Actor Kamal Haasan was just 19 when he met Rajinikanth on the sets of
Apoorva Raagangal (Rare Melodies; 1975), a K Balachander film that examines the relationships between people from vastly different age groups. Even people who have sworn off movies and have never been to a theatre know this fact in Tamil Nadu.
The film had Kamal making his breakthrough as a lead actor even as Rajini notched up a reputation as a villain. The two actors have known each other for 44 years now.
At a function in Chennai on November 17 called ‘Ungal Naan (Yours Truly)’, Kamal was celebrating 60 years in cinema. When Rajinikanth arrived on stage, there was much bonhomie. The usual political hints were dropped, with the actors resolving to stay as, friends, though their “political ideologies” were different.
It was director SA Chandrashekar, once known for his firebrand variety of films, now better known as ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay’s father who kicked the hornet’s nest when he expressed the wish that the two biggies of Tamil cinema come together politically as well. Vijay himself has indicated that he wants to launch a party and has starred in politically charged films like last year’s
It was in the 1980s that Kamal and Rajini parted ways. The Ulaganayagan, as Kamal is known to his fans, has said repeatedly that it had become too expensive for producers to cast him alongside Rajinikanth. In 1981’s
Thillu Mullu, also directed by Balachander with Rajini in the lead, Kamal makes a delightful cameo as a lawyer, Charu Haasan. This brilliant comedy was inspired by the Hindi film Gol Maal.
In the 1970s, the two actors appeared in a few films that were radically different from others of the time.
Moondru Mudichu (The Three Knots; 1976) had Rajinikanth as the anti-hero, Kamal in an extended cameo and Sridevi as the heroine. The movie, with its myriad plot twists, was a major critical hit. The film provided a breakthrough for Rajinikanth though it ensured that he would be typecast as a villain for many films to come.
The next flick,
Aval Appadithan (That is How She is), is told from a woman’s point of view, quite rare for a movie of that time. With actress Sripriya playing the role of Manju, as though she was born to do it, the film had Kamal as the good guy with Rajini infusing his flair into the role of a male chauvinist.
But it was Bharathiraaja’s debut film
16 Vayathinile that made the careers of Sridevi, Kamal and Rajinikanth. If all three were already major actors by then, they became household names. The movie, with its village milieu, was shot extensively outdoors and brought to Tamil cinema its own type of unprecedented realism and nativity.
Other films like
Avargal, Adu-Puli Attam, Ilamai Ungal Adukirathu, Thai Illamal Naanillai and Alavudinum Arputha Vilakkum followed. There was even a disco film, Ninaithaale Inikkum.
After the mid-80s, the two actors never made a film together. The cameos also abruptly stopped. Today, Rajinikanth commands a much higher salary than Kamal and his films are among the most successful ever made in Tamil cinema like the recent
2.0 and Pettai. Kamal mostly produces his own movies that have always been highly regarded. In the minds of Tamil audiences, Rajini is “mass”, while Kamal is “class”.
So are the statements about a friendship nurtured for 44 years just public posturing? Kamal is a known atheist, while Rajini is famous for his sabbaticals to the Himalayas in search of spiritual sustenance. Until the recent barrage of statements, Kamal seemed to be ideologically closer to the DMK. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kamal failed to form an alliance with any major party in TN. His party, the Makkal Needhi Maiam, won only 3.72 percent of the votes, with all MNM candidates losing their deposits. Kamal himself did not contest.
Rajinikanth has been dithering about launching a party. Ever since he made statements supporting the then DMK-Tamil Manila Congress alliance in 1996, his fan base has been expecting him to enter the fray. All we knew is that his party, to be launched next year, will contest all constituencies in the 2021 Assembly election in TN.
So will Kamal and Rajini come together to contest the 2021 elections? Reports are that fans of both actors are thrilled with the recent camaraderie between their leaders.
But we still know very little. How will Kamal and Rajini see past their own personal ideological differences? Will the fans of the actors work together to better their chances in each of the 234 Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu? Will such an alliance be a force big enough to dent the chances of the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK and the AIADMK? Kamal has said that his party will be a Centrist one, while the BJP appears to be keen to rope in Rajinikanth. How will this wrinkle be ironed out? If the two actors join hands, will they come up with a common minimum programme?
It’s no secret that Kamal and Rajini are arch-rivals in Kollywood. Both of them are veteran actors with a canon of films that anybody can be proud of. Will they be able to translate their popularity into votes? The major political parties are already convinced (or are trying to convince us) that the actors are a spent force in politics. For a conclusive answer to many questions, we may have to wait until the summer of 2021.
Nandhu Sundaram lives near the tiny town of Arumanai in Kanyakumari district. He writes mostly about films.