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The man behind the make-up
Meet Shivaji Rao Gaekwad off screen - a simple, religious, self-deprecating man and a stern parent, who dotes on his children and grandchildren, and has an insatiable appetite for seafood.
In real life, Rajinikanth ferociously guards his privacy, say family members. He divides time between Kelambakkam in suburban Chennai, pottering around in his farmhouse there and poring over books on metaphysics and spirituality at his Poes Garden residence in the city. He spends hours in 'pooja', and loves to spend time in the spacious city apartment of his elder daughter, Aishwarya, pampering her children - fouryear-old Yaathra and three-month-old Linga - and sharing notes on bringing up children.
Latha Rajnikanth, his wife, vouches for the family man. "He does not bring home the actor. He is a person with a lot of spiritual quest. This is what balances him completely. The best thing about him is that he has evolved, wants to become a better person, " she said.
"Despite having such a celebrity at home, we grew up as normal children, " Aishwarya told TOI-Crest during a quick chat in between a busy Navratri schedule. With Rajinikanth working on seven films a year during the 1980s, his two daughters lost out on quality time with him during their growing years. "But mother made sure we got our nightly hugs from him and that he bathed us occasionally when we were children, " said Aishwarya, adding, "he has always been a protective, progressive father and it is a beautiful relationship I share with him, a relationship that has blossomed over the years. "
A conservative parent, Rajinikanth forbade her and her sister, Soundarya, from having sleepovers with friends, or attending latenight parties. But the two recall the good times with him. "Our vacations with him were the best, " Aishwarya revealed. Their annual holidays were in Los Angeles or London and normally lasted for about a month. The family stayed in service apartments. "We used to clean up, cook, walk to supermarkets to shop for milk and cornflakes and stand in queues just like any other family, " she recalled. One summer, in 1999, they stayed in London and watched the World Cup cricket matches every day with him.
But friends and close relatives say Rajinikanth, among the few stars to enjoy superstardom all through their career, has become a recluse. "I feel that over the last 15 years he has changed. From the time he began to be deified by fans, put up on a pedestal and pressured to enter politics, he seems to seek solitude even more, " said Sudha, Latha's sister, who is married to well-known comedian and stage actor, Y Gee Mahendran.
Rajini has had his share of contoversies. A disagreement with AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa over her convoy blocking traffic in the posh Poes Garden colony, where they both lived, led to clashes between their respective legions of followers.
Rajnikanth dipped his toes in troubled waters when he issued a stinging statement in 1996 just before the assembly election. He campaigned for the DMK-led alliance with a brief speech telecast on the regional channels, in which he urged people to vote against Jayalalithaa. His famous off-screen punch line, "Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu if AIADMK returns to power, " helped the DMKTMC combine sweep the elections.
But since then Rajinikanth has stayed away from politics and has shown little inclination to take the plunge. Says Cho Ramasamy, who has keenly tracked Rajinikanth's career and was even instrumental in persuading the actor to campaign for the DMK-TMC alliance, "I am hazarding a guess that Rajinikanth is not like actors Vijayakanth or Sarath Kumar. He cannot make it in politics step by step. He has to be successful, say like N T Rama Rao, who launched his party, contested elections, and became chief minister at the same time. Rajinikanth cannot afford to take the risk of just winning. For him, it has to be a stupendous victory.
Moreover, he would wish to give honest governance by ensuring even the lowest level official is honest. I don't think he has the confidence that he can do that. " The silver screen then is where the star will reign.
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