Politics is a dangerous game: Rajinikanth

Photographs by Bandeep Singh

Will he, won’t he? Southern superstar Rajinikanth has exhibited Hamletian indecision about pursuing a political career ever since he announced he was joining the fray in December 2017. So far, he has not even announced the name of his political party, choosing instead to deploy his massive fan following under the umbrella of his Rajini Makkal Mandrams and using them to build a cadre of party workers across Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, the ageing star (he is 67) continues to do what he knows best-make iconic films. His latest-2.0, releasing November 29-has a monster Rs 540 crore budget, possibly the costliest Indian film ever made. A sci-fi thriller, it is a sequel to the blockbuster Enthiran (Robot), where Rajini played a double role, one as a robot replica of himself. His political fortunes now ride on the success of 2.0. If it proves to be another superhit, it will put his entry into Tamil Nadu’s political arena on the fast track. The star has always been cagey about his political plans. But in an in-depth interview at his home in Poes Garden (close to former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s), Rajinikanth spoke candidly to India Today not only about his life and films but also his political vision for Tamil Nadu, and a range of burning public issues. Excerpts:

Q. Despite your age, you continue to exude tremendous energy and passion in your films. Where does it come from?

A. In the beginning, I took to acting for a livelihood. Thereafter, I met the needs of my life. Now, I am enjoying it. It is entertaining to me. It is not like a profession. If I treat it like a profession, then work becomes a burden. Now it is like a game, it is relaxing. That’s probably where I get my energy from, from that thought.

Q. What kind of movies do you enjoy doing the most these days?

A. Comedy. I am very comfortable doing comedy scenes. When I go to the set and they say they are doing comedy scenes today, I jump. It is very difficult to make someone laugh, it is a bigger task. Not the dialogue type of comedy. Situation comedy is more challenging.

Q. Your early life was a struggle, you even worked as a bus conductor. How did that mould your outlook on life?

A. I am grateful to god that I went through all that suffering, those difficulties, which is why I am enjoying this life. [Pointing to the surroundings of his house] Otherwise, I wouldn’t have tasted this. I have known suffering, so I am enjoying this so-called success.

Q. Tell us why and how you took to acting?

A. It is a long story but I will tell you in short-it began with a play I did in Bangalore. Every year, for its anniversary celebration, each depot of the Karnataka transport department [where he worked as a bus conductor] had to stage a play. I chose to play Duryodhana because I was an NTR fan. I was a good imitator and I imitated him on stage. Raj Bahadur [a fellow driver] told me you are fantastic, you are not fit to be here, go to the film institute in Chennai, one day you will become a big actor. He encouraged me, and my brother [Satyanarayana Rao] also supported me financially. I joined the film institute where I met [director] K. Balachander who chose me for a film of his. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q. Who was your role model in acting, especially the style you developed?

A. From the beginning, Sivaji Ganesan. I used to imitate Sivaji. Even in dialogue deliveries. But when I was working with Balachander, it changed. He told me why do you want to imitate Sivaji Ganesan when Sivaji Ganesan is already there? That completely changed me. He identified in me the speed, the fast way I did things or whatever it is I did while acting. He told me: Retain it, that is your originality, your style, this is your hallmark, your signature. And that is how my style came about.

Q. That famous cigarette flip, how did you pick that up?

A. Shatrughan Sinha first did it in a Hindi film. I took it from there and improvised on it. I had to practise it for over a thousand times to perfect it. It is a skill but, more than that, the timing is important. Just not throwing it up, but to deliver the dialogue, the kind of situation and then you flip it.

Q. Your swagger, did you pick that up too?

A. It is not style, it comes to me naturally. People say I am stylish, okay, right.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you have learnt after all these years in your long career?

A. Everything is drama (laughs out loud).

Q. How challenging was acting in 2.0 compared to your other films?

A. 2.0 is a technician’s movie. It is Shankar’s creation, it is completely his picture, he is all in one. Which means we don’t have to do any thinking, we just do what he says, that’s it. He takes full responsibility. In other films, I give my inputs, my thoughts, my imagination, I improvise. I also discuss things with Shankar. But it is 90 per cent his job and he does it well.

