From the time that Rajnikanth announced that he would definitely stand for elections, there have been changes and setbacks. On 12 March 2020, Rajinikanth met briefly with the mandram [Rajini Makkal Mandram] chiefs and then left for the Leela Palace where his fans were gathered to hear his latest announcement. As his black Audi approached the hotel’s entrance, frenzied fans rushed forward shouting, ‘Superstar vaazga! Varungaala mudalvar vaazga! (Long live the Superstar! Long live the future chief minister!)’.

Once inside, the seventy-year-old actor, clad in his trademark white kurta-pyjama, walked briskly onto the dais and stood before the microphone. As the thunderous applause subsided, he began to speak. It was a thirty-minute monologue, emotional and defensive. He outlined ‘three novel proposals’ – ‘limited number of party posts to curb corruption, bringing youngsters and clean people to politics and place them in pole positions in the corridor of power and him not being the Chief Minister….’ He asked the people to ‘please stop projecting me as the next chief minister. Tell people about my ideas and let there be a resurgence…. I will come then.’

It became clear from his announcement what the crux of the matter was. It appeared that he had come to realize what unbiased political observers had been saying for a long time – that it was just not possible to win an election banking on his fan base that was not homogeneous in nature. He said: ‘I can just be a vote splitter with 10 or 20% votes. Tell me, at this age of mine should I come just to split votes? I will turn seventy-one next year. I can’t wait for the next election to win.’

Members of RMM and his admirers were dismayed. After all these years of waiting, and days of hard work they had put in hoping that Thalaivar would become the next chief minister, he said that he does not want the chief minister’s post but wants change to happen. Through posters, public meetings, and door-to-door visits they had been projecting him as the icon of change. Why would any member of RMM continue working if Thalaivar was not going to contest the election? RMM existed because of their love for him. He had promised on 31 December 2017 that he would bring back MGR’s rule if he came to power. Now how can he say that he has never desired to be the chief minister?

On the film front as well, things were not going smoothly. Darbar (2020), directed by A. R. Murugadoss, released on 9 January, turned out to be a big disappointment at the box office.

Darbar (2020). Courtesy Lyca Productions.

Over the three years since Rajinikanth’s announcement about standing for elections, the landscape had changed greatly. His plans for a grand entry had vanished. But he still had to assuage the long waiting fans. But by mid-March 2020, the country and the entire world was reeling from the novel coronavirus pandemic, putting everything on pause. On 1 December 2020, he convened a meeting with RMM members and informed them that the doctors had forbidden him from entering the electoral fray – it was too risky with his health problems and low immunity (after his kidney transplant in 2016). The fans understood. Their Thalaivar’s health was more important than anything else.

Two days later he said that he would announce the party name on 31 December and float the party in January 2021. ‘I am ready to sacrifice even my life for the sake of Tamil people,’ he said, flanked by his political advisers –Arjuna Murthy (formerly a member of the BJP) and Tamilaruvi Manian. The fans were deeply moved by his sense of commitment but wondered what had made him change his mind. They also wondered about his choice of advisers. Once again political analysts concluded he was under pressure from the BJP.

He left soon after for Hyderabad to proceed with the shooting of his latest film Annaatthe, produced by Sun Pictures. Within a week, four of the crew members were found to be COVID-19 positive. That was a scare, but even more worrying was the news that Rajinikanth had been admitted in the hospital with severe fluctuations in blood pressure. He was discharged after two days, and the doctors advised him to take complete bed rest for a week. They also seem to have warned the seventy-year-old actor against campaigning in the midst of COVID-19, given his health condition, especially due to the kidney transplant he had had a few years ago. On 29 December in a three-page statement released on social media, he announced that he will not be starting his political party – his health scare having come as ‘a warning from the Gods’.

He had always said that if it was God’s will that he should enter politics, nobody could prevent that from happening. Now it appears that it is not God’s will. Journalists who had always said that his decision to enter politics was because of pressure from the BJP were now puzzled about his withdrawal. Arjuna Murthy, in an interview on Thanthi TV, denied that there was any pressure from the BJP. ‘Rajinikanth takes his own decisions. Now it was the doctor’s decision that he had to heed though he was pained to do so.’

His announcement of contesting elections had sent tremors through the political arena for three years, generating speculation and discussion. But that had all ended anticlimactically.

He knows one person who would have been happy about his decision – his mentor, Balachander sir. How could he forget his words? ‘I would be happy if you don’t enter politics,’ he had said. ‘Your temperament is not suited for politics.’ How true that was. And so it will be. Back to cinema, his first love. It was this love for cinema that made the fans flock to him. They will understand his pain. Such is their love.

Excerpted with permission from Rajinikanth – A Life, Vaasanthi, Aleph Book Company.