Rajinikanth (Tamil: ரஜினிகாந்த்) (born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad on December 12, 1950 in Banglore, Karnataka, India) is an Indian film actor and one of the most influential and bankable movie stars in Indian cinema. Rajinikanth's mass popularity and appeal is largely drawn from his mannerisms and stylized delivery of dialogue. He received India's third highest honour, the Padma Bhushan, for his contribution to Indian cinema. Apart from his film career, he is a well known philanthropist and also serves as a notable political influence. Other than acting, Rajinikanth worked as a screenwriter, film producer and also a playback singer.
Popularly referred to and credited in films as Superstar and fondly called as thalaivar (meaning leader in Tamil), 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. Being a well known film artist to several regional film industries of India, he also appeared in the cinemas of other nations, including Hollywood. He was reportedly paid Rs. 26 crore (about $5.3 million USD as of January 2009) for his latest blockbuster Sivaji: The Boss, making him the highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan.
Rajinikanth was born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in a Maratha family in Bangalore, India. His ancestors are from the village of Nachikuppam in Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu. He was the fourth child of his parents, Jijabai and Ramojirao Gaekwad, a police constable. He lost his mother at the age of eight. 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. Among others in the Institute include the famous Malayalam actor and acclaimed Satirical Screenwriter Sreenivasan. In the film institute he was helped by his Vice Principal, A. Prabhakaran.
Rajinikanth has acted in over 150 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.
Debut and rise: 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.
Gaining popularity: 1980-1988
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
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. 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 reported that he was going to retire from acting, hence he later took part in other political activities.
Making milestones: 2005-Present
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 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.
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 the film Nallavanuku Nallavan in 1984. 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 2007, 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 and Shilpa Shetty.
He married Latha Parthasarathy, sister of actor Y. G. Mahendran's wife, on February 26, 1981, at the age of 31 in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh and they have two daughters named Aishwarya Rajinikanth and Soundarya Rajinikanth. Latha currently runs a school named The Ashram. His elder daughter Aishwarya Rajinikanth married actor Dhanush on November 18, 2004 and they have one son named Yathra. His second daughter, Soundarya Rajinikanth, works in the film industry as a director, producer and graphic designer.
Apart from being a well known actor, he shows a keen interest and devotion to religious activities and spiritualism. He often takes periodic trips to the Himalayas where, according to the actor, it is a place that provides peace. He also often visits Tirupati.
In 1995 Rajinikanth announced that he is willing to support the Congress party after meeting Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. An opinion poll conducted by Kumudam magazine predicted that Congress with Rajinikanth support may win up to 130 seats in Tamil Nadu Assembly. In 1996, when the Congress Party decided to align with AIADMK, Rajinikanth supported DMK-TMC alliance. The TMC used a bicycle as their election symbol and used an image of Rajinikanth riding a bicycle from the film Annamalai in their posters. Rajinikanth said, "Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu if AIADMK returns to power." Rajinikanth wholeheartedly supported the DMK and TMC alliance and asked the people of Tamil Nadu and his fans to vote for that alliance. This alliance had a complete victory in 1996
In 1996 Rajinikanth supported the DMK-TMC alliance in parliamentary elections. The television channel Sun TV broadcasted Rajini's speech throughout the day of the election in 1998 in which he spoke about the allaince of DMK and TMC in 1996. AIADMK-BJP alliance won around 30 out of 39 seats riding on sympathy wave generated by Coimbatore bomb blasts.
In 2004 Rajinikanth supported the BJP-AIADMK alliance in Parliamentary elections and quoted PMK's violence and BJP's support to interlinking of Indian rivers as reason for his support. The support was said to be half-hearted and the alliance failed to win any seats.
Several local fan associations of Rajinikanth in Tamil Nadu have continuously wanted him to take active participation in politics. In this regard, a few fans in Coimbatore started their own political party in the name of Rajinikanth and introduced their own flags and symbols for the party in mid-2008. When the actor heard about this, he wrote an open letter to the press and declared that he had no connection with these events and has strictly warned fans not to indulge in such activities, and failing to adhere would cause him to take up legal action against them. He also mentioned that he was not interested in politics and thus, was only committed to the production of his film Endhiran. He also added that nobody can force him to enter politics, as clear as the fact that none can stop him from entering it at the right time too.
