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It would be blasphemous to call Rajnikanth, Rajnikanth. He is and will always be Tamil cinema’s Thalaivar. The response and the verve that single epithet evokes cannot be expressed in words. When Thalaivar was rushed to the hospital for alleged food poisoning, it was not just his family but millions of fans stopped what they were doing and prayed. Worried and tensed we were refreshing cinema websites by the minute. When he was transferred from Chennai to Singapore, the flight was heavier with well-wishes spanning the globe.

What is it about Thalaivar that strikes a chord so deeply? Instantly, we respond with Humility. But every actor is modest. It has become a fashion statement to say that all the good luck is the grace of the stars above. So it’s not just that. Style, the next swift response. Everytime he twirled his glasses, our throats were hoarse from screaming. His stride got my grandmother whistling. It seems like just yesterday when Thalaivar perched on the swing challenging Neelambari. Could it be that he charmed the socks out of us? Hmmm… We do have Kamal for that. So what is it? When we watch Thalaivar in a movie, we don’t see him as an actor. Instead we see him as Thalaivar. He is a larger than life phenomenon, we accept that. His sky defying actions rarely raise an eyebrow, we expect that. Call us fools and the pain in your jaw is from the irked punch delivered. Never mess with a die- hard fan, not only can we debate for long hours into the night, when it push comes to shove, we can wrestle too.

Most of us became ardent fans watching Thalaivar don negative roles. Rewind to Parattai and Ramanathan. He can play a saint and a don with equal exuberance. From ghosts to sci-fi, his movies have spanned various genres. We are crazy about Thalapathi and Thillu Mullu. If you thought Thalaivar was awesome in Sivaji, download Mullum Malarum. Baasha can make a fan out of a five year old. As an actor he has more than proved his mettle. Thalaivar introduced Punch dialogues to Tamil audiences. Although toddlers seem to be making their attempts at punch lines, some of the most iconic dialogues can be recollected even during deep slumber. There is even a book published for the less informed.

Once Thalaivar’s movie hits the screens, we have to get done with the initial 5 rounds to whistle and scream our lungs out, then return for a ritual 5 rounds to savor the enigma and then for the final couple of times to pay attention to the plot and analyze what the story is really about. We have to soak in the drama and record the year as a Thalaivar release year. It’s the Diwali, Pongal and Christmas all tied together.

The man is in his 60’s but scares the hell out of the 20 something stars. He still claims that his best friend is from his conductor days. In fact he doesn’t cringe but fondly recollects being a conductor. This in an era, when actors shamelessly claim that they would have gone on to become surgeons and athletes. If somebody did ask him what he would have become if he did not enter films, he would swiftly reply chief conductor and then thoughtfully add a maybe. He is a man of humble beginnings and he stands with both feet on the ground. His charisma is not because he is humble but because he reminds us of a common man. He could get on stage and attribute his performance to Kamal Hassan, acclaim that he is his bigger brother and learned to act by watching Kamal. We wouldn’t believe a word of it if it came from somebody else’s mouth. But from Thalaivar, it has a ring of truth and when they hugged we knew the camaraderie prevailed. Thalaivar scaled great heights by submitting to his success instead of letting it get to his head.

We don’t care that he is the greatest philanthropist; in fact we are almost unaware of it. When die- hard Tamil fanatics argue that he is from another state, we rarely protest. Such uncouth remarks have one fitting response – silence, Thalaivar style. The line between politics and Tamil cinema has faded into an invisible dot. It is with pride that we state that for all the fame that Thalaivar garners, he stood firmly by not turning a politician. He made us proud. If he had jumped the political bandwagon, many of us would have become wary. His allure would have prevailed but his aura would have diminished. By breaking every rule, he has become a role model.

People in London, San Jose joined the melee in India to offer prayers for a speedy recovery. He was in ICU, yet thoughtfully released a message to comfort us. When we heard the strain in his voice, we shivered.There can be Little and Big Super Stars, everybody who is somebody can claim that he is the next super star but as true Thalaivar fans we acknowledge that there is only one Super Star not in his or our lifetimes but in the entire lifetime of Tamil Cinema. We are glad that he is swiftly recuperating and only wish the best for him. And Thalaiva, get well soon because we really can’t wait for Rana. 2011 missed its place in history but 2012?

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