Rajinikanth – who commands the love of scores of fans, and wields enormous influence that only a few do, a friend of PM Narendra Modi and other political stalwarts – could have risen above the criticism, and used his super-stardom for a worthy cause in Sri Lanka.
On Saturday evening, a day after Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi Chief Thol. Thirumavalavan and the leader of Tamilar Vazhvu Urimai Katchi, Vel Murugan raised objections to actor Rajinikanth’s impending visit to Sri Lanka, a Whatsapp group created by a few PROs (one of them, Rajini’s own) in the industry – buzzes with a message: It turns out to be a three-page long press release issued under Rajinikanth’s letter-head. What at first glance seems to be the actor’s travel schedule – he was to launch the Lyca Productions-organised housing scheme in Vavuniya and Jaffna in April – soon transpires to be a little more.
The release, in addition to detailing his travel schedule, with precise information about the guests the event was to feature, has a poetic air about it.
[“I had wanted to visit Sri Lanka for two reasons: to launch the scheme; to see the place, and breathe the air as those Tamils who spilled blood, and lost their lives in Civil War, fighting for their rights and their race.”]
[“I had also wanted to meet President Maithripala Sirisena to talk about the plight of Tamil fishermen who risk their lives to earn a living, and who have no other trade to fall back on…”]
The letter is far more verbose, of course. Rajini speaks about his intent, his wishes, what he’d have loved to do, what he’d have ideally done – for his meenava sakotharargal, and the scores of Tamils who help him earn a living.
The third page of the release, though – is where the real news lies buried.
Rajini wouldn’t be visiting, after all. For his “special friend” Thol. Thirumavalavan, and “dignitaries like Vaiko and Vel Murugan” had “requested him” – through various media – that the actor not participate in the event.
Because, a trip to launch a housing scheme for those displaced in the war would be more of an unofficial endorsement of the Sri Lankan government, they said.
Rajini phrases that well, politically correct as always.
[“…they had cited many political reasons which I couldn’t whole-heartedly accept.”]
He would be cancelling the trip anyway because of their request.
Anbu vendukol, the letter says.
Gnanam Foundation is named after Lyca Head Subaskaran Allirajah’s mother. A charity off-shoot of the production company, it built those 150 homes in Jaffna that were to be given away by the actor. Lyca also finances Rajini’s upcoming 2.0. The movie – directed by Shankar – has Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar and Amy Jackson in lead roles, and has the work of many experienced technicians. The budget is said to be around the vicinity of Rs 400 crores. A sum few producers can afford to invest.
While popular opinion is mostly sympathetic – the actor had no choice to back out of the trip that threatened the release of the film, Lyca, as a consequence, was forced to cancel their plans. A spokesperson for the company, though, assured us that the homes would still be given away.
Criticism over Rajini’s decision to be a part of Lyca’s event rose over the fact that the company’s upper echelon is perceived to be close to Mahinda Rajapakse, the former Sri Lankan President.
Similar protests arose during the release of Kaththi, the Vijay – AR Murugadoss film, during which several theatres in Chennai were vandalised.
While there were no physical protests this time around, it certainly took a toll on Rajinikanth.
A spokesperson for the actor told Silverscreen, “Around the time news became public of Superstar’s decision to go to Sri Lanka, he was bombarded with calls from the acting fraternity as well as from some of his political connections. The overwhelming response to his decision was negative. This floored him, and prompted his change of mind.”
If anything, Rajini’s visit could have been a blessing in disguise for the people of Sri Lanka. While pro-Tamil parties in TN had protested against the actor’s visit, their reasoning was, at best, one-sided. The Sri Lankan government is just looking to negate its war crimes by this gesture, they said.
Nevertheless, Rajini was only visiting to help.
Also, the arrival of such a high-profile actor to Sri Lanka, especially an actor who commands the goodwill of the Indian PM and a majority of the Tamil people and politicians, could have been the platform that Sri Lankan Tamil activists might have needed to demand better treatment, and in general, justice.
Not very unlike what Rajini had done on screen in Kabali – fighting for the cause of Malaysian Tamils.
ரஜினி ஏன் ஈழத்துக்குப் போக வேண்டும்
நண்பரின் கருத்துகள் என் கருத்துகளோடு ஒருமித்தவை pic.twitter.com/OLGVdQx6Hi
— கானா பிரபா (@kanapraba) March 25, 2017
And yet, this won’t happen.
For, the undisputed Superstar of the South – a man worshipped by millions and said to wield the kind of power and influence only a few possess, wouldn’t go because his “friends” didn’t want him to.
Rajini’s letter, meanwhile, ends with a sincere plea.
[“If I get to visit Sri Lanka again, I request – rightfully and lovingly – that the trip not be politicised.”]
I’m not a politician, the letter further insists, I’m an artiste.
And, in what can be perceived as a shrewd choice of words, it goes on to add:
[“Quite like what brother Thriumavalavan said, I’m here to please people…”]
Please he will, even if it means giving in to political pressure from friends he does not agree with.
Even when he feels that he is right.