Disclaimer: This article takes away nothing from the fact that the writer is a die-hard fan of the Superstar.
"“They should have been so careful when the US President (Donald) Trump had visited (the country). The intelligence didn’t do its job properly. It (violence) should have been completely crushed with an iron fist. We expect them to be careful at least from now on.”" - Rajinikanth
Is Rajinikanth tapping into his newfound political persona, to feed his superstardom, especially before the release of a film?
For a fan like myself, who has grown up on his films - and for whom the line between the on-screen demigod with wavy hair, and the off-screen, charismatic sexagenarian is blurry - this question is both tricky and icky. Nevertheless, hear me out.
When superstar Rajinikanth speaks, the nation listens.
Especially, when it comes to issues that affect the society and the people. Like the Jallikattu protests, or the Sterlite protests, or the violence against students in Jamia University, or the recent violence in Delhi.
And whatever he says becomes political, and in most cases, controversial. The hullabaloo over his comments on Periyar's anti-religion march at a private gathering, is ample illustration.
His comments tend to receive 100 times more exposure than that of others (he is Baasha, after all). But it appears that his comments, in addition to being intelligently worded, are also well timed. The pattern becomes clear if one were to go back by just four years. In other words, “aap chronology samajhiye”.
December 2017, the Big Leap
On 12 December, 2017 - Rajinikanth's birthday - the second look of his 2018 film Kaala was released.
On New Year's Eve (30 Dec, 2017), Rajinikanth announced his political entry. He said 'democracy was in bad shape', and that he could do something about it through his brand of 'spiritual politics'.
The sign of horns, aka the 'Rock On' symbol, aka the apaana mudra became the symbol of his Rajinimandram (umbrella club to bring together his 80,000 fan clubs).
A month later, on the 2 March, Kaala's trailer drops and breaks the internet.
Interestingly, in November 2017, barely a month before his big announcement, Rajinikanth famously said he was in no hurry for a political entry.
There were also no film / trailer / teaser releases slated that month.
2018, Kaala, and the Sterlite Comment "“If the people keep indulging in protests all the time the whole of Tamil Nadu will turn into a graveyard! Thank you very much.”" - Rajinikanth
The people of Thoothukudi began a wave of protests that started on 24 March, and ended in violence on 22 May. They were protesting against the expansion of the Sterlite Copper plant, that allegedly polluted the environment in the region.
Rajinikanth was silent on the issue until on 30 May, he spoke about the issue to the media, after paying a visit to the injured protesters in the Thoothukudi hospital. What was to have been a smooth press-conference ended up irking the superstar, who walked away in a huff, after making a number of allegations stating that the violence was instigated by anti-social elements who had entered the crowd.
Rajinikanth's comments on the issue were spoken about, hopes of his political entry were raised (yet again), and social media was rife with memes, opinion pieces and more on Sterlite, Rajini and more Rajini.
Kaala released a fortnight later on 7 June, 2018.
2019, Jamia and Darbar "“Violence and rioting should not become a way to find solution for any issue. I request the people of India to stay united and vigilant keeping in mind the nation’s security and welfare. The ongoing violence gives me great pain.” " - Rajinikanth
This was what Rajinikanth said on 20 December, 2019.
On 15 December, the police tore into the students and staff of the Jamia University, who were protesting against the CAA.
On 16 December, at the trailer launch of Darbar, Rajinikanth sidestepped a question on what he thought of the violence at Jamia Milia.
Wish actors didn't use "this isn't the right platform" to address national issues because there is NO other platform for media to interact with them but promotional events.This is Rajinikanth, being asked by @iPriyanka_S on cop brutality in Jamia. Irony: he plays cop in the film! pic.twitter.com/5CXnGDhybp— Justin Rao (@JustinJRao) December 16, 2019
But then, a fortnight after he spoke out on the issue of police brutality - albeit in very vague terms - Darbar releases in over 7,000 screens.
The superstar has maintained radio silence since then. No word or tweet about the ongoing protests. Nothing on the anti-CAA protests across Tamil Nadu, or the ongoing colourful agitation that continues in Chennai's Washermenpet area.
Nothing on the riots in NE Delhi, which has taken over 20 lives.
Nothing, until a day after the release of the title of his new film Annathe.
Not All Response is About Timing
It is clear that Rajinikanth is timing his responses. This can go two ways.
One, maybe he's doing it to further his political ambitions. For a profession or calling that is centered around such authority and power, timing surely is important.
Two, maybe he's doing it to protect his movie. If controversy breaks out before the release of a film, or its trailer, it could affect the film itself. Maybe that's why he's spacing out his interactions with the media. After all, it takes smarts to survive in such a volatile industry.
But not all response is about timing. Where human lives are involved, where the humanity is brought into question, where an ideological stance is the need of the hour; surely one's response must be organic, genuine. Especially if the one in question is an avid tweeter. Especially, if the one in question has built for himself the reputation of being a 'genuine human being' (not my words but Amitabh Bachchan's!).
Not all response is about timing, sometimes it's about showing some off-screen hubris.
. Read more on Politics by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsRajini Sir Please! Why Mix Delhi Violence With Film Promotion? . Read more on Politics by The Quint.