Born: Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, 12 December 1949, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Occupation: Film actor
Years active: 1975–present
Spouse: Latha Rangachari
Rajinikanth is an Indian film actor. He received India’s third highest honour, the Padma Bhushan, for his contribution to Indian cinema. Other than acting, Rajinikanth worked as a screenwriter, film producer, and also a playback singer. Apart from his film career, he is a philanthropist and also serves as an influence in the politics of Tamil Nadu.
Rajinikanth debuted as an actor in 1975 under the direction of K. Balachander in supporting roles. He was later favored in portraying antagonistic characters and gradually rose to acting in lead roles. He also appeared in the cinemas of other nations, including American cinema. He was reportedly paid Rs. 26 crore (about $5.3 million USD as of January 2009) for Sivaji: The Boss, making him the highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan.
Rajinikanth was born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in a Marathi family in Bangalore, India. He was the fourth child of his parents, Jijabai and Ramojirao Gaekwad, a police constable. He lost his mother at the age of five. He attended elementary school at the Acharya Paathshala in Basavanagudi, Bangalore and then at the Vivekananda Balaka Sangha. Rajinikanth struggled a lot during his early age because of his family’s low income. Although his mother-tongue is Marathi, he has not yet acted in any Marathi films.
He worked with various jobs in Bangalore and also attended a theatre for stage plays. Before starting his career in the film industry, he used to practice stunts at the Rama Hanuman Temple at a hill near his house. He then primarily worked as a bus conductor for the Bangalore Transport Service in Bangalore. His charisma and style were noted by the passengers who travelled with him and gave him suggestions in becoming an actor. It was during this time that he nurtured his acting interests by performing in various stage plays.
Rajinikanth joined the Madras Film Institute in 1973 along with a fellow bus driver and completed a basic course in acting. In the film institute he was helped by his Vice Principal, A. Prabhakaran. After he graduated from the film institute another popular hero Chiranjeevi fondly called as megastar also joined the same institute. They both became close friends later.
Rajinikanth has acted in over 200 films, which includes Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, English and Bengali films. Rajinikanth made a foray into Bollywood with Andha Kanoon but did not make as much of an impact as he had in the south. He still appeared in several Hindi films, such as Chaalbaaz, Uttar Dakshan, Geraftaar and Hum. He made his debut in an American film, in a supporting role, with the movie Bloodstone in 1988 with much fanfare in India at the time of its release. However, the movie was unsuccessful in the United States. He also made brief stints in German- and Japanese film industries. His film Muthu was dubbed into Japanese and later turned out to become a major hit in the country, ultimately creating a huge Japanese fan-following for him. In 2005, his film Chandramukhi was dubbed in German and released in all German-speaking nations.
Supporting roles: 1975-1979
Rajinikanth’s first film was in Tamil cinema, where he was initially casted in supporting roles, debuting as a cancer patient in Apoorva Raagangal in 1975. The film was directed by K. Balachander, who is constantly referred to by Rajinikanth as his own “guru” or mentor. The following year, Rajinikanth acted in his first Kannada film, Katha Sangama, directed by Puttanna Kanagal. Though Rajinikanth refers to director K. Balachander as his mentor, it was director S. P. Muthuraman who actually revamped Rajinikanth’s image entirely. Muthuraman first experimented with him in a positive role in Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri (1977), as a villain in the first half of the film and a protagonist in the second. Around this time Mullum Malarum (1978), directed by J. Mahendran, established Rajinikanth in the Tamil film arena as a film hero. The success of Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri prompted Muthuraman to make a mushy melodrama with Rajinikanth as a hero sacrificing everything for his siblings in Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979). These films were the turning points in Rajinikanth’s career; he changed from an actor who merely enthralled the audiences to one who could also evoke emotions. The acceptance of Rajinikanth sans his stylized mannerisms proved he had at last become a “star” from a “common actor.” His film roles were mainly as a villain during the period 1975 to 1977, co-starring frequently with Kamal Haasan as the protagonist, in movies like 16 Vayadhinilae, Moondru Mudichu and Avargal. In 1978, Rajinikanth acted in the film Bairavi, in which he was referred as Superstar. He was given such an unique title by the producer Kalaipuli S.Thanu.
