“In an autobiography I’ll have to write the truth… I have read Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography and if I can muster up the kind of courage that he had, I will write one…” This was Rajinikanth’s response in answer to a question from his mentor well-known Indian film director K. Balachander. It features upfront in the newly launched Rajinikanth : The Definitive Biography, by well known film critic & author Naman Ramachandran and published by Penguin Books.
Rajinikanth is, quite simply, the biggest superstar cinema-crazy India has ever seen. His stylized dialogues and screen mannerisms are legion, and his guy next door-cum-superhero image has found a hysterically appreciative following among millions of moviegoers. Naman Ramachandran’s biography recounts Rajinikanth’s career in meticulous detail, tracing his incredible cinematic journey from his very first film Apoorva Ragangal in 1975 to memorable forays into Bollywood like Andhaa Kanoon and Hum, from landmark films like Billa, Thalapathi and Annamalai to the mega successes of Baasha, Muthu, Padayappa, Chandramukhi, Sivaji and Enthiran. Along the way, the book provides rare insights into the Thalaivar’s personal life, from his childhood days to his times of struggle—when he was still Sivaji Rao Gaekwad—and then his eventual stardom: revealing how a legend was born. Rajinikanth has not written his memoirs; this book is the closest we are likely to get to the definitive Rajini story. Here is an exclusive interview with the author.
What surprised you the most in writing Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography?
It was rediscovering the sheer variety of roles he had done earlier in his career. Roles, which had showcased his abilities as an actor as opposed to the latest, so called stylish films. I also knew that he had come from humble origins, but I was surprised to find out exactly how hard he had to struggle in his early days before he became an actor.
Will people globally (outside India) be interested in reading this book?
Yes, they will because it is an inspirational story. Its about a boy with not enough to eat and a young man who was loading sacks for a living for somebody like that to become the greatest superstar the world has known is truly an inspirational story. And apart from his being an actor if you look at all the charitable works and his pursuit of spirituality it’s a classic rags to riches story and he can be a role model for many people.
What did you personally take away? Did it change you?
The book has changed me physically because I have lost several kilos in weight due to the stress of writing the book (laughs). Apart from that thanks to my research I heard a lot of spiritual things that Rajinikanth tells his fans and some of those messages have stayed with me and made me a calmer and better person. Whatever little ego I had is now gone.
You mention how the book is about his life but also a chronicle of South Indian cinema.
It’s all about context. You can’t just take one actors life and say that he acted in x no of movies and this is what he did. You also need to place the person and his films in a socio-political context and Rajinikanth’s journey is inspirational but you can’t take it in isolation. So I have looked at the history of Tamil cinema, the history of Tamil society in the twentieth century, and also looked at the history of Tamil politics in the 20th century and all three are closely connected. The cinema of Rajinikanth is very much a product of these.
The cover of the book is striking – how did this come about?
It was a collaborative process between Penguin and me. I didn’t want an image from a film. I wanted a stark b/w image, which was in contrast to the color that you associate him with. But then we felt that would be too artsy. So we added some bling, yet kept the starkness, and that’s the result.
What should young artists around the world take away from this book?
This will sound like a cliché but the message is to give it your best shot. And when you think you’ve given it your best shot and its still not enough, take it to double that. Secondly have no ego. Think about the work and not the fame. If you manage that success will follow.
About the Author
Naman Ramachandran was placed on Planet Earth with the express purpose of writing the definitive biography of Superstar Rajinikanth. Fate intervened, however, and he was separated at birth from his noble purpose by a metaphorical Kumbh Mela of sorts. His life journey took him across the world where he became a film critic with Sight & Sound, a film journalist covering South Asia for Variety and the UK and Ireland for Cineuropa, and the author of the book Lights, Camera, Masala: Making Movies in Mumbai, besides a few film scripts. A chance encounter with a Penguin revealed the Thalaivar tattoo seared deep into his soul, and the epiphany that followed resulted in this book.
Rajinikanth, The Definitive Biography launches 12/12/12 on the actor’s 63rd birthday. Find it HERE