Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, the two pillars and pivots of Tamil cinema both discovered groomed and iconized by filmmaker K Balachander, have not come together for a very long time. Kamalji misses sharing screen space with his nearest rival. In an old interview, Kamal Haasan had once told me in an interview, "We've done ten films together, most of them were hits, though we did have failures. We’ve done three films for our mutual mentor K. Balachander. What’s more, I’ve done guest roles in Rajini’s films. I’d do anything he asks me to, no question of refusing him."
Earlier the fan clubs of the two Tamil titans were at bloodied loggerheads. Kamal and Rajini mutually agreed to put an end to the 'ouch' rivalry. Recalls Kamal, "The war between the two fan clubs stopped only about 15 years ago. We both told them to stop after there were stray incidents of violence on both sides. Considering fans have killed each other for our distinguished predecessors MGR and Shivaji Ganesan our fans would be considered pacifists (laughs). I went ahead and set a new precedent. I turned my fan club into a social service organization."
Critics see a marked element of Shivaji Ganesan in Kamal Haasan's performances as they see MGR in Rajinikanth. Observes Kamal, "Rajiniji and I incorporate elements of both the towering personalities. I’ve done what you’d call MGR kind of films. Shivaji Saab felt squeamish about doing out-and-out masala films. Rajini too had changed his image to play the Shivaji kind of roles. In one film he played a character that ages from 6 to 60. That way we’ve crisscrossed paths on screen."
Evaluating Rajinikanth as an actor Kamal who is a far superior actor says, "When we were still in our 20s I asked Rajiniji why he has to be so stylised on screen. He told me that’s the secret of his future success. I assured him my style would also be a winner. He turned around to say, ‘Fair enough. You do your thing and I’ll do my own.’ Rajini is a phenomenon." Kamal sees a lot of similarities between the two. "Both of us were young actors who started from scratch. He was the bus conductor with acting aspirations. I was the clapper boy who got the clap in my very film (Kamal Haasan played a character with venereal disease in his first adult role). We didn’t have fathers to make movies for us. But we had the same godfather K.Balachander."
Kamal sees Rajinikanth's destiny as running parallel to his own. "It’s quite strange, but our paths as actors were always intertwined. Initially, we were both typecast as villains. I got fed up with doing those and went away to Kerala to do Malayalam films. Then his career as a villain took off, and I returned to Chennai to pursue a career in Tamil cinema."
Getting sentimental about his friend and rival Kamal says. "We made our way up together. At the Thenali function, Rajini pointed out that though he’s four years my senior I’m his senior professionally and that he would take my advice about doing a film with me if there’s an occasion for us to star together."
Another film together? Shrugs Kamal Haasan "It depends. He said if we do a film together he won’t direct it. It has to be either me or someone else. It would be quite interesting to do a film with him. At a function, Rajini recalled an incident early in our careers when he was riding pillion on a motorbike with me. When I sort of took a skid Rajini asked if I knew how to ride a motorbike. I assured him even If I fell I wouldn’t let him fall. I was so touched when at a music function some years ago Rajini said, ‘That’s what happened in our career. He never let me fall. In 1983 when I wanted to leave everything behind it was Kamal who cajoled me back to the material world.’ I guess we’ll do a film together. We’ve been talking about it for five years. We’re worried about the expectations."
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