Gaining popularity: 1980-1989
Rajni as portrayed in his first commercial success Billa (1980).
During this phase of his career, when he was reaching dazzling heights, Rajinikanth abruptly chose to quit acting, but was coaxed back. He continued acting with the blockbuster Tamil film Billa, which was a remake of the blockbuster bollywood movie Don. With its phenomenal success he was accepted as a full-fledged hero. Billa was followed by a row of hits, namely Murattu Kaalai, Pokkiri Raja, Thanikattu Raja, Naan Mahaan Alla, Pudukavithai and Moondru Mugam. K. Balachander’s first home production, Netrikan proved to be yet another milestone in Rajni’s career. He acted in his first cameo role alongside Meena Durairaj, who was a child actor then, in the movie Anbulla Rajinikanth (1984). More box-office hits dominated the 80’s with Padikkathavan, Thee, Velaikaran, Dharmathin Thalaivan, Mr. Bharath, and Maaveeran. In his 100th movie, Sri Raghavendra, he played the Hindu saint Raghavendra Swami.
The superstar decade: 1989-1999
Padayappa (1999), Rajni’s 150th film, was a blockbuster hit, rewriting all previous box-office records.
The vast majority of his movies released during the nineties were extremely successful, notably Thalapathy, Mannan, Annamalai, Uzhaippali, Veera, Baasha, Muthu, Arunachalam and Padayappa. Rajinikanth wrote his first screenplay and acted as a special appearance in the film Valli (1993) which however failed to make an impact at the box office. With continuous successful hits he became the first actor to enjoy 98% success rate. Films like Thalapathi, mannan, annamalai veera basha muthu etc created huge box office records which turned kollywood into a double multi core business industry. This made him as the highest paid actor in the entire film circuit where he was paid more than his contemparies namely Amitabh, Chiranjeevi and Kamal. His cult classic Baasha, released in 1995, went on to become a massive blockbuster and is routinely touted by his fans and critics alike as the movie which elevated him from being just another very popular actor with loads of charisma to an almost demigod status in the eyes of the masses. His film Muthu was the first Tamil film to be dubbed into Japanese as Muthu: The Dancing Maharajah and became very popular in Japan. Throughout this decade, Rajinikanth established himself as a box office phenomenon; all of the films mentioned in this era were all formulaic mass entertainers which routinely succeed in box office. It can be argued that it was also during this time that Rajinikanth started to converge with politics, whether that confluence was voluntary or not is debatable, but the objective fact cannot be disputed that as his films began to take on a whole new dimension in terms of expectations, hype and revenue, his political clout also steadily rose with the cinematic tide as well. This trend began with the release of Annamalai in 1992 and arguably climaxed during the time of Padayappa’s release in 1999. Being his 150th film, Padayappa, directed by K. S. Ravikumar, undoubtedly turned out to be the largest blockbuster in his career.
Indulging in politics: 2002
The new millennium began very well for Rajinikanth; Padayappa had rewritten previous box office records. Finally, after more than a three year sabbatical from cinema, at 52 years of age, he starred in his home production, Baba which released on August 15, 2002 amidst much fanfare and extreme hype. The film was a poor grosser box-office as it had failed miserably to meet the expectations due to a very weak screenplay, which Rajinikanth himself had written, his second stint at screenplay writing after Valli. The thin screenplay revolved around the story about a gangster who later engages in spirituality and when compared to his previous film, Padayappa, it was a colossal disappointment. Although the film grossed enough to cover its budget, it was viewed as a tremendous loss when compared to his previous box office successes throughout his career. It fell short of market expectations and the high bids reportedly translated to heavy losses for the distributors. Rajinikanth himself repaid the losses incurred by the distributors. Rajinikanth thereafter reported that he was to quit acting, hence taking part in social and political activities.
