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Sunday, April 11, when Tamil superstar Rajnikant met with the media to 'open his heart' as he put it, it led to a tremendous buzz: Who will he support in the general election, long-time friend the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's alliance, or the National Democratic Alliance of which old foe Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is part? More importantly, will the ageing superstar, whose last film Baba (2002) did not set the Marina beach on fire, make a difference in the crucial southern state that elects 39 MPs?

Rajni's record in this score is 50:50.

In 1996, on the eve of the Tamil Nadu assembly election, he appeared on television to say, 'Only God can save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa is voted back to power.' She was voted out, and the DMK swept the election. Since then, the question has remained tantalizingly unanswered: Will the superstar enter politics? However, he chose to remain Garbo-esque, fanning speculation further. In this state more than anywhere else, cinema has always been a route to politics, and Rajnikant's celluloid popularity, it is said, matches only that of former chief minister and matinee idol M G Ramachandran.

During the 1998 Lok Sabha election and immediately after the Coimbatore blast, Rajnikant, born Shivrajirao Gaekwad, a Maharashtrian, came out of his seclusion in favour of the DMK-Tamil Maanila Congress alliance. But the voters ignored his advice, and plumbed for the All India Anna DMK. Again, Rajnikant turned a mouni baba - coming out once after to air his opinion when the Cauvery dispute erupted between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The Sunday event was strictly not a press conference. Rajnikant read out an eight page, two-part statement; the first part was against Dr S Ramdoss and his Paattali Makkal Katchi, and the second was in favour of the BJP, in particular Prime Minister A B Vajpayee. He did not field any questions from the press. In all the interaction, if it can be called that, lasted around 30 minutes.

Text: Shobha Warrier

Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Also see: Campaigner No 1

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