In case there are those amongst you, gentle readers, who are scratching your heads and going, ‘What has the title of this piece got to do with Superstar Rajinikanth?’, tarry awhile and I shall enlighten you. When our Thalaivar, (literally meaning the head honcho but metaphorically, the monarch of all he surveys) decided to formally announce his decision to enter politics and start his own party, he kept repeating the phrase, ‘It’s now or never.’ A line that has now taken on the attributes of a campaign slogan. Naturally, he said it in Tamil (Ippo illenna eppovum illai), but the newspapers and TV channels were full of the English translation. Presumably, he was trying to convey to his millions of adoring fans that the time has come, and not a moment too soon, to set things right in the state of Tamil Nadu. What is more, he is the man to do it, and there is no time like the present. His legion of faithful have been waiting for this announcement for what seems an eternity, and when it finally did come, their joy was unconfined. They were dancing on the streets, bursting crackers and generally behaving like men and women possessed. Covid19 precautions can go take a flying jump.
Explaining the relevance of this piece to its title is a two-step process. ’O Sole Mio (literally ‘My own sun’) is a Neapolitan song written and composed in 1898 and has become one of the most popular songs rendered in the traditional Italian operatic style. The likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo could not conclude their concerts without a curtain call that invariably featured ’O Sole Mio. Such was its immense appeal. That was step one. Moving on to step two, the tune was copied and achieved international fame when, in 1960, King Elvis Presley, recorded this song with English lyrics, It’s Now or Never. The resultant single broke all records and, to this day, remains one of the biggest selling discs ever released. As love songs go, Elvis’ rendition of It’s Now or Never may never be displaced from the top of its residing perch.
We move from the sublime to the cathartic. Whether Superstar Rajinikanth was at all aware of the musical significance and connotations of the ‘It’s now or never’ slogan we shall never know. Chances are he was not. However, since he may have fortuitously hit the jackpot in terms of globalizing his Tamil exhortation to the Indian electorate, I was keen to bring this happy serendipity to the great man’s notice. I will count on some helpful Samaritan to pass this vital information on to our adored Thalaivar. There are many who may take the view that the veteran thespian has no particular need to exploit and take advantage of western popular melodies, be they Neapolitan or English. His raging fame in his home state will be more than adequate to see him through, with a little help from powerful electoral allies. That, to my way of thinking, will be taking a limited, narrow view of Rajini Sir’s explosive potential to garner world fame, particularly in light of the fact that our non-resident Indians living abroad abound in their millions. I am also given to believe that Rajinikanth enjoys serious traction in, of all places, Japan! These are important issues that any shrewd campaign planner should bear in mind. Tamil Nadu today, world domination tomorrow!
This train of thought set me thinking on the lines of extending the idea and arming the Rajinikanth camp with a series of songs that could have special relevance and resonate with his constituents, keeping in view the global audience that needs to be inveigled into the net. Rajinikanth hardly needs any help in his native Tamil Nadu where he is worshipped with the same reverence as all the godheads of India. When I employ the phrase ‘in his native Tamil Nadu,’ I realize that I am paltering with the truth. There are those punctilious types who will be up in arms to ‘correct’ me. So, let me set the record straight. As pretty much everyone knows, Rajinikanth was born into a Maharashtrian family settled in Bangalore. His original name was Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, who in his early days worked as a coolie and a bus conductor in Bangalore. He finally strayed into Chennai where he was spotted by famed director K. Balachander and debuted as a villain alongside fellow star and now turned fellow, or perhaps rival, politician Kamal Haasan in the hit film, Apoorva Raagangal (1975).
It is a unique peculiarity of Tamil Nadu politics that celluloid superstars turned politicians emerged from states outside Tamil Nadu. To take just two examples, Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran came from Kerala and his close confidant, iron lady J. Jayalalitha was from Karnataka. Rajinikanth joins that unique migrant club. What is more, achieving superstardom on the silver-screen has a direct positive bearing on political success, notably in south India. Witness the career of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, N.T. Rama Rao, whose mythological roles (Rama in Sampoorna Ramayanam, 1958) assured him a literally holier-than-thou place in people’s hearts and minds.
