With Rajinikanth bagging the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, here’s looking at when he pushed the boundaries to deliver some remarkable performances
If there’s one actor associated with style, it is Rajinikanth. In the last few decades, every film of his has capitalised on this unique quality and provided cheer to millions of his fans worldwide.
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But, he isn’t about the style alone. Much before he became one of Tamil cinema’s biggest superstars, Rajinikanth drew audiences solely for his acting abilities. Today, with the 51st Dadasaheb Phalke Award being bestowed upon him, Rajinikanth has been recognised as one among India’s top acting performers. There are several landmark performances in this journey, but here’s a look at a few noteworthy outings of the actor:
A man who makes pornographic films: that’s what Rajinikanth played in this rather spine-chilling film that shook the 70s. With a frightened Sridevi alongside him, Rajinikanth took up this bold subject and pulled off the villainy in it handsomely. Written by Panchu Arunachalam, Rajinikanth’s character (Rajarathnam) might not have received applause for his actions on the big screen, but his performance certainly did.
Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri (1977)
People who rave about Bala’s Pithamagan often refer to how the director weaved magic in the casting: getting Vikram to play someone who doesn’t talk, and Suriya to play a character who is a chatterbox. Back in 1977, S.P Muthuraman did that: getting Sivakumar (who has a clean image) to play a womaniser, and casting Rajinikanth, who was doing villain roles until then, as a good guy. With the emphasis on the lead woman’s point of view (Sumithra played Bhuvana), this film also led to Rajinikanth steering his career into hero-zone.
Mullum Malarum (1978)
Kali is among the most memorable characters that Rajinikanth has played. This classic not only showcased a unique brother-sister, but also had sequences that broke against the formulaic conventions of the Tamil film industry then. Considered widely as one of the cult classics, this Mahendran-directed film would go on to inspire many other filmmakers; Mani Ratnam has often spoken about it in high regard, as has Pa. Ranjith, who even modelled his Kabali on it.
Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai (1979)
If you need to understand life, you don’t need to look beyond Santhanam, the protagonist of this film played by Rajinikanth. This film teaches valuable lessons on how circumstances and riches change the way people look at you, with Rajinikanth delivering a knockout performance. Watch out for him in the scenes with his siblings in a film that captures the myriad emotions of a person through various stages in his life.
Look at the team this project had: Rajinikanth, Mammootty, Mani Ratnam, Ilaiyaraaja and Santhosh Sivan. With such giants displaying their work, it is difficult to stand out. But Surya (Rajinikanth) did. Amidst a few massy scenes, Rajinikanth managed to put out a strong performance that remains memorable. His adaptation to the ‘Mani Ratnam film universe’ and subtle portrayal, especially in the amma scenes, are fantastic. And this film’s ode to friendship is the stuff of memes even today.
Pa. Ranjith teamed up with Rajinikanth for two films: Kabali and Kaala. While the former was full of mass moments, the latter not only had the director’s stamp, but also had a few scenes reminding us that the ‘actor Rajini’ is still very much around. Watch out for the jovial portions in which he pulls his wife’s (Eswari Rao) leg… but also the delicate dilemma with which he approaches his former flame (Huma Qureshi). In a film filled with symbolism, Rajinikanth’s intense portrayal of Karikalan added to the whistle-worthy moments.