Had he wanted, Raja Bahadur could have been a very famous man. But he chose to live in obscurity for something bigger. He guards his privacy so fiercely that it proves quite difficult to find his house in Chamrajpet, the jewel of Bangalore old town. After a spirited search, we zero in on a non-descript, three-storey building along a narrow, roller-coaster lane. The retired bus driver welcomes us and shows us where he lives — a tiny one-room portion with an attached bathroom. Once there, he offers that quintessential flavour of South Indian hospitality — filter coffee.
We can’t believe we are with superstar Rajinikanth’s best friend.
Just a few days earlier, at the height of the Endiran-Robot mania, the legendary actor had made a sudden visit to this house. Even as millions of fans fawned over his pictures and giant cut-outs across the country, Rajinikanth quietly left the rain-soaked streets of Chennai and landed in Bangalore. There, he called Bahadur, his erstwhile colleague from a previous career as bus conductor. The actor told his friend he was going to spend a few days in Bangalore, visiting temples and unwinding. Would Bahadur join him?
Bahadur made time to join the man he knows as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, the most stylish conductor ever to issue a ticket. One day, they went to a temple. There, sitting in a corner, Rajinikanth narrated the storyline of his next movie. He then looked into the eyes of his friend and asked what he thought of the plot. Is there anything that needs to change in the scenes? Here was India’s biggest mass hero, a one-man film industry, asking for feedback like someone who had just got a break in the movies.
Bahadur couldn’t help thinking about how far they have come. The journey had started nearly 40 years ago, on the bus service between Majestic and Srinagara. “He was fast,” Bahadur says as we sit down for a chat. “When giving tickets in a bus, he used to start at one side, and before you knew, he was on the other.”
It was that energy that made Bahadur believe that Gaekwad was not made for being just a conductor. He knew his friend loved to act. “Our shift started at 6 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m. Every day, sometime in the evening, he used to come to my house. My mother served us fresh milk in large tumblers. We had a cow in our house, and in those days, tumblers used to be big. Even recently, when he spoke about my mother, he remembered the large tumbler. After that, we used to go for drama practice.”
The vivacity shone through, on and off stage. Rajinikanth’s mannerisms attracted of passengers who became his fans on the route. And on stage, he always stole the thunder. “He was not trim as he later became. He was fat and he had a lot of hair on his head. But he had the style, the confidence. Even when he was in one corner, it seemed as if he occupied the whole stage.”
And then, there was his roar of laughter.
In one of the most loved scenes in Endhiran, Rajinikanth’s robot character laughs mockingly at the other Rajnikanth, a scientist who created it. The villain’s body vibrates as the guttural spontaneity rattles the eardrums. Even for long-time Rajini fans, it was a novel experience.
But Bahadur had heard that long ago, in one of the plays they had put up in Bangalore in the 1970s. There, the future superstar played the role of Duryodhana, the king of the Kauravas. Just like the Robot of 2010, Duryodhana had mocked his rivals. It had left Bahadur wondering if his friend wasn’t making a mistake by not making a dash for Madras, the capital of South Indian cinema. And the good driver had resolved to help him live his dream.
Today, Rajinikanth lives under many layers of impressions, stories, images, analysis, myths and, more recently, innumerable Internet jokes — Rajini can plug the Wikileaks, goes one of them. On the day of a Rajini movie release, everything takes a backseat in Tamil Nadu, and increasingly in other movie markets. Fans bathe his cut-outs in milk, propitiate the gods by offering the hair on their heads, burst crackers, dance on the streets and pay thousands of rupees for a ticket to the first show. Film critics rave about his charisma and magnetism.
Rajinikanth isn’t good-looking in the conventional sense. Neither does he bother to keep up his superstar image. For him, his star status is like a false moustache to be worn when playing a part and removed when living his life. The bald pate, rubber slippers, dhoti folded up above the knees — that’s the real man.
In the 1970s, the odds were against Shivaji Rao Gaekwad ever becoming a Tamil film star. For starters, he didn’t know the language. The passion for language runs deep in Tamil Nadu and that could have been a major handicap for this Maharashtrian who also spoke Kannada. And the first ever movie frame he appeared in carried an ominous subtitle ‘Abaswaram’ (off-key) and he played a negative cameo.
It was sheer chance that he even got thus far. He was noticed in a Kannada play at the Film Institute in Chennai, by none other than director K. Balachander. “Learn Tamil,” the director told Rajini before leaving. And there has not been a better career advice in Chennai’s film industry before or after.
