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
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
about the Rajinikanth he knows -- as co-star, as relative
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
He is deified by millions. How
does this affect him, and those in his close personal
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
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
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
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
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.