It has taken years of strategic styling to create Rajinikanth's on-screen persona, say make-up artists, producers and directors, who have helped keep an ageing star from losing his twinkle. They admit, though, that Rajinikanth does most of the heavy lifting himself.
For instance, say those who have worked with him for years, Rajinikanth was and still is, one of the only actors who is seen off screen without make-up. "He has never resorted to a nip, tuck or lift to appear younger. Many years ago, he was rumoured to have had a little lip correction, but that is all," says a crew member of 'Sivaji'.
People who have worked with him for years say that with Rajinikanth, styling was never a problem. "It was because of two things - his wonderful head of hair and dark complexion. Together they gave him a very stylish and youthful look on screen," says make-up artist R Sundaramurti, who styled Rajinikanth in his debut film 'Apoorva Ragangal' (1975) and worked with him until 'Chandramukhi' (2005).
"He also believes a strict diet and meditation are enough to keep him looking and feeling young," says Sundaramurti. Rajinikanth's current make-up artist Bhanu Bashyam, who has worked with him for a decade, has been quoted as saying he has flawless skin.
Sundaramurti, 67, says that Rajini was so obsessive about his hair that in his first year in the industry he never let make-up artists touch it. "He would run his fingers through his hair and set it himself," says Sundaramurti. The first time Rajini allowed him to put a comb to his locks was in 1976 for 'Mooodru Mudichu'. "In 1977, for 'Avargal', he finally allowed us to try hair gel."
The passing years, says Sundaramurti, began to take their toll only on Rajinikanth's hairline, as the star was always watchful of his waistline, which helped keep him look young on screen. "Until 2005, we styled him with his own hair and a natural patch or two, after which specialised wigs were flown in or Rajinikanth was flown out for the wig sittings," says Sundaramurti .
"I have found that fair-skinned actors age faster. The creases and wrinkles show faster and are more pronounced. I don't think Rajinikanth encountered a wrinkle till he was around 50," says Sundaramurti.
But the creases that eventually appeared were promptly ironed out, sometimes with visual effects and sometimes with a little clever costume design. Visual effects specialist V Srinivas Murali Mohan, who worked on 'Sivaji' (2007) and 'Enthiran' (2010) says the make-up and hair department works longer on Rajini's look.
"We work more on the things around him. The digital touch-up to the face is minimal," says Mohan. The only occasion the visual effects department worked overtime was to create a 'fair-skinned' Rajinikanth for 'Sivaji'. "We digitally grafted the skin of a European dancer onto Rajinikanth," he says. The process apparently involved working on 9,000 scanned frames of the 630 shots that were taken of Rajinikanth and the dancer.
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To shave off a few years, Rajinikanth is, well, asked not to shave. A stylish beard or stubble is usually added to his face to give it more definition.
In most of his recent movies, Rajini is seen in buttoned up outfits or wearing scarves or turtle-necks. This takes the focus off the neck, which is the first part of the body to exhibit age. In 'Lingaa', for instance, Rajini sports a scarf in several scenes. On the personal front, Rajini has always kept the inches off his waistline, which according to his make-up artistes, keep the years off.
While in the past, only natural hair patches were used, wigs are now custom-made for the actor. Rajini is often flown out to the US etc, for hair fittings.
While the make-up artistes work on most part of the look, the visual effects department adds a few finishing touches to any blemishes on his face. In several cases the spaces around Rajini are animated, locales are exotic and props are grand to accentuate the larger than life feeling that Rajini movies are famous for. This adds to the excitement thereby giving the movie a 'younger' feel.