While accepting the Dadasaheb Phalke award at the at 67th National Film awards ceremony, superstar Rajinikanth said, “I dedicate this award to my friend in Karnataka, bus driver, my colleague Raj Bahadur… When I was a bus conductor, he was the one who identified acting talent in me and encouraged me to join cinema…" A huge round of applause followed.
For all the Rajini fans, Raj Bahadur is a known name. A simple, humble man living in one of the lanes in Chamrajpete area of Bengaluru, Raj Bahadur was the guardian angel that pushed Shivaji Rao Gaekwad to become Rajinikanth. It is he, who taught Rajini to speak Tamil fluently.
Not many know that the story of these two friends has a resemblance to the Krishna-Kuchela story from mythology. The only difference here is that both have swapped their roles from Krishna to Kuchela umpteen number of times. Rajinikanth had visited his best friend at his Bengaluru home just two weeks ago, and by the time this article is published, Raj Bahadur has reached Rajini’s home in Chennai to celebrate the Dadasaheb Phalke with his family.
A celebrated Friendship
“Ours is a friendship of 50 years," a proud Raj Bahadur told News18. “I met him in 1970, when he joined duty as a conductor and I, a driver. He was the best actor in our group of transport staff. Whenever there was a cultural program in the department, Rajini would perform on the stage. He also took part in various plays after duty hours. Needless to say, he was the best performer."
“I forced him to go to Chennai and join acting school. After completing acting course for two years, the institute had organized a function where Rajini performed. Renowned filmmaker K Balachander was the chief guest there. He came to Rajini and said, ‘Boy, learn Tamil.’ Rajini came and told me about this. The director KB hadn’t said anything else, he only asked him to learn Tamil. I told Rajini not to worry and from that day, I told him to speak to me in Tamil only. Rest, as you all know, is history," Bahadur narrated.
There is another thing that Raj Bahadur doesn’t say but Rajini himself has told on multiple occasions. Raj Bahadur was earning Rs 400 as his monthly salary then. When he forced Rajini to go to Chennai and join acting school, he didn’t send him empty handed. Every month, he would send Rs 200 which was half his salary to Rajini. Rajini survived in Chennai out of this money for around 2-3 years. Raj Bahadur is now retired from his job and leads a simple life with his brother’s family.
No matter how big a star, Rajinikanth to his best friend is the same man, who used to have never ending conversations about everything under the sun. Rajini always pays surprise visits to Raj Bahadur’s house. He visits in disguise to avoid public gaze and arrives at wee hours and knocks on the door. No phone calls, no messages, just hops on to the next flight and lands at the friend’s doorstep. Theirs is a friendship of 50 years. There is a room in Raj Bahaddur’s house reserved for Rajini.
The surprise visitor
“We don’t know when he will come and knock on the door. So the room will always be ready," says Raj Bahaddur. It is a simple small room with a single cot and enough space for another person to sleep on the floor. Whenever Rajini comes, both friends shut themselves inside the room and speak for hours. Raj Bahadur sleeps on the cot while Rajini sleeps next to him on bed laid on the floor. It has been like this for years. The friend and his family give Rajini the desired privacy.
“He is just Shivaji, the friend, when he comes here. He is not the superstar the world knows. He loves Kannada and Bengaluru very much. He has been like this all these years. My friend," says an elevated Raj Bahadur. Even the neighbors won’t know that Rajinikanth has stayed in their vicinity.
Rajinikanth and Kadlekai Parishe
Rajini enjoys taking a stroll on the streets of Bengaluru. Several times, while coming to Raj Bahadur’s house from the airport, he gets off a little farther and walks alone, enjoying the early morning or late night Bengaluru scenes.
Once, Rajini expressed his desire to visit the famous ‘Kadlekai Parishe’ an annual fair of groundnuts that takes place in Basavanagudi, Bengaluru. Raj Bahadur helped him change his appearance and the two friends set out on the busy streets of Bull Temple Road where the fair takes place. Rajini enjoyed every bit of the crowded fair without being noticed for a while. A girl was suspicious that the man walking next to Raj Bahadur was Rajinikanth. She didn’t know Raj Bahadur. But somehow, she came near them and asked if he was Rajinikanth. Both friends laughed at her saying she has mistook him for someone else. The girl being a diehard Rajini fan, said she recognizes him by his eyes and she is confident that he is Rajini.. also she vaguely remembered Raj Bahadur from some television interview of his she had seen a very long time ago. Before she could actually establish the facts, the friends vanished from the fair. “We had a hearty laugh," remembers Raj Bahadur.
Nothing without consulting the friend
Raj Bahadur is Rajini’s man Friday even to this day. Whether it is decisions about joining or not joining politics or any personal matter, Rajini never takes any decision without consulting Raj Bahadur. Rajini was the conductor of bus no 10A that plied between Majestic to Srinagar. He lived in Hanumanthnagar and Raj Bahadur, in Chamrajpete. Both areas are close to each other. He had those stylish mannerisms even then. He used to flip the coin while giving to customers and entertain them during travel. Even after all these years, 77-year-old Raj Bahaddur has only one best friend and the world calls him Thalaiva. One can certainly agree to this when the superstar chose to thank his best friend on the stage instead of his own family.
Rare Stills of Superstar Rajinikanth with his close friend Raj Bahadur