written by ; Arjun Unni
The name Rajini means the epitome of stardom for a movie-buff. The stardom range is up to the point where the state chief minister’s car can be blocked if he smokes a cigarette from outside of his car.
The title card accompanied by Annamalai BGM, the cigarette style, the way by which he pulling back the long hair, the punch dialogues, the signature moves, and the fight sequences in which gravity has nothing to do etc. is still able to form long ques outside theaters. That’s why the Super Star title card appeared in Bhairavi (1978) remains unchanged till his last theatrical release Darbar.
Rajini entered into cinema during the heyday of Kamal and later transformed into the box office king. Actor Rajini became a full-fledged commercial star with the industry hit ‘Murattukalai’. He became a hotbed of commercial cinema through a series of stereotype revenge dramas. Without trying to get out of his safe zone, Thalaivar ascended the throne he had created. The good roles he played in the seventies and eighties slowly gave way to First Day First Show noises and iconic dialogues (Thalapathi is the only exception). Only Pa Ranjith was able to bring back the actor through his Kaala and Kabali.
Below are five of my favorite roles in ‘Actor’ Rajini’s career.
16 Vayathinile (1977)
Rajini has appeared on screen in mostly negative roles since his first film Apurva Ragangal. Parattai from 16 Vayathinilai is unarguably one of the best in his villaneous avatars.Along with Kamal and Sridevi, Rajini excelled in the villain role. The film written and directed by Bharathiraja the film changed the dimensions of contemporary Tamil cinema.It is through this film that Rajini, as an actor, has made a mark in the minds of the Tamil people. The famous dialogue ‘Itheppadi Irukku’ is from this film.
Mullum Malarum (1978)
One of the best roles of actor Rajini’s career. Mullum Malarum is a film that shows the caliber of actor Rajini in its entirety. The film, written and directed by J Mahendran and based on Uma Chandran’s novel of the same name, is a text book example of an unconventional Tamil cinema that deviates from the melodramatic era. Rajini’s portrayal of Kali as an operator at a village power plant is one of the best of his Angry Young Man roles. The song ‘Raman Andalum’ which was later used in Peta, Baba and Ajith’s Mankatha and the very popular one line ‘Ketta Payyan Sir Inda Kali’ are also in the film.
Johnny is a movie that was released just before Murattu Kalai, through which rajni jumped into superstardom. Johny is another great film released in Mahendran Rajini Combo. Rajini performed well in a double role with Sridevi, in this feamle oriented film. It was the last film that showcased him as an actor before the shift happened in his career.
Thillu Mullu (1981)
‘Thillu Mullu’ is a film that marks Rajinikanth’s ability to play comic roles. Rajini did a full-length comedy like this under the direction of her mentor Balachander at a time when he was shining as a mass hero. Despite being a remake of the Hindi film GolMal, ‘Thillu Mullu’ did well at the box office and among critics. The Rajini-Tenkai Sreenivasan scenes in the film are still remembered today. Rajini handled the comedy scenes with ease. The film was later remade with Mirchi Siva in the lead but failed at the box office. The concept of GolMal has been used in Malayalam movie Ayalvasi Oru Daridravasi directed by Priyadarshan and the film was remade in Malayalam as Simhavalan Menon directed by Viji Thambi.
Thalapathi is another milestone in Rajinikanth’s career. Mani Ratnam brings back actor Rajini who was forgotten by Rajini and the audience. Thalapathi was able to blend Mani Ratnam’s making style and Rajini’s stardom perfectly. Rajini’s character is based on Karna, a pivotal character in the Mahabharata. Rajni made Surya’s love, friendship and opposition to the system etc. so natural, through his winning portrayal of the character. Mamooty’s perfomance, Santhosh Sivan’s cinematography were also praised.
Thalapathi has some of the best songs from Maestro Ilayaraja. Rajni made the second shift in his career after this film through ‘ Annamalai’