Dada Saheb Award Gets Rajinikanth

By Pickle  April 2, 2021

Yes, you read it right. That was how many of his fans reacted when Rajinikanth, sorry, ‘thalaivar’ (leader), was named for Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest honour in Indian film industry, by the Governnment of India.

And, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred Rajinikanth as ‘thalaiva’, when he greeted the superstar by tweeting: “Popular across generations, a body of work few can boast of, diverse roles and an endearing personality…that’s Shri @rajinikanth Ji for you. It is a matter of immense joy that Thalaiva has been conferred with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Congratulations to him.”

From the country’s Vice President to Prime Minister to Union Ministers to Chief Ministers to Opposition leaders to film personalities to fans, people across India competed with each other to greet Rajinikanth for the most coveted honour. That’s Rajinikanth and his star power.

In fact, the superstar was all set to enter politics before ‘Covid-19’ and his ‘health issues’ stopped him from doing so. Currently busy with ‘Annaaththe’, one of the much awaited films of the year, the 70-year-old continues to dominate the box-office for almost four decades.

Though Rajinikanth has not received a National Film Award so far, he is winner of Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan, the country’s second and third higest civilian honours, respectively.

When he was honoured with a special Icon of Golden Jubilee award at the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa in 2019, Rajinikanth dedicated the award to all the producers, directors and technicians he had worked with in his films, and “most importantly, above all, my fans and the Tamil people who have given me my life.”

In a same vein, he released a statement. The superstar thanked the Government of India and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and said he dedicated it to all those who made him the Rajini that is now. He said, “I dedicate this award to my friend and bus driver Raj Bahadur, who discovered my acting talent and encouraged me, my elder brother Sathyanarayana Rao Gaekwad, who sacrificed a lot to make me an actor while struggling with poverty, my guru K Balachander, who created this Rajinikanth.”

He also dedicated the award to producers, directors, technicians, distributors, theatre owners, media, the Tamil people, “who have given me my life, and my fans across the world.”

Rajinikanth said he thanked the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for conferring him the “Indian cinema’s highest honour.”

The amazing Rajinikanth story is no less fascinating than a movie script. There are multiple strands to the narrative, and each one of them can yield enough by way of drama to sustain a full-length feature.

What sets Rajinikanth apart is the fact that he is more than just another movie star idolized in a populous nation that loves its filmed entertainment. He is a true-blue phenomenon whose clout transcends boundaries of both land and language like a few things can in contemporary Indian pop culture.

One of the strands of the Rajinikanth saga pertains to the rags-to-riches tale of a Bangalore bus conductor who went on to become one of the greatest luminaries that Indian cinema has ever produced, a transformation that borders on the fantastical.

The other thread of the story relates to the emergence of the larger-than-life myth of a towering showbiz personality who commands unquestioning loyalty from a fan base that keeps growing steadily and spawning ever-new crops of Rajini-isms on the social media and elsewhere.

Rajini does not have Greek God good looks, nor does he have the height or physique to tower over everything else in a movie frame. Yet his screen presence is extraordinary. His flashy mannerisms, his flamboyant swagger, and his punchy one-liners add up to a totality that is beyond analysis.

It is next to impossible to put a finger on the exact reasons that make him such a peerless icon. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that Rajini himself has never made calculated career moves. He has merely gone along with the flow and ended up in a place where a few ever have.

For a man who has achieved the kind of sustained success that he has, he has his feet firmly planted to the ground – an attribute that immeasurably enhances his stature.

Unlike other Indian movie stars, Rajinikanth keeps his on-screen persona well removed from his real-life identity as a husband, father and grandfather. He rarely appears at public events, but exercises great influence on Dravidian culture and politics.

But his appeal is certainly not limited to the confines of Tamil Nadu and its cinema. His is a recognizable face across the country and in parts of the world where Tamil cinema has made inroads in recent years.

Who else but Rajinikanth could be at the receiving end of a musical tribute of the kind that Bollywood megastar Shahrukh Khan paid him in Chennai Express. The song, Lungi Dance, aimed at “all the Rajini fans”, became a chart-topper and continues to be a favourite with DJs around the country?

So confident is he of his fan following that when Rajinikanth appears in public, he does nothing at all to hide the tell-tale signs of age that a 69-year-old grandfather must necessarily live with.

At an event organized to launch the music of the science fiction epic Enthiran/Robot, he got up on the podium and narrated how he was mistaken for just another man in the crowd by onlookers in a Rajasthan village, where the film was being shot. He was hard pressed, he admitted in public, to convince fans who were milling around lead actress Aishwarya Rai that he was the hero of the film.

Nothing says more about Rajinikanth the man and the movie star than the kind of unassuming candour that he resorts to when talking about himself and his achievements. At times it is difficult to believe that a superstar who, with the fee that he got for Sivaji (2007), became the highest paid Asian movie actor after Jackie Chan has no starry airs whatever. Is he for real?

Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2000, Rajinikanth was named the recipient of the ‘Centenary Award’ for the ‘Indian Film Personality of the Year’ at the 45th International Film Festival of India in Goa. The well-deserved honour was bestowed on the megastar at the opening ceremony of the film festival on November 20. Five years on, at the 50th edition of IFFI, he received another award to add to the trophies in his collection.

And on May 3, he will receive the Dada Saheb Phalke Award. Or, read the heading again.

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