All the world's a stage for Rajinikanth
Will he? Won’t he? The $64,000 questions have been hanging fire over the last few decades with no clear answers to them yet and God knows what they are worth after factoring in inflation.
Rajinikanth’s entry into politics is a subject best visualised as a young swimmer going up the high diving board for the first time and standing on the edge wondering whether to jump or not. It’s easy to conclude that the kid will one day pick up the courage and jump off the springboard. What about Rajini?
The time is probably just right for the Superstar to take the plunge and see what life in politics is all about. There is a huge political vacuum in the absence of J. Jayalalithaa, the empress of all she surveyed, at least when she was at the city’s Fort. There is no one comparable to attract the public vote in a positive sense. The DMK might believe it will romp home in the next polls on the strength of anti-AIADMK votes. What if a third force were to enter now?
One great feature of Tamil Nadu is it has always welcomed the outsider. MGR was seen as a home-grown phenomenon even if he was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka and was a person of Kerala origin. He split a Dravidian party and so was thought to form one too, which his leading lady took over and made it a distinctly Tamil party. It didn’t matter if she had roots in Karnataka through her actress mother. Throughout the many years of the Cauvery water crisis, Jaya was seen as Tamil Nadu’s Joan of Arc. Her link to the state across the border never came into it.
Rajini might struggle there somewhat as his ties to Karnataka were way stronger, even if it can be argued that he comes from a Maharashtrian family from Pune which settled in Bengaluru and he was named after the Maratha warrior, Chatrapati Shivaji. Memorably, he was a bus conductor in the Karnataka transport sector before following his celluloid dream at the Film Institute in Chennai and fulfilling it so endearingly that he was voted the Indian Film Personality of the year during the Indian cinema centenary celebrations.
Never underestimate the power of the common man, one could well say in the fashion of another phenomenon of cinema who even featured a song — Lungi Dance — dedicated to ‘Thalaiva’ Rajini in the eponymously named Chennai Express. That was as symptomatic of the unifying power of cinema as we are likely to see even as it portrays the sway of the Superstar and linking it to the city of his choice.
Regardless of his background, Rajini’s party cannot be termed a non-Dravidian party. The magnetism of the matinee idols is a major point in this argument over the allure of cinema. The common man, at least in Tamil Nadu, has been known to thrive in its thrall, a phenomenon that is yet to be explained by the sociologists or the psychologists. How do you explain a state that voted in four film personalities, two script writers, an actor and an actress, as chief ministers? However, the spell cast by the romance of films and stars of the silver screen promising everything under the Sun to the Tamil people seemed to have been broken with Jaya’s demise. But, is it strictly temporary?
Perhaps, it is only a matter of time before the next film star comes along to rule. How else could one explain how Jaya, on her deathbed, was reported said to have said that certain film actor should be her successor? Given the history of the state, any CM would probably have come to the conclusion that the state can be ruled only by film stars. Again, don’t underestimate the power of cinema in Tamil Nadu.
The dream merchants have cast such a spell across society with their promises — Nallai namadhe, Nadum namadhe of MGR etc — that it should come as no surprise if another matinee idol were to inspire a vote-catching march all the way to Fort St George. After all, the Superstar’s imagery on screen has also been that of a friend of the people and in fact, ‘thalaiva’. As we have come to know from history, it was her vote garnering record that made Jaya such a phenomenon in a party that was a one woman army. Why can’t a one-man army do the same in a new party headed by Rajinikanth?
Another film star on the political horizon may not be as tricky a test of the Tamil psyche as some may believe. Whether it should be so as the silver screen dominates public discourse is a matter for pundits to debate. No social scientist would venture the opinion that cinema has played out its hand in the theatre of Tamil Nadu politics. “All the world’s a stage”, the bard said and Tamil Nadu has been a living embodiment of that, with the leading players going on to hog the spotlight. But then we were all convinced long ago that the Tamil drama never ends. The answer to the million dollar questions may just be the signposts to a Tamil future, which we await now with bated breath.