Q. 2.0 has climate change as its theme. Are you trying to convey a larger message?

A. It is science fiction. It is a thriller. It is a matter of pride for Indian cinema. It can easily be compared to any Hollywood movie, in its making, in its content and in everything else. It is really an excellent picture.

Q. How is it different from Enthiran?

A. 2.0 is an advanced Enthiran. It is on another level. Now we are dealing with universal issues, it has a larger message.

Q. Do you like to convey messages through your films?

A. Basically, I am an entertainer. A Rajinikanth film means that children, parents, the family come expecting some entertainment. So I have to cater to them. In that, if I get any space to convey a good message, I try to do it.

Q. The late MGR and Karunanidhi used their films to convey political messages. Have you tried to do that?

A. From the beginning, I decided not to mix the two. Entertainment is different and politics entirely different. We should not make use of the entertainment media for that. Of course, some dialogue here and there will happen. How people interpret it and how they take it, we cannot stop. But I won’t do that deliberately.

Q. If you were to assess MGR’s contribution in cinema as well as politics, what would it be?

A. One thing is enough. As a cinema hero-for the first time in the world-he proved that he was a good politician and ruled the state. He proved that an artist can rule a state. That in itself is a very big thing.

Q. Is he in some way a role model for you?

A. For anyone in cinema who wants to enter politics, he is a role model.

Q. What lessons did you learn from MGR?

A. Mainly, his giving, helping nature. He had empathy for the poor and weak…not only after becoming a politician, but even before when he was in the cinema industry. He was known for his humanity and that is what I liked the most about him.

Q. What are your views on Jayalalithaa; she too was in films and came into politics?

A. Whatever else you may say, she was a great lady. Her courage, her determination, I appreciated that.

Q. What about her governance?

A. Governance, I don’t want to talk about now. But her quality of how she ruled and lived, a single woman in a man’s world… that is historic.

Q. You had differences with her. In 1996, you made a statement against her that adversely affected her electoral fortunes. Did you make up with her after that?

A. Ya, ya. She attended my daughter’s marriage. We used to respect her a lot.

Q. Do you consider Kamal Haasan a rival now that both of you have decided to enter politics?

A. Rivals? Not at all. Says who? I won’t even say competitor. My god, he is such a good friend. He is a co-star, in fact, in a serial he would help me even with the dialogue delivery, adjust dates for my sake. He is still a close friend of mine.

Q. What is your impression of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

A. He seriously wants to do good for the nation, he is trying hard and he is trying his best. That’s all I want to say for now.

Q. MGR was a hero in most of his films and was careful about his screen image. But you have acted as a villain, even drinking and smoking in many of your movies. Will that have an impact on your image as a public persona now that you have announced joining politics?

A. My films are different and my life entirely different. Why should you merge the two? I am paid as an actor for films, whether I like the role or not. If I enter politics, I will be myself. I want to make a difference in politics. Otherwise, why should Rajinikanth join politics? I want to introduce a new and different type of politics. Otherwise, I am 67, my health too is in a check-up stage (chuckles). It is not easy to enter politics at this age, it is not a path of flowers. But still you have to change things, change that will make a difference in politics.

Q. Going by your experience, how is politics different from films?

A. I have not become a full politician as yet. With my little experience of it, I can say, my god, it is tough, really tough. I told you everything is a game, drama. In cinema, everybody is there, the producer, the director, the writer…someone else does the script. Whereas in politics, as a leader, I am the director, the writer, everything… It is very challenging.

Q. In films, your acting is all about being superfast. Yet in politics you are cautious and are not rushing things or speaking about your plans.

A. Politics is a very big game and very dangerous too. So I have to play it cautiously. And timing is very important.

Q. Why did you decide to join politics?

A. It is all god’s will. When I say god, it is an answer. Everything is in that.

Q. You talk a lot of about spiritualism, even when you said you were joining politics. What role does spiritualism play in your life?

