tv & movies

‘Yenna Nee En Nanban’…what the Kamal Haasan-Rajinikanth friendship tells us about Tamil cinema

On Kamal Haasan’s 65th birthday today, we trace the actor’s equation with his longtime friend and contemporary, Rajinikanth, and how it has evolved over the years

I sense a mild temperature every time a production house makes an announcement about the announcement of another announcement. Sounds paradoxical? Log onto Twitter and check any recent post about today’s galaxy stars (I refrain from naming them for the simple reason that I wish to have a peaceful weekend). These posts, propelled by a well-orchestrated PR machinery, not alone garner maximum likes and retweets on Twitter, but cascade into an ugly fan war. It ultimately snowballs into a debate on who is the most masochist star in Tamil cinema. These faceless men, masquerading under the blanket of ‘fans’, employ their weapons of mass destruction: inflated box-office figures, with production houses playing a silent spectator. If you are slightly sceptical to the text above, I suggest you check Twitter at 6.30pm on any given day. The top trending hashtag for the day speaks a lot about today’s Tamil cinema.

In the age of the Internet, where mass, hysterical, mob mentality exhibited by fans are casually brushed under the carpet, with zero control from the actor’s side, here are two superstars who have kept their ‘comrades’ in check, giving them no room for thoughts. I am referring to Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, to whom Tamil cinema is indebted. Not for their cinematic marvels and box-office glories, but for being a towering example of how two contemporaries should come across: both in the public and private spheres. The duo has achieved something remarkable — something even MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan could only attempt — during their lifetime. That is, introducing the concept of coexistence to an industry that primarily operates on binaries. Whether it is award shows or public events, the Iruvar has never missed a chance to acknowledge their mutual love and respect, thereby silencing their respective camps and critics. Please do not mistake this as a puff piece for Kamal-Rajini fans. They too are cut from the same cloth.

Brothers in arms

One is a believer and the other is a self-proclaimed rationalist. One is a ‘thalaivar’ of the masses and the other is a master craftsman. Yet, these differences never meandered in their personal equation. Of course, they are not the best of friends — not my words, but Kamal himself had said this in one of his interviews. They did have a grim episode during the ‘80s, when the duo fought in a film party, ultimately resulting in a physical brawl. Kamal, in fact, made a passing reference to this in an interview, without delving into the specificities of the incident. He said that there was a fleeting phase where they went to the extent of avoiding eye contact, before realising the futility of the situation. That aside, one could argue that Kamal-Rajini’s bromance, spread across four decades, has only aged better.

A fan made meme that went viral on social media earlier this year

A fan made meme that went viral on social media earlier this year
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

The reason why the two had each other’s back, despite vested interests, stems from the fact that they were shepherded by the same master, K Balachander. In Harry Potter’s parlance, Balachander played the roles of both Dumbledore and Hagrid in their lives, ensuring that they are not consumed by their halos and egos. In the ‘80s, when fans were at loggerheads, it was still possible for a Kamal Haasan reference or a cameo (in Thillu Mullu) in a Rajinikanth star-vehicle — which is out of question for today’s crop of ‘massiest’ heroes. It is partly because they catapulted into stardom when cinema was made with nothing but passion. Which is why you could find a Kamal Haasan coming to the rescue of his friend Rajinikanth during a moment of crisis — J Mahendran’s directorial début Mullum Malarum hit a roadblock, prompting the intervention of Kamal, who, apparently, bailed them out.

When Kamal says Rajinikanth is like his brother or when Rajini says Kamal is the GOAT (greatest of all time), you feel there is genuine warmth in their statements and does not come across as templated answer, servicing their respective fan base. Out of the 14,576 interviews Kamal has given so far, there will invariably be a question on Rajinikanth. Likewise, out of the 140 interviews of Rajini, there will be a mention, if not a passage, on Kamal Haasan. If there is a press meet or interaction with Kamal, you can safely walk in and prod a question about Rajini — whether it is about cinema or politics — without catching him off-guard, as is the case with Rajini. Can you, for a moment, imagine asking another ‘mass’ star today about his contemporary in today’s scenario? Oh, for that, they first need to climb down their ivory tower, right?

What fans think about them is a different issue. The underlying point being that the stars themselves never took the fandom too seriously. In a recent interview to Cinema Vikatan, when Kamal was asked about fan fights, he said, “This has been happening since PU Chinappa and MK Thygaraja Bhagavathar days. Rajini and I have discussed this a lot. If they (fans) come to know of our private conversations, they would be dejected.”

‘Yenna Nee En Nanban’...what the Kamal Haasan-Rajinikanth friendship tells us about Tamil cinema

Let us not be optimistic about future prospects. The curtains have rolled. We are witnessing the last phase of the Rajini-Kamal era. Given the stakes involved and their political career, it is almost certain that they will never act in a movie together. Although I wouldn’t mind selling my property to watch them as Chandru and Deepak, in a follow up to their Ninaithale Inikum — an irresistibly entertaining musical drama, that, even today, speaks volumes of the kind of friendship and brotherhood they share. That goes on to explain this: on a day when Kamal Haasan has his birthday, the motion poster for Rajinikanth’s Darbar is being launched…by Kamal.

Dear Tamil cinema stars, chew on that.

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