Cauvery river strikes
In 2002 Rajinikanth undertook a day-long fast to protest Karnataka's decision to not to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. and announced that he would contribute Rs.10 million towards interlinking of Indian rivers scheme. He met Prime Minister Vajpayee and many experts to canvass support for interlinking Indian rivers scheme. During the 2008 Hunger Strike organized by the South Indian Film Artistes' Association in support of the Hogenakkal drinking water project, he reprimanded Karnataka politicians. "I unequivocally condemn Karnataka for this reprehensible act of denying us what is rightfully ours." "Those who are raising the issue are doing it for the elections." "A national political party I respect is forcing me to wonder by its despicable acts whether there is (rule of law) in this country (guaranteed by) the Supreme Court and who they will listen to." He said "It was a cheap act by a leader of a big national party and an election gimmick. I do not approve it. The party’s (BJP) Tamil Nadu unit is keeping quiet," he added. Further, he appealed to the leaders M. Karunanidhi, H. D. Deve Gowda, H. D. Kumaraswamy, Yeddyurappa and Siddaramaiah not to flame up this issue for political gains. He requested the Tamil Nadu leaders including M. Karunanidhi that, this issue should be resolved soon. He urged the Karnataka politicians "to speak the truth." "People are equal to God. They cannot be fooled and will not remain silent if you continue to act in such manner," he stated. Leader of the Pro-Kannada group Karnataka Rakshana Vedike Vatal Nagaraj demanded an apology from Rajinikanth and threatened that he will not be allowed in the state of Karnataka and all his films will be boycotted for Rajinikanth's speech against Kannada politicians.
In 2002, during Rajinikanth's own hunger strike for agitating the state of Karnataka to release Cauvery river water into Tamil Nadu, another hunger strike was organized by the Tamil film directors' association. Rajinikanth had yet continued with his own strike. leading to several criticism of Rajinikanth. Director Bharathi Raja, who also condemned other actors and politicians of Tamil Nadu, had stated that Rajinikanth was on the verge of dividing the film industry.
Also in 2002, Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S. Ramadoss condemned him for smoking and posing with beedi's in his film Baba. He was criticised for spoiling Tamil youth by glorifying smoking and drinking. PMK volunteers attacked theatres which screened the movie Baba and usurped film rolls and burnt it. Famous film producers like M. Saravanan accused Ramadoss saying that cigarette smoking and drinking are shown in all movies and that Baba was just being "picked on" by the PMK leader because of his popularity in Vanniar areas which is considered PMK bastion. To stop controversies, Rajinikanth reported that he was not going to act in any roles that require him to drink or smoke. In keeping his words, the roles he appeared in thereafter did not show the actor drinking or smoking.
Following the release of Kuselan in Karnataka on August 1, 2008, Rajinikanth thanked the Kannada film industry for allowing the release of his latest film and lifting the ban. He gave an open statement clarifying his stand to the people of Karnataka state and regretted for not being clear in his speech during the Hogenakkal Water Project hunger strike.
Rajinikanth is also widely known for his philanthropic activities. He converted one of his banquet halls, the Raghavendra Marriage Hall, to a charitable trust to help the needy. He is planning to construct a new hospital and a new school on a piece of land near Chennai. He has distributed Rs 12 Lakhs as relief to the family members of the bereaved in the bomb blast in Coimbatore. He also donated 1 crore rupees to the 2004 Tsunami Relief Fund by the state of Tamil Nadu, in January 2005 to the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalitha, in person. Dance choreographer-turned-actor and director Lawrence Raghavendra, who is also a philanthropist in Chennai, has reportedly merged with Rajinikanth, who agreed to pay the food expenses of Lawrence's disability home.
On October 31, 2008, Rajinikanth donated 10 lakh (1 million) rupees to the Sri Lankan Tamil humanitarian aid during the protest and hunger strike, organized by the South Indian Film Artistes' Association, in support of the Sri Lankan Tamils struggling in the on going civil war on the island. It was the highest amount given, in a draw with Lawrence Raghavendra who set up his own campaign to raise money.