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‘I Am Not MGR, But I Can Bring Back His Governance’: Rajinikanth Makes A Case For MGR’s Legacy

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Actor and soon-to-be politician Rajinikanth, in a fiery speech delivered at the MGR Educational & Research Institute where he unveiled a statue of the celebrated former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, channeled a bit of Kamal Haasan’s spirit when he spoke about the kind of questions that was put to him about his politics. “When I announced that I would make my decision public on December 31, a young reporter wanted to know what my political principles would be. It was like asking a person about his marriage plans when he was just going to meet a woman for the first time,” he said to a thunderous cheer from the crowd – a mix of fans and students. “He could be forgiven, but not the older people – politicians and others who ask me the same thing.”

Soon after opening his speech, Rajini addressed his cadre, telling them not to erect banners. Activist Traffic Ramaswamy was at the venue earlier, protesting the presence of cutouts all along the Highway in Maduravoyal. “Please do not put up banners and cutouts hence forth,” he said, “We have to respect the High Court order.”

Rajini then emphasised the fact that he was a fan of MGR – and Jayalalithaa [about whom he had said in 1996 – “if she’s voted to power, God save Tamil Nadu”] – and various other political leaders like M Karunanidhi and GK Moopanar. Cho Ramaswamy was also one of the names that was cast about. “MGR hailed from this industry. This was his thaai veedu [parental home]; even Jayalalithaa was from here. Why do people hate actors turning politicians,” he questioned, “they ask me, ‘we are not donning grease paint and dancing with actresses, then why are you entering ours?’ – to which I say, I have been doing my job properly – as an actor, you, as politicians, are not.”

Declaring that he also knows some politics, having learnt from political stalwarts before him, Rajini said that while he doesn’t expect wishes, he doesn’t want brickbats either. “I don’t want you to roll out a red carpet for me, but why do you discourage me? You and I know that politics is full of thorns, despite knowing that, I’m here at this age. Not everyone can become MGR, you say. I agree. He was a Yuga Purushan [Man of the Era], the Makkal Thilakam [People’s Leader], nobody can replace him. But, I can bring back his good governance – which was tailored for the poor and the common folk. With the help of the youth, people, technologists and specialists, I can certainly do that.”

Rajini, much like what Kamal had done at the meeting in Madurai, addressed the criticism against him one by one. “I am asked what is ‘aanmeega arasiyal‘ [spiritual politics]. I’ve said already that it is something truthful, pure non-casteist, secular. The kind of politics that believes in God. I am also asked, ‘where were you when Jayalalithaa was around? Were you scared?’ Yes, I want to fill the vacuum now, left by two strong leaders. Tamil Nadu needs good leadership, I want to fill that place. Namma pakkam aandavan irukaan [God is on my side].”

If there was one agenda on Rajini’s speech for the day, it was to document his praise and establish a connection to the powerful leader who often appeared in his movies as the poor man’s saviour. “I used to be a fan of Sivaji,” began the actor, “after entering the industry, I got to know about MGR and his magnetic persona. I became a veriyan [fan]. In 1952, when Sivaji’s Parasakthi was out, everyone thought it was the end of MGR. All big directors were pursuing Sivaji. But MGR directed and produced Nadodi Mannan (1958) at that time. It made history and he proved his mettle with it. ‘I don’t need anyone,’ he seemed to say then. He was competing against Sivaji in cinema and against Karunanidhi in politics, and was hugely successful at both. Even now, people throng his memorial to listen to his watch tick.”

Rajini’s films too acquired a distinct mass flavour starting the late 80s. The 90s were especially loaded with films like Ejamaan, Thalapathi, Mannan, Uzhaippaali, reached a crescendo with Baasha, Muthu, Padayappa, with lyrics that pandered to his fan base – crucial in constructing the brand that Rajini had become. The songs that introduced Rajini in these movies, right down to Sivaji (“Ballelaika”), positioned the superstar as the champion of the underdog; layered with commentary on life in general, doling out advice at times, a dash of religion, all underlined with many thanks to the people of Tamil Nadu for their support.

மாலைகள் இட வேண்டாம்
தங்க மகுடமும் தரவேண்டாம்
தமிழ் தாய்நாடு தந்த அன்பு போதுமே
என் ஒரு துளி வேர்வைக்கு ஒரு பவுன் தங்க காசு
கொடுத்தது தமிழல்லவா
என் உடல் பொருள் ஆவியை தமிழுக்கும் தமிழர்க்கும்
கொடுப்பது முரியால்லவா

[I don’t want to be welcomed with much fanfare; I’m content with the love of the people of Tamil Nadu

TN rewarded my hard work with gold; I want to give back to the people – body, mind and soul]

– “Singa Nadai Pottu,” Padayappa (1999); lyrics by Vairamuthu

அதாண்டா இதாண்டா அருணாச்சலம் நாந்தாண்டா
அன்னை தமிழ் நாட்டுல நான் அனைவருக்கும் சொந்தம்டா

[I’m Arunachalam; the people of Tamil Nadu are my kin]

– “Adhan Da Idhaaan Da,” Arunachalam (1997); lyrics by Vairamuthu

கிராமத்துக் குடிசையிலே கொஞ்சக் காலம்
தங்கிப் பாருலே

கூரையின் ஓட்டை விரிசல் வழி
நட்சத்திரம் எண்ணிப் பாருலே

[Live in the villages, sleep in the huts, and count the stars through the thatched roof]

– “Balleilakka,” Sivaji (2007); lyrics by Na. Muthukumar

சாக்கடைக்குள் போயி சுத்தம் செய்யும் பேரு
நாலு நாளு லீவு போட்டா நாறிப்போகும் ஊரு
முடி வெட்டும் தொழில் செய்யும்
தோழந்தான் இல்லையேல்
நமக்கெல்லாம் ஏது அழகு
நதி நீரில் நின்று துணி
துவைப்பவன் இல்லையேல்
வெளுக்குமா உடை அழுக்கு

(sings praises of those working blue collar jobs)

– “Devuda Devuda,” Chandramukhi (2005); lyrics by Vaali

Rajinikanth then spoke about the way MGR helped him just ahead of his wedding, convincing Latha Rajinikanth’s family who were hesitant about the match – “They were initially very reluctant to marry their daughter to me, but later agreed within two days. I later got to know that MGR had called YG Parthasarathy and told him that I was a good lad – a little short-tempered, but good” – and also while constructing his Raghavendram Mandapam, “I was denied permission. I sought the CM’s help. Later, in front of the bureaucrat, MGR said he wants to do something good, an actor who has come up on his own, give him the NoC. I got it within two days.”

“People would now say I am trying to pull MGR loyalists to my side,” he declared to more applause.

Later, addressing students at the event, Rajini said, “Learn English; I struggled in high school because I didn’t know the language. Get to know what’s happening in politics, but actively involve in educating yourselves.”

*****

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