“When you’re a Superstar it’s easy to say ‘No’ and stay inside your comfort zone. But you never grow inside your comfort zone and the reason he’s at the top is that he’s always stepping out of that comfort zone. He’s tired but he never gives up and he’s relentlessly positive. I love that in him,” Bear Grylls says at the end of one of the most anticipated episodes of his show, Into The Wild. I think it’s something the film fraternity and audience will agree with as well. There’s something about the Superstar that makes him everyone’s favourite.
This Into The Wild episode saw actor Rajinikanth and Bear Grylls venturing into the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka where they walk through a path that has venomous snakes, cross a rusty dilapidated bridge, sample the water flowing in a ravine and un-strap a camera fixed in a water hole at the end of the park. Through the 45 minutes, all you see along with a perfect host is a happy man willing to take risks forgetting his age and his fame.
After 43 years in the film industry, having starred in 165 films, there is much that the 70-year-old actor could have demanded. Instead, you see a humble man who is open to everything he encounters. I can’t help but adore his childlike enthusiasm when he completes each task. He thanks God, he motivates himself constantly and feels proud of himself at the end for being able to accomplish a feat he’d never thought he would indulge in. “Yes, I did it!”, “I’m doing real adventures, things I haven’t done before in my life”, “It’s going to be tough, but yes God is there.” These are just a few of the many things he says right through the episode.
Bear also says that “One of the reasons I think he’s (Rajinikanth) so loved is that he wears his heart on his sleeve.” No matter what emotion he is going through — worry, anxiety, happiness, excitement, it is out in the open for us to see. We can see the person behind the icon, the most real embodiment of ‘what you see is what you get’.
When Bear asks him about how he handles stardom, he explains how he clearly distinguishes his work life from personal life. He says he tends to forget that he’s Rajinikanth once a film is wrapped up and gets into the shoes of Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. And his curiosity in finding out how Bear is unfazed about chowing down insects and creatures, what he enjoys about his acting and how he managed to end up in Discovery, stands testament to his words. There is certainly no need for someone of his stature to worry about what opinion someone who’s not from his homeland has formed of him. Yet the “Your face is full of expression and you do everything with a wink,” leaves him gleaming in joy.
While the episode essentially aims at showing us who Rajinikanth actually is as a person, it doesn’t compromise on showcasing his swagger either. He has a filmy introduction with his costume changing as he twirls around, his vehicle disappears at the snap of a finger and there are even a few shots of the actor shaking a leg. The iconic title card along with a montage of shots from various films in the episode is a smart marketing move, catering to fans and audiences especially in India, more so in South India.
Even as Grylls is speaking in English, Rajini speaks in Tamil, this is endearing. Grylls’ handling of the show and his guest Rajinikanth is a sight to behold. He is respectful but does not fawn. He isn’t giving out orders nor is he requesting the actor to perform duties, like fitting a tyre, reversing the jeep or even collecting water sample. He hits the right note. There is no ‘Rajini sir’. He is ‘Rajini’. And the actor looks more than comfortable with this.
The disclaimer card at the start of the show says that the channel does not propagate any opinion related to religion or political parties. Rajinikanth, who recently announced that he wouldn’t contest for the position of the Chief Minister but will lead a party, has not really been clear about his political stance on various issues. However, at various points in the show, his political ideologies and concerns are showcased not so casually.
While we see video messages from friends Madhavan and Akshay Kumar motivate the actor on his journey, actor-director-friend and fellow politician Kamal Haasan speaks of water scarcity, thereby sparking a discussion about the same. Bear himself asks, “And what is the message? What must people do?” to the actor. It seems, like Kamal’s ‘message’ for the journey was rather a mechanism to get Rajinikanth to promote his vision for India. After all, why would a star agree to something like this unless it’s coupled with a motive?
The episode is streaming on Discovery Plus for premium members.