Rajinikanth (born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad on December 12, 1950 in Bangalore, 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 influence in the politics of Tamil Nadu. Other than acting, Rajinikanth worked as a screenwriter, film producer, and also a playback singer.
Popularily referred to and credited in films as “Superstar” and often 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 American cinema. 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, Karnataka. 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. 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.