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To him, Rajini is still Shivaji
Raja Bahaddur, who lives in Bangalore, worked as a driver when Rajini was a bus conductor in the city decades ago. Their friendship still endures. Here, he tells us of the buddy he knows.
Ok. Rajinikanth will attend your daughter's wedding. Now everyone wants Rajini and nobody remembers or wants Shivaji, " he said and let out a roar of typical Rajini laughter, so familiar to millions of his die-hard fans. His old friend realised the mistake he had made and snatched his daughter's wedding invitation, struck out the name Rajini and wrote Shivaji Rao instead. Much water has flown in the four decades since bus conductor Shivaji Rao left Bangalore for Chennai and morphed into superstar Rajinikanth. But the man, when in Bangalore, still prefers to be Shivaji.
On October 8, Rajinikanth was in Bangalore and celebrated the success of his current blockbuster, Enthiran with his old pals at his apartment on Race Course Road. He even broke his self-imposed rule of not drinking during the day to party with his friends.
"It was around 1. 30 pm, when Ashok, Raghunandan and I were with him in his apartment. We were discussing the success of Enthiran when Ashok suggested we have a party. Rajini does not drink during daytime and he is a disciplined person. But with friends, he agreed to break his rule for once, " recalled Raja Bahaddur, Rajini's friend of four decades.
All three of Rajini's pals had a very liquid afternoon downing peg after peg. What they didn't notice was that Rajini had limited himself to a small peg. "He is smart and knows how to deal with such situations. After lunch, we slept and got up at around 6. 30 pm. Rajini's driver, Krishna, said that our faces had swollen. Rajini is a stickler for good dietary habits and that's how he remains so fit even at 60 and plays the role of a hero in movies, " Bahaddur said.
Himself a bachelor, Bahaddur lives in a small lane in Bangalore's Chamarajpet. "He loves kheema balls. Often, he calls me upon exiting the airport, asking me to arrange for dinner, which will be chapatti, kheema balls, rice and rasam. He eats well in the night, but during the day he has limited eating habits, " Bahaddur said.
Rajini and Bahaddur's friendship goes back to 1970, when Rajini joined what was then Bangalore Transport Service (BTS) as a conductor. He was posted on the10A route, plying between Srinagar and Majestic. Bahaddur was the driver of the bus and over the next three years they became thick friends. Unlike his present slim and fit avatar, Rajini then used to be plump with a thick neck and a huge belly. He was also short tempered and used to get into fights frequently. The BTS drivers and conductors had a drama association and Rajini used to play lead roles like Duryodhana or Ecchama Nayaka. "He was a great actor. His movement and dialogue delivery were fast and he was different. One day, I suggested he join the Madras Film Institute so that he could start acting in movies. The rest is history, " Bahaddur recalled.
But the decision was not as easy as Bahaddur makes it sound now. Rajini had a much-coveted government job and quitting that was not an easy decision to take. Besides, money was also an issue. Bahaddur offered to extend him financial assistance and Rajini took the plunge in 1973. At the end of two years, Rajini was performing in a drama at the film institute, where noted director K Balachander was among the spectators. After the performance, Balachander called Rajini and asked him to learn Tamil.
"When he came to Bangalore, he told me about Balachander's suggestion. Since my mother tongue is Tamil, we decided to speak in Tamil to each other. He picked up the language very fast and returned to Balachander. At that time, Balachander was launching his movie Apoorva Ragangal and cast him in it. Rajini hasn't looked back. Today, he mocks at the way I speak Tamil, " Bahaddur said with a laugh.
Superstardom of the type few Indian film stars can boast of has not changed Rajini much. When in Bangalore, he prefers to roam around in his old haunts: Chamarajpet, Basavanagudi and Hanumanthanagar. He grew up in Hanumanthanagar where his brother Sathyanarayana Rao still lives. Bahaddur says that Rajini still loves Vidyarthi Bhavan dosas, visits the Raghavendra Mutt in Chamarajpet, prays at the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple and meditates at Ramakrishna Ashram, of which Rajini is an old student.
Stardom doesn't allow Rajini free movement. Most of the time, he wears a mask and holds a walking stick, to remain incognito. Even then he gets caught out by some enthusiastic fans. "While going around, he talks about the food in the small hotels which we once used to visit. He recalls the movies he watched in each theatre. He still prefers to eat in small places and enjoys watching movies in theatres. He has not changed a bit since then, " Bahaddur said.
Recently, Rajini visited a bar in Kalasipalya, owned by his relative Gopinath. It was earlier known as Gopal Rao Military hotel and Gopinath's son Ananth runs it now. While working with BTS, both Bahaddur and Rajini would often visit this hotel. Gopinath was shell-shocked to see Rajini. Once people started recognising him, Rajini got himself the food parcel and left the place.
Raja Bahaddur's also had his brush with the arc lights. He's acted with Rajini in three movies - small roles in Valli, Chandramukhi and Padeyappan. Of late, people have started recognising Raja Bahaddur as Rajini's friend and wherever he goes, they look around hoping to find Rajini in disguise. "Sometimes, we maintain a distance between each other. He wears a mask in public. No, I don't want to elaborate on what kind of mask, " Bahaddur signs off.
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