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Celebrities Speak

Y G Mahendran (Actor)

Television anchor, playwright, stage actor, director, producer, movie star with over 100 films to his name -- most of them as comedian... Y G Mahendra is, in his own right, a celebrity. With a strong fan following of his own.

He also happens to be related to Rajinikanth by marriage, his wife Sudha being Latha Rajinikanth's sister.

When you get him on the phone and ask if he will talk of the Rajini he knows, his first words are, "What do you want, the usual idolatry? That kind of stuff is boring..."

You tell him that you want him to tell it like he sees it, and he agrees. And proceeds to talk to Rajitha about the Rajinikanth he knows -- as co-star, as relative by marriage.

What is it like to be related to Rajinikanth? What is the view from close quarters like?

I was in the film industry before he came in and I knew him from his Apoorva Ragangal days. We became friends then and we have remained friends through the years. In that sense, it didn't make any difference that we later became related by marriage; we had a one-to-one relationship going already. Now, though, he gives me the respect he thinks is due to an older brother-in-law.

He is deified by millions. How does this affect him, and those in his close personal circle?

I would see it as a curse, a burden. Luckily, Rajini has his feet firmly on the ground and is not the kind who will be swept away by the adulation or the accolades. And he shouldn't, either. Cinema is a shadow, a nizhal, you cannot make the mistake of taking the shadow for the substance. I am a crazy fan of Sivaji Ganesan, I am completely captive to his ability, but I don't deify him.

 Rajini enjoys his status. He does make an effort to live up to his image, at least in his on-screen roles. He does the "image roles" his fans like because he knows his fans; he is aware of their expectations and he respects them. He has a certain indestructibility about him, about his image, sort of like Clark Gable.

You mentioned that you knew Rajinikanth almost from the moment he entered films. How has his 25 years in the industry changed him?

It hasn't. If you mean as a person, it hasn't changed him one bit, not even his super-success. He still remembers his roots; his belief in his own values is still very strong. He is still the same, simple human being. I only wish he was able to go out more often, to appear in public without causing a traffic jam -- that kind of virtual imprisonment to his own image can change a person and drive him inwards, into himself.

In his movies, he makes a point of standing for some values -- pro-women, pro-worker, anti-injustice and so on. Are these celluloid values? What are the values close to his own heart?

His biggest value is honesty. He is straightforward and expects everyone else to be the same. He cannot tolerate deceit. Then, there is this strong faith in the Maker, by whatever name you may choose to call him. If I must pick another of the values that are dear to him, I would say he believes in the dictum of 'Do good to others. If you can't, at least make sure you don't do harm.' His film characters reflect this value, but it is a part of the real Rajini too.

What, according to you, is his biggest achievement?

The very clever way he made a niche for himself. You have to remember he got into the industry in the mid-seventies. That was when the MGR-Sivaji Ganesan era was fading, and anyone coming in would have succumbed to the temptation of positioning himself as the next MGR or the next Sivaji. Also, Kamal was becoming a star around that period, which was another thing he had to contend with.

I think he did wonderfully well. Rather than imitate those who went before, he brought his own identity to the screen. He used his gimmicks, his style, like a street performer uses drum-beats to gather the crowds before performing for them. He used his style, his mannerisms, to bring the fans to the theatres. It was like he was saying okay, here I am, now come watch me play.

I think that was his biggest achievement. It is not easy forging an identity for yourself, especially if you are entering the industry on the heels of titans like MGR and Sivaji. This, he achieved with ease. Later on, he also proved that he could act, with films like Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri. He wooed Dame Fortune, befriended her and she's been his friend for life.

 You are a playwright; at some time, you must have thought of the perfect role for him. What would that have been?

An intense role, not necessarily goody-goody. I would like to see him play someone with foibles, with faults. Someone in a tight corner, forced to do something that goes against the grain, the resulting conflict and how his character survives. He has an intense face, a tremendous screen presence, which are the kind of things such roles would seek to exploit. Say, something like Allen Arkin in Wait Until Dark. At times, we talk about it and he tells me he too has a story in mind for himself, something different from the usual.

Think back to the films you did together. What stands out?

We were together in Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri, where he gave a terrific performance. Even his Murattu Kaalai, which was a rebirth of sorts for AVM Studios, where he plays a village character, there is this memorable stunt sequence that is still talked about.

There have been many movies, many memories. Especially the early days, when he could go out more, were fun. After a day's shoot, we would have a party. He would get the unit hands together and everyone would get sozzled. We shared the fun and it was great.

He made a guest appearance in my 100th film, Uruvangal Maaralam. He appears as God in human form, in a film which works on the thinking that God can appear in any form. In fact, Kamal Hassan also played a small role in that film.

Has Rajinikanth's potential been fully tapped?

No, not at all. Today he is a mass hero, the darling of millions, and that can be a bit of a straitjacket at times. Years ago, in films like Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri, Nallavalunukku Nalavan and Aarilinthu Aarupathuvarai to name a few, he proved his acting mettle, showed that he could perform as well as anyone.

Today, he has to be practical, he has to keep the commercial element in mind. To an extent, the demands of his fans dictate the kind of movies he can do. And so his real potential remains largely untapped.

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