A. My elder brother Satyanarayana is a very spiritual person. The Ramakrishna Mission ashram was near my house in Bangalore. When I was around 7 years old, he put me in the Ramakrishna ashram. So from childhood, I had the Vedas, the Upanishads, meditation with me. Later, there were many gurus and I made many trips to the Himalayas. It is a deep subject. Only someone who experiences it knows about it. It is difficult to convey in words. Mainly, you get peace. When your mind is peaceful, whatever you do, you do it well. That is most important.


Equity MFs are at record level. What is driving the growth?

Equity MFs are at record level. What is driving the growth?

Equity mutual funds received a staggering Rs20,000 crore in the month of August. While foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have been pulling out from the Indian stock market, domestic institutional investors (DIIs) have provided strong support to markets. What is driving this growth in mutual funds? Are investors really understanding the risk attached with equities or the growth is  driven by herd-mentality.

One reason for the rise in equities is low return given by other asset classes. While fixed deposit have been giving abysmal low return of  6-7%, property market has also been in slump for many years. In such a situation mutual funds have caught the fancy of many people who have been looking for other avenues to earn higher returns. Over the last one year equity diversified and small cap funds have given returns as high as 30 and 40 percent, respectively in last one year.

What make mutual funds hugely popular recently is the growth in systematic investment plans (SIPs). Today, there is an inflow of Rs4000 crore every month through SIP. What worries, however, is when you  see people investing in mutual funds without understanding the risk of the product. I have heard and seen several people selling balanced mutual funds as an alternative to fixed deposits. Go to any nearby bank and chances are high they will pitch you balanced fund as an alternative to fixed deposit. The person at the desk might not care to tell you that unlike fixed deposit a balanced fund is a mix of debt and equity. Their return is not guaranteed and are subject to stock and debt market risks. I am not opposing the idea of investing in mutual funds but the point is you should understand the risk before investing in any product. One cannot deny that balanced funds have given very high return over the last few years and they are tax-efficient also. But one should also understand the risk attached with these schemes. Unlike fixed deposits the return over here is not guaranteed.

Another area of concern is when you don’t link your investments with your goals. When you do not link the two you do not know for how long you want to stay invested. When you don’t know the time horizon chances are high that you will not invest in the right product. There are many people around who have invested in mutual funds without a clue about their goals. Identify it whether it is for your education, marriage or retirement. Do not invest in equities just because your  family members and colleagues are doing it. Doing so you contradict the golden rule of investing which says that you should invest in equities for at least 3 to 5 years.

With expense ratio of just 2- 3% mutual funds are certainly one of the cost-effective ways of investing in equities. They can give you inflation beating return when all other asset classes are not performing well. But before investing do understand their risk and most importantly stay invested for long term.


Tata Motors posts first loss in three years on weak JLR sales

On Tuesday, shares of Tata Motors Ltd fell 1.18%, or ₹ 3.15, to ₹ 264.15 on the BSE.

On Tuesday, shares of Tata Motors Ltd fell 1.18%, or ₹ 3.15, to ₹ 264.15 on the BSE.

Bengaluru: India’s Tata Motors Ltd reported its first quarterly loss in nearly three years on Tuesday, as UK business Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) sold fewer of its luxury cars to dealerships in China, while raw material costs rose. The automaker said first-quarter net loss was ₹ 1,902 crore, compared with a profit of ₹ 3,182 crore a year earlier that included a ₹ 3,609 crore gain from changes to the way JLR’s pension payments are calculated.

Dealers in China delayed purchases to benefit from an import duty cut that came into effect after the end of the reporting quarter, the automaker said, adding that planned dealer stock reduction in other markets also weighed on its business.

That resulted in a 6.7% drop in quarterly revenue for JLR, the company added.

Total expenses during April-June rose about 17% to ₹ 69,890 crore.

