Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Leadership STYLE of Superstar Rajini.

Walking with him in RFC

Director P Vasu explains a scene

With our Guru KB sir - and many colleagues

Kuselan scene

Getting a memento for compering Chandramukhi 200th day function


Think of “Superstar” Rajinikanth and immediately his “style” comes to mind , be it smoking a cigarette, chewing gum, tossing a coin or just delivering a “punch” dialogue. He has developed a unique “method” that even acting Coaches like Stanislavsky or Lee Strasberg would not have thought of. Everything he says or does on screen is watched in awe by millions and that is what makes him a “superstar” – the uncrowned “Pasha” of Indian Cinema – yes , Indian and not Tamil. At an award fuction Shahrukh Khan asked him – “when will I become the Basha ?”  Rajini calmly replied – “wait, your day will come”. Years ago an email did the rounds where his “punch” dialogues were interpreted as “Management tips”. This was even brought out as a book ( by my friend P.C.Bala of Matrix.) . The problem with all this is that the Dialogues were not his own words, but those of a “writer” or a Director – just that, his delivery immortalized those words –

I have had the pleasure and the privilege of interacting with him both socially and professionally and found that he adopts many practices that are excellent for any “Leader” to adopt. I will add that it is something that every human being should adopt.  I have here mentioned just five lessons – you can call them Panja Thanthra …..

Lesson 1.

It was December 1994 and one night I sat down to watch the film “Raghavendra” on Video , by the time I finished it was around 2 AM. I must add that I had not watched the film earlier. The film made a deep impact on me and I went into the “Pooja “ room to sit and meditate , when I opened my eyes I realized that there was no picture of Raghavendra Swamy in my Pooja. A thought came to me like a flash – “Get the Picture from the person responsible for this experience”. I was just a few years old in the Industry ( my first film was Idhayam im 1991)  and wondered how to contact Rajini. Fortuitously my house is opposite the Studio of Dr. S.V.Ramanan , a good friend of Rajini , in fact his son in law Ravi Raghavendar is Mrs.Latha Rajinikanth’s brother.

 I approached Dr. S.V.Ramanan with this story and he promised to help. Within a few weeks I was invited for a “Pongal” dinner at Dr.Ramanan’s and around midnight The Superstar landed up. He joined us in the celebrations as his film “Basha” had released earlier that day to a thunderous welcome by both fans and critics. Rajini was in a very happy frame of mind. The evening went on and I did a little bit of my M.R.Radha mimicry which Rajini enjoyed. Dr.Ramanan called me aside and told the Superstar that I have a request. I narrated the incident and he listened politely and said “I will do something Mohan”. As soon as the Pongal holidays were over I got a call from his office when I was dubbing in the Kavithalaya Studios for a serial and they wanted to know if I would be available at my residence. I told them that I would be at home after lunch. An autorickshaw ( private) pulled up and a young man dressed in spotless white got down with a neatly wrapped parcel. He said his name was Jayaram ( he later joined Vijay as his personal touch up) from Rajini Sir’s office and that he had a Parcel for me from Rajini Sir.

I thanked him and also asked him to convey my thanks to the Superstar. I opened the parcel and it was a beautifully framed picture of Raghavendra Swamy with a note that said “Love, Rajini”. He had made a promise late at night to someone who was and is some 10 rungs lower than him in the hierarchy and yet remembered the promise. I was taken aback by this gesture of his and to this day the picture adorns my Pooja Room.

The lesson – Promise what you can Deliver and Deliver what you Promise.

Lesson 2

Years later we were shooting for Kuselan at the Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad. Every evening Rajini wanted all of us , his colleagues, to take a brisk walk from the location which was a good 3 or 4 Kms away to the Hotel. When some people expressed that they did not bring their walking shoes, he immediately had it bought and given to them. On days when his portions were over  by lunch time , he would go to his room and come back to the location to join the group in walking. He never missed a single day’s walk. He is a tremendously fast walker and many found it tough to keep pace with him so he would walk ahead a few minutes walk back ( actually walk back ie walk in reverse – he said it develops a different set of Muscles ) and join us thus getting his exercise and still not “deserting” the rest. He would regale us with anecdotes and stories but not once will a word that is harsh or critical come out of his mouth even for humour.

Lesson – Set an example with impactful action , ensure your “Team” is well equipped and even though you may be far ahead of your Team do not leave them behind but walk hand in hand and take every last person across the finishing post.

