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December 17, 1999
Rajni prepares for a new role
George Iype in Madras
When a request for an interview with Tamil superstar Rajnikant was placed at his Poes Garden residence, his secretary could not hide his amazement. "Don't you know he never gives interviews?''
When the same request was placed before one of his publicity agents, she offered a way out: "You can either interview his wife Latha Rajnikant or sister-in-law Laxmi Ravichandran."
Quite obviously, the Superstar of the South does not need any publicity. Not when the entire Tamil film industry is celebrating his 25 years in movies with a 12-day festival, which started on December 12 -- his birthday.
And if you have any doubt that it is going to be one of the biggest events that Madras has ever witnessed, hold your breath as we tell you who is coming to wish him on his silver jubilee - Jackie Chan.
Jackie Chan - the hero of such action flicks as Rush Hour and Police Story - is an old friend of Rajni. In fact, the two would shortly be starring in a Japanese production.
There will be many Japanese fans of Rajni who will be attending the festival which has been christened simply 'Rajni-25.'
''In Japan Rajnikant became a super hero after his Muthu was a super success," said one of the event managers. He revealed that such is Rajni's following in the land of the rising sun that documentaries are being made on his life and his Poes Garden house in Madras is a must on every Japanese tourist's itinerary in India.
The 12-day festival includes an exclusive film festival featuring the best of Rajnikant hits - Padyappa, Murattu Kalai, Pokkri Raja, Mapillai, Annamalai, Bashaa, Moondrummugam, Netrikan and Gayatri.
"Super star. Super films. A never before opportunity for the fans to catch their super star," says a banner outside the Bala Abirami theater where the film festival is being held.
And there is more to Rajni-25. A theme exhibition of Rajini memorablia - costumes, photographs, stills and mannequins is on at the MGR Film City. Exclusive Rajni-25 Titan watches, gold coins minted with the actor's portrait and posters of his super-hits adorn the exhibition halls.
Rajnikant's wife Latha is handling the organisational part of it. And she insists it's all for a cause. "Yes, it is entertainment for a cause. The proceeds of this mega event will go to our ashram where we provide free education to destitute children,'' she said
But apart from philanthropic causes, Rajni fans insist the festival is a carefully constructed attempt to re-discover Rajnikant, the politician.
It's quite apparent that Rajnikant is attempting to emulate M G Ramachandran. MGR's political philosophy, which he called as "Annaism", had attracted Tamilians in hordes. Many believe that Rajnikant, on the eve of the new millennium, might also coin a new "ism."
Quite understandably, Rajni-25's publicity material praise the actor not as a superstar, but as a social crusader and philanthropist.
One of the pamphlets explains his philosophy of life and his abiding love for Tamil Nadu's cultural values. "All his movies have endorsed cultural values and tradition, respect for one's parents and the elderly and unconditional love for children. The reason for Rajni's success has not been mere histrionics but a desire to reach out to the masses, to make them aware that basic honesty and hardwork will fashion their triumph," it says.
In the last few years Rajnikant's half-hearted attempts to launch himself politically haven't quite succeeded. In 1995 Rajni's aides had worked for months to form a grand political alliance comprising the Congress party, the splinter groups of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the network of Rajni fan clubs.
But the alliance was nipped in the bud when the Congress hurriedly went in for an electoral alliance with the AIADMK headed by J Jayalalitha. It led to a split in the Congress with G K Moopanar and companions walking out of the party. For Rajni, it was an opportunity to prove his political mettle.
True to Tamil film style, in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the star took to the streets pleading with the voters to defeat the Congress-AIADMK combine.
In the 1998 general elections too Rajni worked hard to defeat the new political front that Jayalalitha had formed. However, these two attempts established him as a back-room manipulator and not as a mass leader.
Thus, many believe the idea behind Rajni-25 is not to glorify the film star, but to proclaim his cult status and promote him as a political brand.
His wife, however, claims it would be "criminal" to assign any political motives to the 12-day festival. "There is no politics. It is just a film affair," she declared.
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