Everywhere he goes, his Malaysian fans are there to try and catch a glimpse of him. Superstar Rajinikanth arrived in Malaysia late last month to shoot his latest movie Kabali and the reception he’s gotten at every location has been overwhelming.
The #kabaliinmalaysia hashtag on social media reveals Rajinikanth either posing with fans or waving to/saluting them.
In some photos, he is wearing the movie character’s toupee and in others he is seen without it. There is also a photo of him with a fan who has a Rajinikanth tattoo on his entire back!
While the photos you see on social media are of him with young folks, this is one actor who can lay claim to having adoring fans who are both older and younger than him.
Malaysian actress Pushpa Narayan Robless, 37, said she has been a fan since primary school. Her favourite films starring Rajinikanth are Annamalai (1992) and Padaiyappa (1999).
“I grew up watching his films,” she shared. “I even had a friend who copies the way Rajinikanth talks and moves in films.”
When asked why there is such a hoo-haa around the actor, Pushpa theorised: “As an actor, he has his own unique style. His films always carry a (positive) message and have a punchy dialogue with quotable phrases.
“From what I have read and seen, he is a good and simple person, very spiritual. Humble too, and someone who has obviously touched everybody’s hearts. I can safely say that no one hates him. That is why he is adored the way he is.”
Although Pushpa hasn’t had a chance to meet him, she hopes to act alongside him.
“Since Rajinikanth arrived in Malaysia, I have read many fan postings about their encounters with him and the stories are all very emotional,” she said. “Some people say that he should be left alone because he is here to work. But it’s truly humbling to see how Rajinikanth is very patient and gracious with the fans even though he may be tired.”
For 33-year-old actor Alvin Martin, the opportunity to meet his hero was an experience he won’t forget.
It happened quite by chance too; Martin was staying at the same hotel as Rajinikanth when the latter was at Malacca to shoot a scene.
“We found out he was staying at the hotel, so we hung out around the lobby until 11pm. He didn’t show up though.
“The next day, we went for breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant at 6am and waited there. He came in at 8.30am, and we met and took photos with him,” said Martin who has been a fan since he was six years old.
“There were many things I wanted to say to him, but I couldn’t say anything – I got too emotional. He hugged me and said, ‘Don’t cry.’”
That wasn’t the end of it either. Martin had another meeting with Rajinikanth on Deepavali when the cast and crew were shooting at Carey Island Estate in Klang, Selangor.
The film crew needed a 1992 Proton Saga as a prop outside the bungalow where they were shooting. As it happened, Martin has that model.
This gave Martin access to watch the shoot, and he saw something that only made him respect Rajinikanth even more.
He recalled: “There was an actor older than Rajinikanth on the set. During a break, the crew gave Rajinikanth a chair to sit and rest. When Rajinikanth saw that the older man was standing, he offered his chair to the older man.
“Rajinikanth, to me, is an ideal human being – he sets a great example of how to live life based on goodness and kindness.”
Martin added that he can’t wait to see Kabali. “I have watched Padaiyappa 15 times in the cinema. I have seen Sivaji (The Boss) eight times in the cinema and countless times on TV.”
Martin also admitted to copying Rajinikanth’s body language when he was younger. “But as I am an actor now, I had to give that up and develop my own style.”
Meanwhile Vignesswaran Radhakrishnan, who got a gig as Rajinikanth’s bodyguard when the star was shooting at Batu Caves and Sepang got to see the chaos from the actor’s point of view.
“The moment he got out of the car, everyone went wild – some were crying, some cheered and others were trying to get his attention. He greeted them, smiled at everyone,”
He added: “This guy is truly something … He has so much charisma and is suave. The experience of watching him up-close is really precious to me.”
A living legend
Kabali’s principal photography began in Chennai, India, in August. It’s reported that after the shoot in Malaysia – which ends on Dec 4 – the film cast and crew will travel to Thailand and Hong Kong.
Some of the locations used in Malaysia include the Malacca Prison, KLIA2, KL Sentral, Brickfields, Petaling Jaya, KLCC, Sepang, Carey Island and The Mines.
Directed by Pa Ranjith, the film also features Radhika Apte, Kishore, Kalaiyarasan, Dhansika and Dinesh Ravi.
Scheduled to be released next year, Kabali is Rajinikanth’s 159th film in a career that started with the 1975 Tamil film Apoorva Raagangal, directed by Balachander and headlined by Kamal Haasan. Five years later, Rajinikanth got his first lead role in Bairavi.
Not unlike his other films, Kabali is said to have a strong social message. According to a report on filmibeat.com, Rajinikanth plays the role of an Indian don. The film looks at the hardship and exploitation of labourers from India working in foreign countries whose contracts are controlled by the don.
Another site reported that Rajinikanth’s role is based on a real-life mob boss from Chennai. The title may refer to Rajinikanth’s character, whose name is Kabaliswaran.
However, another site refers to Kabali’s plot as akin to that of Liam Neeson’s movie Taken.
No official plot or release date are made known at the moment.
One of the film’s local sponsors is AirAsia, which made filming easier when the shoot took place at KLIA2. It was a one-day shoot, for a scene at a check-in counter.
Jay Ratnesh, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, found out about the shoot through a cousin who works at AirAsia. He was told that the crew was looking for extras for the particular scene.
“I rearranged my schedule because this is Rajinikanth,” said Jay, who was cast as an extra.
“I got there at 7.30am and Rajinikanth came to the set at 11.30am. The testing of lights took three takes before they started the actual shoot. Five takes later, we were done. That was about 3.30pm,” continued Jay, who plays one of the guys standing in the queue when Rajinikanth’s character goes to the check-in counter.
Jay shared that he got to shake the actor’s hand when the latter got to the set. “I got him to sign an autograph for me and another one for my friend.”
However, a photo opportunity was not possible as the security about photography on the set was very strict. This didn’t stop Jay from observing Rajinikanth though.
“I am familiar with his unique style on films. But seeing him in the flesh, I have to admit, he displays his own style too. The crew had prepared a room for him to rest during the breaks, but he chose to stay in the open and waved at his fans.
“He was reading the script and preparing himself mentally for the scene, all out in the open.”
And just how many fans turned up to watch the superstar work? “In the morning, there were maybe 100 to 200 people. But by afternoon, there was at least 700 people.”
Jay, who has acted in a local telemovie, listed Muthu (1995) and Baasha (1995) as his favourite Rajinikanth films.
As for why he is a big fan, Jay said: “Rajinikanth is a guy who came from nothing but has achieved everything through determination and hardwork.
“He applies that same philosophy in his films. His characters usually share similar traits – a poor guy who overcomes great obstacles.”
So really, all the hype surrounding Rajinikanth is not just myth. For his fans, the actor is truly a living legend – making all the admiration warranted.