On his 60th birthday, school children in Bangalore hold up notebooks of the City’s most famous cinematic export: Shivaji Rao Gaekwad also known as Rajnikanth.
The books were supplied by the Rajniji Seva Samithi (RSS).
“In the beginning, in 1975, just how big a star Kamal Haasan was, today’s generation does not know,’ says Rajinikanth. ‘He was an even bigger star in 1975 than he is now. Old or young, a new artiste had never shaken all of India like he did. I had just entered the cinema industry then.
“Apoorva Raagangal, Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, these were all my guru K. Balachander’s films—I became a hero with these three films. After that the films that came, big films like 16 Vayathinile, Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu, Aadu Puli Attam, Aval Appadithan—these were all hit films.
“For those films, if Kamal had said, ‘Don’t cast Rajini,’ nobody would have taken me. I got Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu solely on Kamal’s recommendation.
“So I acted in all these films and then, after I became a big actor, one day Kamal called me and said, ‘Rajini, only if you act alone will you get your own space. If you say no, the cinema world will use us, and you won’t be able to grow.’
“I listened to all that he said. After that I worked on my own.
“Then, after I became a big man, Kamal called me again one day and said, ‘Rajini, you have to be cautious in Tamil cinema. I have seen from a young age—MGR and Sivaji, though they had no rivalry between them, the cinema industry separated them. And because the industry separated them, their fans also separated. That shouldn’t happen with us. The producers and directors I work with, you should work with them too.’
“I don’t know how to thank him.”
Rajinikanth adds, ‘In other industries, people like Mammootty, Mohan Lal, Venkatesh, Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan and even Dilip Kumar look at me and are amazed how I managed to make a name for myself as an actor in an industry where Kamal Haasan exists. The reason is simple. I grew as an actor just by watching Kamal Haasan acting. I had the good fortune of being able to observe Kamal Haasan from close quarters.
During the shooting of Avargal I was sitting outside when K. Balachander noticed this and got angry. He sent word for me to return to the set and asked me, ‘Did you go outside to smoke? Kamal is acting; observe him. Only then will your acting get even better.’
“From that time, when Kamal acted I wouldn’t go anywhere; I would just sit there and watch. This is the honest truth.”
Buy the book here: Infi Beam
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News