JLR had said in April it would cut around 1,000 jobs and production at two of its English factories due to a fall in sales caused by uncertainty around Brexit and confusion over diesel policy.

On Tuesday, shares of Tata Motors Ltd fell 1.18%, or ₹ 3.15, to ₹ 264.15 on the BSE while the benchmark Sensex once again rose to a record high of 37,606.58 points, up 0.30%—or 112.18 points—from previous close.


Emails from Hart family computer indicate marital issues

— New documents were released Tuesday from Clark County investigators related to the deaths of a Washington family whose disappearance gripped the country this spring.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and their six adopted children, disappeared from their Woodland home in late March – shortly after a Washington Child Protective Services caseworker tried to contact the women at home. Neighbors had called CPS, concerned that the children were being abused and neglected.

The Hart family’s SUV was soon after found crashed off a northern California cliff in Mendocino county, killing the couple and four of the children. Jennifer Hart, who was driving at the time of the crash, was under the influence of alcohol, while some of the children had a Benadryl-type drug in their system that causes drowsiness. Two of the six kids, Devonte and Hannah, remain missing.

KOIN 6’s reporting following the crash revealed the family left behind a trail of child abuse concerns in three states, including Washington. Oregon investigated the family in 2013, and ruled that while there were some indications of abuse or neglect, there was insufficient data to conclude child abuse or neglect had occurred. In Minnesota, where the Harts lived while they adopted the six children, Sarah Hart was found guilty of misdemeanor domestic assault in 2010, after daughter Abigail complained of abuse.

The documents provided to KOIN 6 News on Tuesday raise new questions about what was happening with the family behind closed doors.

After adopting Markis, Abigail, and Hannah Hart in 2006, the Harts looked to continue growing their family through adoption. A 2007 document filed by a Minnesota adoption worker indicated that while the Harts had initially wanted to adopt only three more children, they changed their minds and were open to considering sibling groups of up to five kids – which would have meant eight adopted children in total.

Before the adoption of Jeremiah, Sierra, and Devonte in 2009, a Texas adoption caseworker wrote a glowing letter about the couple, calling them “open, loving, and understanding.” The caseworker said Markis, Hannah, and Abigail had blossomed in the family’s home.

“I would have no problem placing kids of any age, race, or sex in this home because I know they would be loved and cared for beyond anything I could hope to have for them,” the caseworker wrote. She called herself a friend, adding that she would “highly recommend” them to anyone seeking an adoptive family for children.

And even after the adoption of Markis, Hannah and Abigail made the Harts a family of eight, the couple looked to continue growing their brood.


Childish Gambino photographed at Auckland powhiri for Pharos festival

Donald Glover has arrived in New Zealand ahead of his Pharos festival this weekend, and has been photographed at the event’s venue.

The entertainer, who performs hip-hop under the Childish Gambino moniker, received a powhiri from iwi representatives at the Tapapakanga Regional Park on Friday

One of those involved in the official welcome was artist Janine Williams, who captured the moment on her Instagram account.

“Had the honour of being part of the powhiri as mana whenua for the Pharos event onto our whenua today at Tāpapakanga Regional Park,” she said in the caption.

“A show designed especially for this venue, it’s going to be an amazing weekend!”

In a video posted to Williams’ Instagram Story, Glover appears to be wearing a kahu huruhuru and pounamu – along with a massive grin.

In another video, Glover signs a painting of himself, which is credited as having been created by Paul Walsh.

Pharos is an annual event that was launched last year in Joshua Tree, California, before Glover chose to hold the second in Aotearoa.

He describes the festival as “a gathering of the five intuitives of the human experience: tribe, ritual, experience abstraction, architecture, language”.

“Be helpful. Do not be a detriment. No irony.”

The festival’s official website advises attendees to dress in their “frequency colour”, but notes that the dress code is not mandatory.

The Tapapakanga Regional Park location is on the outskirts of the Auckland region, where the Splore music festival also takes place.

Some tickets are still available to the R18, three-day event.