A Political Thalaiva in Making: Will Rajinikanth Take the Plunge?

Can Rajinikanth change the face of Tamil Nadu politics? And will he? Some answers are 40 years in the making.

5 min read
A Political Thalaiva in Making: Will Rajinikanth Take the Plunge?

Rajinikanth is a consummate actor, and one of the brightest stars to grace the silver screen. This much we can all agree on. But his part-tirade-part-campaign speeches this week have raised long-buried questions and skeletons that have been in hiding for 20 years.

Will Rajinikanth enter politics?

What is the 21-year-old 'Political Accident' he spoke about?

Who does he compare with; Jayalalithaa or MGR?

Will he change Tamil Nadu's political game?

Let's begin with the last question and build up to the first.


Will Rajinikanth Change Politics in Tamil Nadu?

At Rajinikanth’s fan interactions through this week, tickets were sold in black, for an opportunity to stand next to him for a photograph, at Rs 4,000 each.

It takes more than a single honest man to form an honest party.

The real question is, can anyone change the PEOPLE in Tamil Nadu?

Freebies, dole, caste and ‘Dravidian’ identity are the four pillars of Tamil Politics. Dravidianism and the associated Hindi-hatred are not electoral issues, but work wonders for votes (case in point, Jallikattu).

It is through the active participation of the people that the DMK and the ADMK have ruled the roost and grown deep roots, without any large-scale development over 40 years.

In the 2016 elections, neither the DMK nor the ADMK had a practical, deliverable election manifesto. The ADMK won through the promise of the perennial continuation of existing files to the public.

Anyone who wishes to change this status quo needs to have rare courage and the willingness to be seen as the enemy by a large part of the electorate.

Thus far, Rajinikanth has a reputation, across the board, of being someone who dislikes making enemies or rubbing anyone the wrong way.
Rajinikanth came out in full support of Karunanidhi and the DMK in 1996, to a thumping victory. But it all went downhill thenceforth. (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

The 21-Year-Old Political ‘Accident’

In a 1995 Doordarshan interview, Rajinikanth admitted to meeting the then prime minister (PV Narasimha Rao) for more than just courtesy.

He was earlier denied an appointment with Jayalalithaa (who was the CM at the time), to talk about police harassment of his fan clubs, which by then had mushroomed in the thousands.

His support for the DMK-TMC alliance led to a historic victory for them, thanks to his fanbase. But his charisma failed him in the next election, when the DMK lost badly, despite his support. From then on, Rajinikanth has been trying to distance himself from the incident. He also made peace with Jayalalithaa, who even officiated his daughter Aishwarya's wedding to Dhanush.

Jayalalithaa is no more. There are over eighty THOUSAND Rajinikanth fan clubs. And the superstar smells a fresh start.
Rajinikanth with arch nemesis ‘Nilambari’, played by Ramyakrishnan in ‘Padayappa’ (1991). ‘Nilambari’s’ character was a direct/indirect dig at Jayalalithaa’s authoritarian ‘un-womanly’ nature. (Photo: The Quint)

Rajinikanth and Jayalalithaa

Both are Tamil actors from other states, who turned to politics (Rajinikanth is definitely looking in the general direction).

But then, so are ALL of the first generation politicians of Tamil Nadu:


Kerala - Periyar (DK-Dravida Kazhagam)
Andhra - Annadurai (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)
Andhra - Karunanidhi (DMK-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)
Kerala - MGR (ADMK - Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)

Jayalalithaa’s political brilliance lies in the fact that she grew as a politician DESPITE her film career, which – thanks to her gender – is often seen as an ‘immoral’ profession.

Unlike Rajinikanth, she was never in doubt of her ‘destiny, to live for the people, and only for the people.’

Rajinikanth and MGR

Both movie stars have used the film medium to propagate their ideas, sell their brand and project their personalities as larger-than-life saviours of the people.

Both hold sway over millions of fans.

Both understand the art of shaping a film to suit the needs of the masses, through tweaks in dialogues, lyrics and story.

It is therefore understandable for people to consider Rajinikanth as the next MGR. The Superstar himself said it in his movie, Sivaji;

'I am Sivaji, and I am also MGR!'

But dig ever so slightly below the surface of these sentences, and the illusion is broken.

Like Bahubali’s statue towering over Bhallala Deva’s golden image, MGR leaves Rajinikanth sucking in the trail-wind.

Rajinikanth is an actor who could someday be a politician. Maybe.

MGR was always a politician. His career in acting was just part of the process. From his first movie to his last, there was no let up in creating brand MGR.

Rajini's first movie with overtly political dialogues was Annamalai (1992), which came twenty years after he started acting.

After MGR was shot by MR Radha in the neck, he lost clarity of speech, and developed a slur. He asked the director and producer about Petralthan Pillaya, a movie that was waiting for six months to be dubbed and released. They said the movie was ready, and that they used a lesser known co-actor to dub for him.

MGR asked the producer to release two versions of the film. One for the 3 pm show, with his own, slurry, almost incoherent voice. The other for the 6 pm show, with someone else’s dubbing.

The moment the audience heard MGR's voice at the 3 pm show, they burst into tears. The women wailed inconsolably at the plight of their 'Leader'.

MGR told the producers that he knew what would move the people. He asked them to retract Ramanathan's dubbed version, now that he had proved his point.

MGR's prowess in forming a pro-common-man administration, the bedrock of which was dole, is legendary. It is for this reason alone that he could mentor J Jayalalithaa, who remains the most educated, headstrong  CM and politician Tamil Nadu has ever had.

Rajinikanth uses God as a trope for his indecisiveness. MGR used God to stake his claim over the unquestionable destiny of ruling over the people.
Across four decades, Rajinikanth has donned many avatars. He is yet to play a convincing politician. (Photo: S Sivakumar / Sivadigitalart)

Will Rajinikanth Enter Politics?

The reason Vladimir Putin is shown riding a horse, bare-chested, and wrestling bears in Siberia; the illusion of Continuity and stability are vital for a successful rule.

Most of MGR's films had not just fights, but scenes where he displayed feats of strength; lifting logs, fencing, riding horses, pulling rickshaws, and so on.

Rajinikanth has been famously hospitalised for different ailments over the years. His 'simple, no make-up look', works in his favour as an 'individual'. But age has begun to show on the 'ever young' superstar. He was advised two weeks of bed-rest after shooting for Kabali.

Rajinikanth is aware of his failings. He remembers the spectacular failure of Sivaji Ganesan’s tryst with politics. He understands that while his fame is global, he neither has the ‘no-flop’ record of MGR, nor the extent of rural TN’s support as he would like.

Even if Rajinikanth – who cannot stand for a few photos – survives the campaign trail, it is doubtful if he will make a marked difference to Tamil Nadu or her people. And with ‘2.0’ round the corner, no feathers will be ruffled.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Quint Insider

or more


3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Insider Benefits
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!