Return to success: 2005-2007
Rajni’s first breakthrough role since Padayappa was in Sivaji: The Boss (2007)
After the Baba debacle, Rajinikanth mulled over numerous scripts with many directors, including K. S. Ravikumar, and finally chose to act in director P. Vasu’s Tamil remake of Manichithrathazhu, Chandramukhi. Many people within the industry had written Rajinikanth off after the Baba fiasco, essentially saying “the bloom was off the rose” and that “the gold does not glitter anymore”. In essence, many viewed Chandramukhi as Rajinikanth’s comeback film, his make or break movie and in the end, when it was released on April 14, 2005, it went on to create new box office records and smashed his own previous records and once and for all removed any doubt within the industry with regards to Rajinikanth’s box office clout and incomparable appeal to the masses. Chandramukhi broke the record of being the longest running Tamil film, as of 2007. Just after Chandramukhi’s release, it was reported that AVM Productions were to produce a film directed by S. Shankar starring Rajinikanth, the largest collaboration yet for a Tamil film. The film was titled Sivaji: The Boss and released on June 15, 2007 after two years of filming and meticulous production. With massive international anticipation, it subsequently went on to become a major blockbuster, being ranked among other major Bollywood and Hollywood releases of the year. Sivaji became the first Tamil movie to be charted as one of the top-ten best films of United Kingdom and South Africa box-offices upon release.
Kuselan controversy: 2008
Following Sivaji, Rajinikanth worked with P. Vasu again for Kuselan, a remake of the Malayalam film Kadha Parayumbol, in which Rajinikanth was given only a cameo role. He acted as himself, a superstar in the Indian film industry, and as a best friend to the main character, played by Pasupathy. Kuselan’s release was large like all other films of his, including sales of promotional items such as M&M’s Kuselan chocolates in the United States and Kuselan trading cards provided in Sunfeast Biscuit packages in India. Despite the mass hype prior to release, the film opened to below average reviews. P. Vasu was also condemned for mentioning Rajinikanth as the hero of the film when he was seen in only a few scenes of the film as a cameo. Critics claimed that Kuselan was a film that taught everyone a lesson of filmmaking. Some distributors incurred major losses due to the film, creating Kuselan’s box office results similar to Baba, for which Rajinikanth voluntarily settled with his own budget.
During the course of the production for Sivaji, Ocher Studios, the animation company of Rajinikanth’s daughter Soundarya Rajinikanth, in association with Adlabs announced their intention of producing a CGI animation film starring an animated version of Rajinikanth. He will be lending his voice to the lead character (based on his likeness) and the project is titled Sultan: The Warrior; it will be directed by his daughter Soundarya Rajinikanth with music provided by A. R. Rahman. The movie is scheduled for a release in 2009. Rajinikanth has also been signed to work with the Sivaji team of S. Shankar and A. R. Rahman once again for another movie, an supposed science fiction thriller tentatively entitled Endhiran. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will play opposite Rajinikanth as heroine for the first time. The film is touted to be the biggest and costliest film venture yet in India. It is being produced and distributed by Sun Pictures and slated for theatrical release in early 2010.
A. R. Murugadoss had previously shown interest in directing Rajinikanth in his next feature film after Ghajini. It is also said that Rajinikanth had voluntarily wanted to be cast in Pyramid Saimira’s next production, in order to compensate for the colossal flop of Kuselan.
Awards and honours
Rajinikanth was named as one of the influential persons in South Asia by Asiaweek. He has won a Filmfare Best Tamil Actor Award for Nallavanuku Nallavan in 1984 and Muthu in 1994 respectively. Rajinikanth, despite these awards, has not yet received a National Film Award.
Between 1977 and 2005, Rajinikanth received several awards from Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, Filmfare Awards, Cinema Express and Filmfans Association for his on-screen performances and off-screen contributions in writing and producing. He has received awards in the Best Actor category for his performance in the films Sivaji, Chandramukhi, Padayappa, Peddarayudu, Baasha, Muthu, Annamalai, Thalapathy, Velaikaran, Sri Raghavendra, Nallavanuku Nallavan, Moondru Mugam, Enkeyo Ketta Kural, Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai, Mullum Malarum and 16 Vayathinile. He received an award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri. He has also received awards in Best Story Writer and Best Producer categories for Valli.
He has also received other honours such as the Raj Kapoor Award in 2007 from the Government of Maharashtra. He was named and honoured with the Padma Bhushan award, India’s third highest civilian honour, in 2000 from the Government of India. In September 2005, Rajinikanth won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor for his role in the film Chandramukhi. Recently, he was selected as the Indian Entertainer of the Year for 2007 by NDTV, competing against the likes of Shah Rukh Khan.