Rajni fan first, then his son-in-law: Dhanush

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Last year Rajnikanth refused to celebrate his birthday because Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha had passed away a week earlier and he and the state were in mourning. So there were no motorbike rallies and trucks decorated like chariots taken out by hundreds of thousands of fans to his Poes Garden residence hoping to greet the superstar. Nor were there banners and giant-sized posters on the city’s arterial roads in his honour. The year before, Rajnikanth scratched out party plans following the torrential rains of November 2015 in Tamil Nadu that hit Chennai particularly bad, killing over 500 and displacing 1.8 lakh people. The Thalaiva’s word is the law, nobody dare disrespect him.

This year, Rajnikanth who turns 67 today has opted for a low-key birthday because he feels it won’t be right to celebrate when 500 Tamil fishermen are missing after last week’s Cyclone Ochki that also killed 40. But this year the Thalaiva’s legion of fans won’t be denied. While the actor himself spends his birthdays at some secret hideout in the Himalayas, his fans have put up posters in Chennai and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu urging Rajnikanth to take the much anticipated political plunge soon. While the BJP has been making overtures to him, the expectations are that Rajnikanth will launch his own party. The actor who is treated like God in the state has teased his fans and political parties by saying, “If God wills it, I will enter politics tomorrow.”

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Rajnikanth is among the most reticent actors in the world. He shies away from giving interviews that are not related to his latest release. But among the actor’s fans is his son-in-law Dhanush, the Kollywood superstar and his elder daughter Aishwarya’s husband. PeepingMoon.com recalls the young actor who has 38 releases in 15 years and won three National Awards and seven Filmfare Awards talking about his legendary father-in-law in a rare interview. Dhanush confessed that he is still always asked about ‘Rajni Sir’ and the Thalaiva’s films first, then his own. Excerpts from that conversation:

"I’ve stood in queues for 7-8 hours to get first day-first show tickets for his films. The fan in me is much bigger than the son-in-law."


Q. You call your father-in-law Rajni Sir? How long have you been married to his daughter, Aishwarya?

A. Thirteen years! We have two sons, Yatra and Linga. Like Amitji, my co-star of Shamitabh in 2015, Rajni Sir is an icon… a legend. And I’m fortunate to be a part of Rajni Sir’s family. That’s what it is… we are a family. There are no pros and no cons to being his son-in-law. I’ve been his fan forever. I’ve stood in queues for 7-8 hours to get first day-first show tickets for his films. The fan in me is much bigger than the son-in-law. When I sit across him, it’s always as a fan.

Q. Surely Rajnikanth appreciates your work as an actor? 

A. Rajni Sir likes my work, he is proud of me, and I hope to continue to make him proud. If he likes a film, he will pick up the phone and appreciate your work, you do not have to be his son-in-law for that. After my film Kadhal Kondaen in 2003, he called me to his farmhouse. He wanted to tell me he liked my performance in it. He is like that with every actor, no matter who they are.

Q. What kind of relationship do you have with your Pa-in-law?

A. We give each other space and, of course, mutual respect. Our relationship is normal and respectful. He is known to the world but really, there is no different side to him. Anything can change in my life, but the fact that I am his fan will not change.

Q. Is he impressed by your success? The Forbes list of 100 Celebrities in 2015 had you at No. 37 and Rajnikanth at No. 69. And in 2016 you were at No. 70 and he was at No. 46. 

A. Rajni Sir’s crossed the legendary status. I’m not overwhelmed by him. I do my own work. I don’t think about his work and his status. I don’t seek his advice. And he doesn’t get involved in my career. To impress Rajni Sir you just have to be honest and simple. That’s what I always strive to be in my performances and in my life. Down South the people have an image of me. And the image is of their own boy-next-door who deals with all their daily problems, somebody who is simple, humble and relatable, but who can play larger than life roles of characters in relatable circumstances.

Q. Are you bothered by questions on Rajnikanth all the time?

A. Not bothered, but it’s not easy to be Rajni Sir’s son-in-law. After I married his daughter, whatever identity I had was lost. Whatever name and fame I had earned before that was wiped away. Wherever I go, I’m known as Rajni Sir’s son-in-law. The first question asked to me in an interview is always “What’s it like to be his Rajnikanth’s son-in-law?”

Q. But you have succeeded in stepping out of Rajnikanth’s shadow and created a niche of his own. People know you for your individual achievements. What about your wife? Isn’t she proud of you? Or does she, too, compare you to her legendary father all the time?

A. Aishwarya is a Kollywood director. She is proud of me, naturally. Especially because I have a large fan following too. We first met at the screening of my film Kadhal Kondaen. I was introduced to Rajni Sir’s daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya. Next day Aishwarya sent me a bouquet saying, “Good work. Keep in touch.” I took that very seriously. We got married two years later. But my wife has seen it all. She’s the Princess of the state. And she’s seen the King arriving so many times. It’s difficult for me to live up to that. I’ve got to do much more to impress her!

Q. Amitabh Bachchan is a close friend of your father-in-law. Did that make a difference to the way he treated you in Shamitabh?

A. I don’t know if that’s because of Rajni Sir, but Amitji made everybody around him on the sets comfortable. Right down to the spot-boy. That’s the kind of person he is. Very professional. It shows how much he loves his art and is dedicated to it. I was blessed to share screen space with him. He’s a legend. A symbol of the country.

Q. Also a close friend of your Rajni Sir... like Kamal Haasan.

A. He’s also a legend, I’ve met Kamal Sir a hundred times, in the industry everybody knows him.

Q. Have you ever gone to Rajnikanth for advice?

A. He’s a very busy man. Rajni Sir has never helped me and I have never asked him for any help. My acting can never resemble his, because my style is different, the choice of my films is different. We don’t discuss our work at all when we meet.

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