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The Women in Rajinikanth's Life

By TE Narasimhan
June 07, 2018 14:53 IST
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As Rajinikanth's Kaala releases across the world today, it's all set to be another hit to the superstar's credit.
While every other role of Rajinikanth has been analysed and revered, T E Narasimhan takes a closer look at the role the superstar's wife and daughters have played in his life.


IMAGE: Rajinikanth with wife Latha Rangachari.

They say that when Rajinikanth married Latha, the sacred fire did the saat pheras around the couple. The fire certainly must have realised early on that it would do well to respect Mrs Rajinikanth along with her super husband.

While the film legend, now 67 years old, may be credited with impossible powers, you could smile at the equally extraordinary manner in which a chance meeting between a college girl and an acclaimed actor turned into a romantic story whose last page has yet to be turned.

Latha Rangachari was a student of English literature at Ethiraj College in Chennai when she was given the assignment to interview the reigning hero of the Tamil film industry for the college magazine.

A spark was ignited.

By the time 1981 came around, the two were in love enough to think of life as husband and wife. And in the spirit of machismo that he is so identified with, Rajini, by Latha's own admission, gave her no say in the matter.

'He did not propose to me,' she told Sun TV in 2012, 'he informed me that he was marrying me and left.'


Rajini's rise to fame is well chronicled -- from his birth as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in a Marathi family in Bangalore to his youth as a bus conductor and finally to stratospheric popularity after making his film debut in 1975 with Apoorva Raagangal.

In fact, you could read a faux history of his life through the thousands of jokes built around his film personas, in which he bites bullets with his teeth, makes the world spin around him, even dumbfounds Alexander Graham Bell with missed calls long before he has invented the phone.


IMAGE: Rajinikanth with daughter Soundarya R Ashwin and Shah Rukh Khan.

What is not so well recorded is the contribution of the women in the actor's life both to the building of Brand Rajini as well as to his well-being as a human being.

The family -- Rajini, Latha and daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya -- keeps its private life to itself.

When asked what it was like being the wife of a demi-god, Latha told Kollywood Insider, a Web site dedicated to the Tamil film industry, 'It's not easy. It's like living in a glass house.'

So the four, and sons-in-law -- actor-producer Dhanush and industrialist Ashwin Ramkumar -- are reticent when it comes to family tales.

Once in a while, they lower their guard enough to allow a peep into their domestic life. There you will not find a bombastic, domineering, Rajini.

Once the pancake is washed off, the man ceases to be a superstar.

Whenever the women come up with something in their fields of work -- Latha runs a school called The Ashram, Aishwarya is a film director and dancer while Soundarya runs Ocher, a production house -- the first person to know about it will be Rajini.

Latha says she shares her ideas with her husband 'since we are great friends, who share and complement each other in all that we like to do in life.'


Besides running The Ashram, a philanthropic school in Chennai, Latha involves herself fully in the promotion of her husband's businesses.

Veteran playwright and Latha's brother-in-law Y Gee Mahendran says Latha was a sprightly dynamite before she got married, but became an embodiment of calm and maturity after she became Mrs Rajinikanth.

"She had a great influence in taming Rajini, the 'wild horse'," he smiles.

Of course, her role in Rajini's professional life is deliberately kept only partly visible. But industry sources point out the crucial roles she has played in recent years in building Brand Rajini.

For instance, they note that though Rajini, unlike other celebrities, had never lent his name to products and campaigns, it was Latha who leveraged his image by roping in advertisers like Pepsi, Hindustan Lever, India Cements and Asian Paints for in-film promotion.

And when the Rajini-starrer Baba was released, she was there with a slew of merchandise -- t-shirts, caps and other memorabilia.

The shrewd Latha had easily enough understood how her husband's popularity could be monetised. During the launch of the book, Grand Brand Rajini, she admitted as such.

She said the actor behaved like a brand, talked like a brand and lived like a brand.

He had struggled a lot to become an icon, and that is why he was a brand, not just in films but even in reality.


IMAGE: Rajinikanth with daughter Aishwarya.

The three women in Rajini's life do not live together, but are close by.

Aishwarya stays with Dhanush a couple of streets away from her parents' Poes Garden residence. Her father is a regular visitor.

And when he needs them, the women are always at hand, like when Rajinikanth was hospitalised in 2011, first in Chennai and later in Singapore.

In an interview published in a biography of Rajinikanth, Aishwarya recalled that her mother wouldn't take them to many film shows when they were young.

'We would mostly watch black-and-white classics and we didn't see any of our father's films during that period,' she said. '...I think our mother wanted to bring us up in a simple manner without exposing us to the magnitude of cinema...It was much later, at the age of 11, that I realised he was such a big star... When he came home he was just a father like all other fathers.'

Industry sources say Aishwarya, who appeared with her husband Dhanush in the phenomenal Why This Kolaveri Di video, designs Rajini's costumes and is particular about how he appears in public.


IMAGE: Rajinikanth's look for the film, Kochadaiyaan.

The younger Soundarya is giving her father's image more than just a sartorial boost.

Founder of Ocher Picture Productions, she trained in multimedia technologies in Australia and directed Kochadaiyaan, an animation movie billed as India's first performance-capture film along the lines of Avatar.

The story was derived by Rajini and is about a long-haired war hero. She chose the performance-capture technique because "I wanted to immortalise my dad and this technique allows us much more creativity".

On the work floor, Soundarya said she is more a daughter than a director.

"I am concerned if he's had his lunch or if he has been taken care of for the next shot. I think it is tougher for him because it is his little girl giving him instructions," she said.

Rajini, in turn, has been quoted saying, 'I am very proud to see my daughter directing. I was uncomfortable in the beginning. Later, I forgot she was my daughter -- I could see only the director. I am happy she knows exactly what she wants.'

IMAGE: Rajinikanth with wife Latha and daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya. Photograph: Kind Courtesy Soundarya/Twitter

It's fairly clear that the famed Rajini equanimity arises out of a supportive family that helps him with his marketing, his image, even his films.

A Rajini joke goes that there is no 'control' button on the superstar's laptop 'because he is always in control'.

The three women, who control his life, will smile indulgently at that.

This feature was first published on in April 2013.

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TE Narasimhan