Tamil actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth is set to debut on Discovery’s Man vs Wild with British wildlife adventurer Bear Grylls. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also appeared on the show in August 2019, with his episode grabbing 3.6 billion impressions. The episode featuring Rajinikanth comes at a time when the superstar is expected to launch his political party in 2020.
ThePrint asks: Does Rajinikanth need ‘Man vs Wild’ to prove that he can be a successful politician like Modi?
Man vs. Wild won’t help Rajini’s political career. He needs to make the right noises
Associate editor, ThePrint
To assume that Rajinikanth needs an appearance on Man vs Wild to prove his political astuteness would be to display a rather superficial understanding of politics. Irrespective of one’s support to Narendra Modi, the fact is that the prime minister does have political acumen and is an election winner. Modi was already a successful politician, serving his second term as the PM, when he made his debut on the show hosted by Bear Grylls in August 2019.
Rajinikanth has so far shown little political conviction or even an informed and sustainable stand on any issue of relevance, be it demonetisation or the Thoothukudi killings in his home state of Tamil Nadu. On both the issues, he had to backtrack from his original position of supporting them. He seems to be unsure of where to position himself.
Ideologically, it is clear that Rajinikanth is instinctively in the BJP mould, but being from Tamil Nadu, a state that has historically opposed the BJP’s Hindutva rhetoric and Hindi language imposition, he will need to find a way to align his beliefs with those he may hope will vote for him. Moreover, he has spent more than two decades flirting with the idea of joining politics and has still not taken the plunge. Instead he continues to sign more films. If he wants to emerge as a serious political contender, he needs to start making the right noises, clearing the air on his intent and policies. That’s what he needs to do, rather than mindlessly following Modi into the jungle.
Rajinikanth’s appearance on Man vs Wild will just be about imitating what PM Modi did on the show
Contributing journalist, ThePrint
What Man vs Wild has in store for Rajinikanth will be different than the effects it had on Modi’s image. Bear Grylls’ show worked as a PR strategy for Modi but the same can’t be said for Rajinikanth.
As Rajinikanth is still doing movies and is definitely the talk of the town through his frequent controversial press conferences, his appearance on Man vs Wild will just be about imitating what PM Modi did on the show.
One should see it as Rajinikanth having lost confidence in his movies and so doesn’t want to entirely depend on them to grab fresh eyeballs for his much-awaited entry into politics.
Rajinikanth’s episode with Bear Grylls will be another Annai Oru Aalayam (1979), in which he tackles and traps wild animals, especially tigers and leopards, with just a rope. I am sure that the film’s director R. Thyagaraajan and cinematographer P.N. Sundaram have already done a great deal for Rajinikanth than what Bear Grylls could do with his show Man vs Wild.
Rajinikanth may want to project himself as a real-life hero beyond the silver screen, something which he has until now only been able to do through charity and spirituality. Whatever worked for Modi need not work for Rajinikanth and this new adventurism will not necessarily help the latter’s political career in his home state.
Politics or not, Rajinikanth need not prove anything to anyone. He will emulate whoever he wants to
Deputy editor, ThePrint
The popular saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” fits well in this question’s context. And Rajinikanth doesn’t compromise on quality. He’s doing what India’s top political leader has already done — feature in Bear Grylls’ Man vs Wild. We’ll have to wait and see how Rajinikanth measures up to PM Modi’s performance on the show.
Politics or not, Rajinikanth need not prove anything to anyone because of his image, which is above ridicule. This includes him being clear on whether to become a full-time politician, to begin with.
There have been numerous reports about Rajinikanth formally launching his own political party before 2021 Tamil Nadu election, but this is yet to materialise. His friend and fellow megastar Kamal Haasan beat him to it by launching his political party Makkal Needhi Maiam in 2018.
Haasan has been clearer and more vocal about his political inclinations than Rajinikanth, who only seems to be sitting on his promise to join politics.
But with his appearance with Bear Grylls on Man vs Wild, Thalaiva’s fans will finally get to see him in some unequivocal action off the silver screen. Political or not, the superstar is insinuating that he will emulate whoever he wants to.
Rajinikanth’s fans fondly call him Thalaiva — a stature that Modi has always aspired for
Principal Correspondent, ThePrint
Rajinikanth’s larger-than-life image down south overpowers that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s. Rajinikanth was flipping sunglasses and beating up men onscreen long before Modi began weaving his own myth around his crocodile-wrestling days in Bal Narendra. Rajinikanth demands a cult status, with his fans fondly calling him Thalaiva or the boss — a stature that Modi has always aspired for and tried to work towards.
So, Rajinikanth’s appearance on Man vs Wild is merely an extension of a narrative that he has held for decades now.
However, Rajinikanth’s political ideology seems to be leaning towards the BJP’s, despite his attempts at keeping himself away from the party. The freshest of these instances is his comments against E.V.R Periyar, similar to the barbs from H. Raja, one of the BJP’s top faces in Tamil Nadu. Raja’s quick defence of Rajinikanth’s statement has added to the perception about the latter’s ideology, even though he had categorically said in November 2019 that “neither Thiruvalluvar nor him can be trapped in saffron”.
What Rajinikanth needs is not a Man vs Wild episode but a clearer political ideology to establish himself as a public figure who is serious about politics.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist with ThePrint