Shivaji Rao Gaekwad aka Rajinikanth aka Thalaivar is not just an actor. He is an emotion. Having started off by acting in plays in Ramakrishna Math in his teens, the cinematic icon went on to dish out films that joined the 100-crore club, that became one of the highest
grossers of Indian cinema and also went on to star in the most expensive Indian film ever made — 2.0.
A recipient of numerous awards and honours, including the Padma Bhushan, Rajinikanth has now been honoured with India’s highest film award — the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
That he worked as a bus conductor in Bangalore Transport Service prior to entering the entertainment industry is something well-known. In fact, his story made him the only actor to be featured in CBSE syllabus, in a lesson titled ‘From Bus Conductor to Superstar’.
Rajinikanth was spotted by the legendary director K Balachander while he was doing an acting course in the then established Madras Film Institute, in the mid 1970s and made his debut in a small role in the latter’s Apoorva Raagangal in 1975.
While he made his lead debut in the Tamil film Bairavi in 1978, he also experimented with various roles — big, small, white, black and grey over the next decade. In fact, he even played the role of a villainous pornographer in the film Gaayathri, opposite Sridevi. This is testimony to his acting prowess.
Having become a popular actor in the south Indian cinema by the 1980s, he made his Bollywood debut in the film Andha Kanoon, alongside Amitabh Bachchan and that film went on to become one of the highest grossers. Meanwhile, his experimentation led him to act in Raja Chinna Roja, a children’s film which was also India’s first film to blend animation with live action.
In the ’90s, he established himself as a thorough commercial entertainer, with massive hits like Arunachalam, Padayappa, and Baasha. These films established his signature moves like flipping a cigarette and also gave rise to the scores of SMS jokes and later on social media which emphasise his prowess. The latest one along those lines goes “The Government of India should be glad it got a chance to award Rajinikanth”.
An interesting aspect of his life is his constant adaptation and reinvention as in 2000s and 2010s — he starred in psychological thrillers, action films, sci-fi movies like Chandramukhi, Sivaji, Enthiran, 2.0, etc. A curious trivia is a scene from Sivaji, where he flips a red chilli the way he usually flips a cigarette, keeping in sync with the anti-tobacco movement that has been going on globally.
His humility despite his stardom earned him respect globally and, in fact, according to many international media sources, he is a heartthrob in Japan, with the Japanese going gaga over his films.