New Delhi: Rajinikanth is almost a mythical name now. He can spark up conversations and make strangers the best of friends without asking for a pay back, which means one doesn't need to see his films to know him.
He has achieved an unbelievably 'cult' status among the youngsters who never bothered to watch his earlier films, like the films released before 'Sivaji' and 'Enthiran', leave aside the 70s films where he was featured as a scheming husband or a conniving, roadside rowdy.
The Rajinimania is unique and has a great fan following in North India as well where people hardly know what sort of roles he portrayed in 'Chilakamma Cheppindi' or 'Shankar Salim Simon' (Name sounds familiar!).
The situation can be compared to the times when Bruce Lee meant 'sabka baap'. Who cared about his origin and how he trained, all that needed was a 'khayy' or 'Khiyaa' sound before punching in the air. Kids of those times, who have grown up to form a major chunk of the country's vocal class, found the persona of such a man mesmerising. Don't dare say that you didn't hear the absolutely mindless stories about how Bruce Lee stopped a bullet on his chest by just tightening his muscles. Rajinikanth has become the oral form of Bruce Lee.
An average Bollywood buff would find it difficult to name the predecessors of Rajinikanth in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada but he knows Rajinikanth, well, about his jokes and illogical escapades. Then why and how Rajinikanth holds such a place for the people who haven't seen him in his youth?
Rajinikanth means 'Yanna Rascala', Rajinikanth means splitting the bullet into two and Rajinikanth means catching the air tossed cigarette in style, the last one is the image that has remained with us forever.
Perhaps people fake their love for the actor in the beginning just to be a part of the 'cool' group, without realising that they are getting attracted towards his off-screen avatars.
One of these avatars is of an almost bald man. This surprises but very soon turns into a form of respect. In an era where stars are trying their best to look glamorous and alluring, someone is happy with his bald head! Who other than a satisfied and contended actor would do so!
He is political without politicising his conversations and opinions, demands and limits are clear for him and from him.
Rajini laughs on himself and filmmakers who cast him opposite younger actresses and talks about the hazards of being a film star in the same breath. It works on two levels, he earns respect for behaving as per his age and stamps his authority over the ultimate superstar position he enjoys.
Many of his films might not reach the northern part but the 80s generation still remember his antics in 'Andha Kanoon', 'Hum', 'Geraftaar' and 'Chaalbaaz'. He has done 28 films in Hindi sans 'Ra.One' (Are you sure he was Rajinikanth!), this much is enough to keep him alive in our memories but his rags to riches story is more effective.
A normal face and regular built make him one of us which gets emphasised by his down to earth attitude. No one can claim to know the in and out of a public figure but his fellow actors always praise him, this adds more gravity to his already established aura.
The question 'who is a real star' comes to mind whenever Rajinikanth attends weddings or socially relevant functions. Over the years he has earned 'respect' and hasn't 'cultivated' the notion of an untouchable superstar. It might look over simplified but Rajinikanth seems like an older member of family who works in film for livelihood.
Maintaining a distinct image is the biggest challenge for any celebrity but he does it without going the extra mile, he still presents himself as the raw, untamed film star.
Indians generally put sacrifice above any other personality trait and when they see Rajinikanth living as a commoner probably their respect for the man grows many times.
Today is his 62nd birthday and it's an opportunity to thank him for all the Rajinikanth vs CID jokes and bridging the gap between fantasies and expectations. The icing on the cake is the date 12.12.12.