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(This story appears in the 31 December, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
I think one shouldn't compare with one another (Ex : Rajni Sir, Amitabh Sir ...N). Everyone is 'unique' in there own style. But if it comes to 'Man of the Masses', I think it will be 'Rajni Sir', simple reason, even today he is 'very simple, very modest and helps truly the masses (poorest) on the streets'. That's just my own opinionon Dec 11, 2014
I am Proud to be a die hard fan of superstar,Thalaivar RAJINI.Nearly 34 Years .HIs life and his carrier inspired me alot. he is not an ordinary actor Heis more than any bodyelse. He Lives What His innervoice tells Simply he is greaton Sep 2, 2014
we should inspired how to get success in life with hardworkon Jul 11, 2014
Super staron Apr 19, 2014
we love u lot....................................................on Aug 9, 2013
SUPERSTAR RAJINI SIR I AM A DIE HEART FANon Jul 17, 2013
Rajani sir is obviously the Super Star ... but can never leave a place what the great MGR left. No one else can fill the place for sure.on Feb 1, 2013
G8 Article, Inspiring, We hardly see a man of his nature....... Its really G8 to follow him.... Love him.... Keep rocking man..on Aug 21, 2011
Only one actor is till date called a true superstar and that is RAJESH KHANNA actually RAJESH KHANNA is first and last true superstar all other actor is cheap entertainer.on May 22, 2011
There are people who forget their past as soon as they reach a better position in their life ..here is a man who remembers his past and friends after achieving the impossible. Hats off to ssrk. The real superstar in life.on Apr 13, 2011
I am a gr8 fan of rajni kanth and his movies... and shivaji rao!!.. gr8 article!on Feb 10, 2011
SSRK, Super star rajani kanthon Jan 8, 2011
I thank forbes india magazine for such a wonderful article!!on Jan 7, 2011
Great man are not just who are sucessful but who do not forget their roots and Rajni is a true sucessful man.on Jan 2, 2011
Dears, I have cordially thanks to the FORBES india Magazine all team members & pls take an Interviwe with RAJINI sir ( GURU SIR ). The FILM hero as well as the DIVINE hero as hats off to RAJINI sir. Step 1 : Choosen the best way to reach the destination point with earlier time with the safest journey. Step 2 :Once started the role as given us of full efforts with the hardwork to the works " as there is no motivated minded either success or fail as they (GOD) will take the decision on behalf of the role. Because he is a director & producer of the movie. Step 3 :SUCCESS SUCCESS SUCCESS >>> SUPER STAR RAJINIKANTH. I just sent the comments as about my Guru Sir as Super star Rajinikanth & I wish a advance happy new year 2011 wishes to all as into this mail comments. Thank you. T.Muralidaranon Jan 1, 2011
Thanks to Forbes ... He deserves a lot more of these ... The man of REAL simplicity....on Dec 28, 2010
The man whom we can really trust.Rajini is greaton Dec 25, 2010
Rajini is really humble, simple living man. He is a man of mass. He is the greatest of all Indian actors. You cannot criticize for his on-screen presence. He is a god to all tamil fans.on Dec 25, 2010
In these days of lost virtues such as integrity etc. here is a man who transcends and has a reach beyond so many of us, but remains firmly grounded. It is his simplicity, and connect to the real lifeon Dec 25, 2010
This man deserves all the credit !!!!!! He is a Rockstar ... He is our Super Star !!!!on Dec 24, 2010
Thailaivar deserves more appreciation and now Forbes has started. He is the undisputed king of Indian Cinema and he is unmatched irrespective of any wood ( Bollywood or Koolywood and other wood ) except Tiger woodson Dec 23, 2010
Kudos to Forbes India team. Superstar deserves it. He is not only an entertainer but also a role model for us. Thalaiva, we love you. - Sundar, OnlySuperstar.comon Dec 22, 2010
I have seen very few movies of Rajini but this article is touching because it shows very clearly that he is not ashamed of his past. His striking simplicity despite his stardom and the fact that he values the most sacred of all relationships - friendship - is indeed awe-inspiring. Thanks and regards.on Dec 22, 2010
I love super star. No one stand in front of his styleon Dec 22, 2010
super star is the heart of indian cinema..... super star is the giant man of indian cinema,... no one can touch his foot... ssRk always rocksss... all actors should follow,wish...him...on Dec 22, 2010
I LOVE RAJINI - WORLD SUPERSTARon Dec 22, 2010
yes, he is a SUPERSTAR of WORLD CINEMA.on Dec 22, 2010
OUR THALAIVAR IS NOT ONLY SUPERSTAR OF INDIAN CINEMA BUT SUPERSTAR OF WORLD CINEMA.on Dec 22, 2010
Really , RAJINI is a WORLD SUPERSTARon Dec 22, 2010