Lesson 3

During the shoot of Kuselan in Ramoji Film City Hyderabad. As we sat waiting for a shot he will join the rest of the group and not sit in the air-conditioned comfort of his caravan. In fact even when his shot was due only around 11 he will come at 9 , with make up. When the Director asked him to relax , he said , what will I do , staring at the 4 walls , at least here I have my friends and we can sit and chat. In fact he would barely speak , but allow all to speak, intently listening to what each and everyone had to say. Any time he had a doubt or clarification he would ask and when he spoke it will be obvious that he has listened to what everyone had to say. It was also clear that when someone started to praise him or eulogise him he did not welcome it and would quickly change the topic.

Lesson – LISTEN to what people have to say. Don’t Listen to just reply to them but to understand them.

Lesson 4

Once we were both sitting and waiting for our shot . Each time someone came, he would stand up and wish them – with both hands folded in a Namaskaram and sit down. As I was sitting with him I too was forced to stand up every time and sit down.

I asked him how he was able to patiently do this as I had counted him getting up and sitting down at least 15-20 times in an hour. His answer was “Is it not Respect (mariyadhai) ? they are coming all the way to wish me ,  anyway it is good exercise ..if you do it then this ( pointing to my large belly ) will not be there” – Then came his characteristic laugh. On a serious note he asked me “ Have you visited Saravanan Sir ( AVM) in his Office ? Such a big man , he will always stand up and receive you . I learnt this from him.”

I have also noticed that he always makes it a point to walk up to your Car and see you off whenever you visit his house. Again a practice he seems to have picked up from Mr.Saravanan. This has happened to me whenever I visited him.

Here allow me to digress – This was in April 1993 – the preview of the film Kalaignan. It was my 2nd or 3rd film and I had not yet turned a professional actor. I had a small role in it as a Psychiatrist. After the preview Sivaji Sir , came out and got into his car , I went to see him off , he called me and asked me – Did I not see you in the film ? I nodded. He went on – “ You are a well educated boy from a highly respectable family , If you are planning to take this up as a career , let me give you one piece of advice – If you give my profession Respect – it will give you lifelong Respect” (Nee en thozhilukku mariyaadhai kuduththa adhu unakku ennaikkum mariyadhai kudukkum).

See how great minds think alike !!!

Lesson – Only when you give Respect will you get Respect.

Lesson 5

One day many of us were waiting , Mr.K.Balachander, our Guru too had come there. The group had Prabhu , Vijayakumar , Nizhalgal Ravi , Madan Bob , Manobala to name a few. Rajini asked us if any of us had a nice “Punch” dialogue as he was supposed to say a line. Many people suggested lines but none impressed him. 
I often use in my Corporate Training sessions a speech by him on “Sankhya Yoga and Director Shankar”  - in it he said – If you retain everything you eat in your body your health will get spoilt, If you retain everything you earn ,  your life will get spoilt”. I reminded him of this line in private and he was very excited, quickly called the Director Mr P.Vasu , who immediately approved it. He asked me to repeat it again and the Assistant Director to note it down. 
After completing the shot , he came back to join the group which had grown to about 30 of us and profusely praised and Thanked me for the “Punch” line. He repeated the line for the benefit of all and said - Nalla Illa ? Mohan Ram Sonnaaru , I immediately pointed out that it was his line and not my original to which he replied  "so what , you are the person who reminded me of it and it is to your credit that these lines are now in the film" . In an assembly of colleagues and Directors to give me such  credit and praise was truly magnanimous of him.

Lesson – Thank people and praise them this will get you their eternal loyalty. Be generous in your praise and miserly in your criticism.

Many Happy Returns Dear “Pasha” – your every action is a lesson and inspiration for many of us. May your leadership “style” enhance the quality of life of many more like me.

In case you are wondering about the last paragraph. This was written by me for the Hindu – they brought out a Rajinikanth special supplement on 12/12/2012 which was sold seperately. 

This is the un edited “full version” , to which I have even added some material and elaborated a bit. 

There are many more things that we can learn from people like the Superstar and I am fortunate to have had the pleasure of his friendship and interactions. I can narrate more incidents , actually lessons , but that is for another day, another blog.


Truth teller said...

A good write up.
You are humble; upfront; friendly; and informative!
It's all , may be due to your exposure with personalities !

Anonymous said...

Loved the writeup. Loved the way you convey powerful leadership lessons through Thalaivar's actions and recounting it from your experiences. Must read for every one! Kudos!

shankara said...

Dear Mohan,

It seems you are one of the Jaallraa camps of Mr Rajani. The article lacks of any logic. It is as if - every action of a successful person is applauded whereas the same by an unsuccessful person is looked down upon or criticized. I would have appreciated if you have done this idol worship of Mahaperiyava or someone more deserving. Hope you have the guts to publish this comment!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.