The Men and Women in ‘Thalaivar’ Rajinikanth’s life

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They say that when Rajinikanth married Latha, the sacred fire did the saat pheras around the couple. The fire certainly must have realised early on that it would do well to honour Mrs Rajinikanth along with her super-human husband. hile the film legend, now 64 years old, may be credited with having unimaginable sway, you could smile at the equally extraordinary manner in which a chance meeting between a college girl and an acclaimed actor turned into a romantic story whose last page has yet to be turned. Latha Rangachari was a student of English literature at Ethiraj College in Chennai when she went to interview the reigning hero of the Tamil film industry for the college magazine.

A spark was lit. By the time 1981 came around, the two were in love enough to think of life together. And living up to his macho screen image, Rajini, by Latha’s own admission, gave her no say. “He did not propose to me,” she told Sun TV in 2012, “he informed me that he was marrying me and left.”

The contribution of the women in Thalaivar’s life – needs elaborating. Anna’s family – – Rajini, Latha, 51, and daughters Aishwarya, 31, and Soundarya, 29 — keeps its private life to itself. When asked what it was like being the wife of a demi-god, Latha told Kollywood Insider, “It’s not easy. It’s like living in a glass house.” So the four, and sons- in-law actor Dhanush and industrialist Ashwin Ramkumar, are reticent when it comes to family matters.

Once in a while, they lower their guard enough to allow a peep. And, once the pancake is washed off, the man ceases to be a superstar. Whenever the women do something in their fields of work —- Latha runs a school called The Ashram, Aishwarya is a film director and dancer while Soundarya runs Ocher, a production house —- the first person to know about it will be Rajini.

But besides running The Ashram, a philanthropic school in Chennai, Latha involves herself fully in the promotion of her husband’s ‘businesses’. Veteran playwright and Latha’s brother-in-law, Y Gee Mahendran, says Latha was a sprightly dynamite before she got married, but became an embodiment of calm and maturity after she became Mrs Rajinikanth. “She had a great influence in taming Rajini, the ‘wild horse’,” he smiles. Of course, her part in Rajini’s professional life is deliberately kept only partly visible.

But industry sources point out the crucial roles she has played in recent years in building Brand Rajini. For instance, they note that though Rajini, unlike other celebrities, had never lent his name to products and campaigns, it was Latha who leveraged his image by roping in advertisers for in-film promotion. And when the Rajini-starrer Baba  was released, she was there with a slew of merchandise — t-shirts, caps and other memorabilia.

 The shrewd Latha had easily enough understood how her husband’s popularity could be monetised. During the launch of the book, Grand Brand Rajini, she admitted as such. She said the actor behaved like a brand, talked like a brand and lived like a brand. He had struggled a lot to become an icon, and that is why he was a brand, not just in films but even in reality. The three women in Rajini’s life do not live together, but are close by. Aishwarya stays with Dhanush, a couple of streets away from her parents’ Poes Garden residence. Her father is a regular visitor. And when he needs them, the women are always at hand, like when Rajinikanth was hospitalised in 2011, first in Chennai and later in Singapore. In a interview published in a biography of Rajinikanth, Aishwarya recalled that her mother wouldn’t take them to many film shows when they were young. “We would  mstly watch black-and-white classics and we didn’t see any of our father’s films during that period,” she said. “…It was much later, at the age of 11, that I realised he was such a big star…”

 Industry sources say that Aishwarya, who appeared with her husband Dhanush in the phenomenal Why this kolaveri di video, designs Rajini’s costumes and is particular about how he appears in public. Theyounger Soundarya is giving her father’s image more than just a sartorial boost. Founder of Ocher Picture Productions, she trained in multimedia technologies in Australia and directed Kochadaiyaan, India’s first performance-capture film along the lines of Avatar. She chose the technique because “I wanted to immortalise my dad”. It’s fairly clear that the famed Rajini equanimity arises out of a supportive family that helps him with his marketing, his image, even his films. A Rajini joke goes that there is no “control” button on the superstar’s laptop “because he is always in control”. The three women, who control his life, will smile indulgently at that.

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