Photo by ANI

Chennai: Superstar Rajinikanth, Tamil filmdom’s reigning demigod, was on Thursday chosen for this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke award, the highest recognition in the world of cinema in India.

“Popular across generations, a body of work few can boast of, diverse roles and an endearing personality…that’s Shri @rajinikanth Ji for you. It is a matter of immense joy that Thalaiva has been conferred with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Congratulations to him,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thanking everyone, Rajinikanth gratefully acknowledged the role of Raj Bagathur, the driver of the bus in Bengaluru in which the actor was a conductor, his elder brother Sathyanarayanan and ace film director K Balachandar (the last Dadasaheb Phalke recipient from Tamil Nadu), in his transition to the silver screen.

This incidentally is the first national film award that Rajinikanth has bagged. While he has been conferred the Padma awards, he had not won any national awards for his performances so far. In contrast, fellow traveller in the film world, Kamal Haasan had bagged three national awards for best actor.

Rajinikanth started off as a screen villain and had done some fine portrayals displaying various emotions as an actor in classic films like Mullum Malarum and Aaril irundhi aravadhu varai before he was sucked into the stereotypical role of a mass entertainer with an unmatched style and action. He is known to handle comedy scripts with ease as well.

Despite there being no denial that he and Kamal Haasan are perhaps the only actors to rule Kollywood for nearly four decades, Thursday’s announcement in the midst of an election season did trigger a debate.

While many felt that this was a well-deserved recognition for the man with the magnetic charisma, that he was chosen after the BJP’s failed attempts to rope him into the world of politics in Tamil Nadu, was not lost. “If the BJP thinks that by giving him an award it could make political gains in the April 6 Assembly elections, it is a myth,” said Bismi, a film correspondent and commentator.

“The BJP tried hard to get Rajinikanth into politics. After dilly-dallying with the idea of floating his party and needlessly raising expectations of his followers, he finally gave it up realising that politics is not his cup of tea. Now the BJP perhaps hopes that bestowing the highest recognition could warm the hearts of his fans. They may even expect him to lend his political voice but the actor is shrewd and may not go beyond his initiate statement thanking everyone,” said Mani, a political analyst.

What gives the decision a political colour is also the fact that the Phalke award has been given to few personalities from the South since inception. In Tamil Nadu, thespian Sivaji Ganesan was bestowed the honour belatedly in 1996. Much later director Balachandar was given the honour. “The awardee list is skewed in favour of Bollywood. This has been the case with national film awards too. Could you believe that Sivaji Ganesan, a versatile performer who is looked upon by many as a role model in acting, did not receive a single national best actor award? Whereas M G Ramachandran got a national best actor award in 1972 for Rickshawkaran,” pointed out a film journalist. “Kamal Haasan, who is versatile and has tried his hand successfully in direction, production, acting, script writing and playback singing, too deserves the Phalke award,” he added.

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