his hands, Rajini objected.

“The production manager told me that the hero had arrived, and asked me to get make-up done. I refused,” he added.

After the stand-off led to a delay, Rajini recalled that a white ambassador tore into AVM Studios, and out stepped the producer.

“He told me, ‘Ennada? Nee enna periya artiste ah? Hero va nee? Unna madhiri ethana pera pathirukken. Etho konjam padam pannita, advance vaangama make-up poda maatiya? Unakku character kedayathu, poda!” (Do you think yourself to be a hero? You won’t work until you get an advance, is it? You have no role in the film. Get out!)

And when Rajinikanth asked the producer for his car to be dropped back at his home, the latter refused. “I had left home without any money on me,” the actor said.

A star is born

This exchange startled Rajinikanth, and as he walked out of AVM Studios, the strangest thing happened to him.

“There were people in buses and on the street who saw me and yelled, ‘Eh Parattai! Ithu epdi irukku?’” said Rajini. For the uninitiated, ‘Ithu epdi irukku’ was sort of a catchphrase that Rajini’s character Parattai used in 16 Vayathinile. The present-day Arcot Road that leads to AVM Studios, the star recalled, was dotted with posters of the film with this dialogue printed in bold font.

“I thought people were making fun at my situation. It did not strike me that they were repeating my dialogue,” Rajini said, adding, to raucous applause and cheers from his fans, “But… that day I decided that if, one day, I do not come down this road to AVM Studios, sitting inside a foreign car with one leg over the other… then I’m not Rajinikanth!”

Two-and-a-half years passed, and the star paid ₹4.25 lakh for an Italian-made Fiat car owned by the proprietors of AVM Studios.

“It would be wrong to attribute the kind of success I achieved in that short span of time to my hard work and talent. It was the time, and there were people who believed in me. It applies even today. No one can win with just their intelligence and work, that is only 10% of what contributes to their success. Everything requires a time, place and a circumstance… and the blessings of people,” the actor said.

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