Rajinikanth in uniform: Darbar actor’s Bollywood years glisten with ‘cop’ roles

Shaikh Ayaz
rajinikanth in darbar

Over the years, Superstar Rajinikanth has played a slew of memorable cop characters.

Millions of ardent viewers watched as Rajinikanth played the good-hearted, loveable don in hits like Kabali and Kaala. Before that, as Thailavar fans might remember, it was the blockbuster Billa. One thing is for sure: Superstar Rajini loves to be on the wrong side of the law, but somehow he delivers justice and winds up winning hearts (not to mention, gazillions of whistles and catcalls as he makes his grand entrance, complete with a flattering low-angle revealing the underside of his boots. Best foot forward, mind it!)

Today is again that time of the year when Rajini mania reaches its feverish pitch. As AR Murugadoss's much-hyped Darbar hits theatres, there are plenty of reasons for hardcore Rajini-ites to celebrate. One of them is Rajini's return to the whistle-worthy avatar of a cop. You know he will restore order in an unordered world. In Darbar, widely tipped to be 2020's first authentic blockbuster, Rajinikanth plays Aaditya Arunachalam, Mumbai's police commissioner. Aaditya cuts a dashing figure, a self-proclaimed "bad cop" who whoops asses and promptly declares himself as the "original villain." Superstar Thalaivar's latest entertainer seems to be vintage Rajini. The walk, the talk, the larger-than-life style and swagger, his infectiously charismatic laughter and punchy Rajinisms make the much-anticipated movie (an event, perhaps?) a must-watch for worshipping fans.

rajini and sridevi

Rajinikanth and Sridevi in Chaalbaaz.

After Kaala, this is his second recent film set in Mumbai. After all, Rajinikanth, born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, is a Marathi by birth and is often claimed by Maharashtra as a son of the soil. He gets a rousing welcome every time he's in Mumbai. The superstar's relationship with Mumbai and Bollywood goes back a long way. Like most Southern stars, Rajini, too, has tried his luck in Hindi cinema. It's another matter entirely that he managed to transcend border and became one of Asia's highest paid stars despite largely operating within the confines of Kollywood.

Also read | Darbar movie review

King of Style

Rajini was already a big star down South before entering Bollywood. He made his Hindi debut with 1983's Andha Kanoon, sharing screen space with his idol Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini. Incidentally, in this old-style revenge drama, Dream Girl plays a cop who joins hands with her on-screen brother Rajini. Unlike Tamil cinema where he benefitted from a lack of credible alternatives and where his only foe was Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth found it difficult to crack the oversaturated Bollywood market and was never fully accepted into the Hindi fold. Still, he remains one of the most commercially successful Tamil stars in Bollywood. For that reason, he was forced to act in multi-starrers. So, while his 1980-90s output is replete with big-budget ensembles in which homegrown heroes like Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol and Dharmendra inevitably get top billing, Rajini managed to make his mark despite the odds. In films like Chaalbaaz (1989), he had to remain content in the shadows of a Sridevi-in-her-prime but his unique quirks and a style to match more than made up for his lack of conventional good looks. They say, the refined Kamal Haasan had substance, but this humble Billa was blessed with unprecedented style and attitude.

Good cop, bad cop

In a Hindi cinema dominated by more popular pan-India stars, Rajinikanth managed to hold his own. Incidentally, those raving about his super cop turn in Darbar may do well to recall that some of Thalaivar's most memorable Hindi portrayals are, strangely, of cops! In Geraftaar (1985), he makes a friendly appearance as a cop opposite Amitabh Bachchan and fellow Tamilian Kamal Haasan. He quickly followed it with 1986's Dosti Dushmani, once again donning the khakhi.

geraftaar movie poster

Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and Amitabh Bachchan in the movie poster of Geraftaar.

Also see | Darbar fever grips India

But it is Mukul S Anand's Hum in 1991 that remains one of Rajini's most well-known Hindi roles. In a film that Rajini later remade as Baashha, he plays a police officer, happily married and blissfully ignorant of his brother's chequered past as the dreaded gangster Tiger. Of course, the leading role goes to Amitabh Bachchan as the elder brother (Shekhar/Tiger) who also walks away with the film's most enduring moment — the hit club number 'Jumma chumma.' Apart from Big B, Govinda, Kader Khan, Anupam Kher and Danny Denzongpa, too, get to make an impression but Rajinikanth's comic timing steals the show while his trademark cigarette flip is enough to dazzle the audiences. He dubs his own lines in a Tamil-inflected Hindi but it's enjoyable nonetheless. 'Betelal, anyone?' Another popular, if campy Rajini cop character is from Farishtay. Released the same year as Hum, it marks reunion of a fading Dharmendra with an equally down-and-out Vinod Khanna. In it, Rajini plays the uniquely-named Arjunrao Ramojirao Ranojirao Shivajirao Gaekwad Jadichmul Tange, a flamboyant Marathi cop who falls in love with a village damsel. Minor hiccup: she happens to be 'He-Men' Dharmendra-Vinod Khanna's adopted sister. In one of the film's most hilarious scenes, Rajini goes to meet her brothers to ask for her hand in marriage. As they deploy a slice of the juiciest English you may have heard since Amitabh Bachchan's "I can talk English" scene, the film is a cheesy delight, thanks in no small measure to Rajini's colourful performance.

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Of course, when not playing the man in uniform, Rajini — with a cigarette sticking from his mouth, ever ready to turn the carcinogenic vice into a style statement — was always on the opposite end of the law, often as a gangster/thug/messianic figure (think: Asli Naqli, Bhagwaan Dada, Aatank Hi Aatank, Tamacha). In short, he was either a cop or goon, either white or black but always a Robin Hood enjoying the thug life. All in impeccable style and chutzpah. Samjhe betelal?