Now that Rajinikanth has set the cat among the pigeons by jumping into the political fray he is, not surprisingly, attracting unwelcome attention. The DMK have already dubbed him an ‘instant politician,’ and he will be called harsher names in time to come. That’s politics. Knowingly or unknowingly, since he flagged a famous song title as his main campaign plank, I felt it proper to help him with a further clutch of western pop songs that he could profitably use to his advantage. After all, just the one song could run the risk of running aground through campaign fatigue. On the age-old theory that variety is the spice of life, here is my suggested list of songs for Rajini, over and above It’s Now or Never. I am sure the thespian’s PR machinery will find the appropriate Tamil equivalents for these songs.
I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles launched themselves into orbit in 1963 with this classic pop song that captured the imagination of all teenagers and older people as well. In a sense, that is precisely what Rajinikanth should be saying to his fawning public as he stakes a claim for political stardom. Bollywood, long before it acquired that moniker, shamelessly copied this song with Hindi lyrics for the film Jaanwar in 1965, the great Mohammed Rafi ghosting for India’s jumpin’ jack, Shammi Kapoor. S.P. Balasubrahmanyam would have done a brilliant job of it in Tamil for Rajini. Sadly, SPB is no more, but I am sure a suitable alternative could be found.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Beatles’ alter ego, The Rolling Stones were in philosophical mood when they released this lovely hit in 1969. This should be a salutary reminder to all our mad fans who vote in film stars to the highest office that they should temper their expectations, and help their candidates by setting realistic goals. Rajinkanth would do well to take heed of the Jagger / Richards lyrics and tweak it for his own campaign requirements.
My Way – Ol’ Blue Eyes, the inimitable Frank Sinatra had the world swaying to this immortal classic, released in 1969. Although the song talks mainly about a man who is singing his swan song, these words would resonate with our Thalaivar as he embarks on an exciting, new political career. I planned each chartered course / Each careful step along the byway / But more, much more than this / I did it my way. That said, it would appear that Sinatra had already foreshadowed Rajini who thrilled us with his now unforgettable catchphrase, En vazhi thani vazhi (‘My way is my own, unique way’) in his superhit film, Padayappa in 1999.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – The eternal troubadour with a message for every occasion, Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan nailed it in 1962 with this brilliant composition. Our once and future leader, Rajinikanth could be saying just that to his army of fans and potential voters. As long as they are with him, they need have no fear, no second thoughts, it’s all going to work out just fine.
I’m Your Man – The great Canadian singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, assured his fans in this wonderful song with these lyrics, If you want a boxer, I will step into the ring for you / And if you want a doctor, I’ll examine every inch of you. Our Superstar could profitably take a leaf out of Cohen’s songbook and rework the message in Tamil, to the delight of his ardent fans. In his screen-life, Rajini has boxed his way out of many tight situations and healed the wounds of the sick and the lame. He has always been ‘their man.’
Here, There and Everywhere – Another hit from The Beatles, this melodic song was released in 1966 and should have special resonance for our beloved hero and aspiring political leader. Rajinikanth will be travelling the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu, India even, exhorting the voters to cast their ballots in his favour. He will be here, there and everywhere and his humongous fan club simply won’t get enough of him.
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You – The heartthrob of millions, Michael Jackson had his fans swooning to this wonderful ballad. Rajinikanth will be pulling out all the stops to let his audience know that he will love them till the sands of time give over. Not that his fans need any convincing. They simply can’t stop loving their Baasha (1995).
There you are, my selection of a clutch of songs to add to Rajini’s repertoire, including his own contribution of It’s Now or Never. His fans have been waiting for a long time for this announcement that he is ready to join battle, with a heart for any fate. But they ought not to have been fretting. Surely, they can recall what he said in another of his many hit films, Muthu (1995). Naan eppo varuven, eppadi varuvennu yaarukkum teriyadu. Aanaal varavendiya nerathila correcta varuven (‘No one can tell when or how I will arrive, but I unfailingly will, when the time is right.’)
His Tamil accent may still be a bit dodgy, a work in perennial progress, but that won’t worry the voters. In fact, it’s part of his unique charm. They see Rajinikanth as the man of and for the moment. It’s now, or never.