Rajinikanth, Dadasaheb Phalke and the debates

Not long ago, the Superstar was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award. And within seconds social media was flooded with congratulations, trolls, memes, discussions, arguments, debates and so on. Most of them being centred around the deservedness of the actor, the competence of the award committee and the relevance of this award given his withdrawal from politics. This post is not about to tackle any of those issues. Nor is it going to answer the ever-elusive question of who decides the deservedness of an actor for an award. This post is purely an exercise of the mind trying to figure out the myriad ways in which the human mind works whenever something noteworthy happens in a field that gathers a lot of attention and as a result, scrutiny.

It is important, I think, as humans or art connoisseurs or critics or even just fans of a star, that when a committee nominates someone for an award, that they are definitely a lot more qualified than many of us combined. Now, how the committee is selected, is there favouritism involved, etc. are questions that are up for debate and discussion. But the fact remains that the people up there are knowledgeable. So, when Rajinikanth was selected and awarded this honour, we should accept the decision. Whether we like the decision or not is a different question altogether.

Let's come to the possible reasons he might have won the award for. Have a look at his career graph. In the 45 years of his presence in cinema, the kind of versatility and reach he has had is something phenomenal. Just the pure mass appeal he has that reaches every nook and cranny of our country is something really laudable. In addition, he has contributed to cinema in his own ways and capacities as a screenwriter, actor and a producer. His acting is something that exudes charm, style and appeals from the toddler to the nonagenarians. This particular aspect of his reach is something that is very unique and unparalleled.

To elaborate this point, let me take another example. From the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh (erstwhile) and Kerala there had been stars and actors whose fame touched the skies. Be it the MGR, NTR, Thilakan, Anant Nag and the likes to the more massy and the classy ones like Mohanlal, Nagarjuna, Upendra, Kamal Hassan, etc. Each one of these actors were class apart in their own way. Each one of them was and still is inimitable and irreplaceable. But what Rajinikanth achieved in a few years of entering cinema is something that no one can really boast of. In his early days he was cast in a host of roles, most of them as villains or negative shade ones and other supporting characters. It was only after 5 years that he got recognition as the hero of a film. Later on, thanks to the directors like KS Ravikumar, Suresh Krissna and P Vasu he became a very commercially successful hero as well. With the advent of blockbusters like Baasha, Annamalai, Muthu and Padaiyappa, he was established as the quintessential masala hero.

Despite his forgettable ventures like Baba, when there were strong rumours that the Rajini-era has ended, he proved himself with a Sivaji, whose collection rubbished such claims. It is not that he doesn't know acting. Watch a Mullum Malarum or a Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai or a Johnny to see how well he acts. To quote his more recent outing, have a look at Kaala and Kabali where he acts his age with grace, charm, swagger and style. It isn't easy. Despite tasting success in the debut film, he chose to go learn acting from the film institute to hone his craft better.

Now, there would be people who say that Kamal Hassan is a more deserving awardee. I too believe it to some extent. In fact being a Kamal fan I was a bit disappointed as well. Just look at the contributions he has made to cinema... first film to record the dialogues as they were being acted (Hey Ram), first film to use Dolby surround system (Mumbai Express) and so many more! But the reach of Kamal Hassan is more intellectual. I mean, his films are, more often than not, way ahead of their times. For instance, Anbe Sivam, a film that has earnt a cult status now didn't do commercially well. I also believe there is something more to his limited (though it is wrong to say that) reach. His own vocal derision for the mindless commercial masala films.

The fact is that Sivaji Rao Gaekwad has been awarded the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award and rightfully so in many aspects. Let's acknowledge that. Congrats Thalaiva!!

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