A rare melody from movieland

Chennai, Jan. 25: Superstar Rajinikanth today spoke up for Kamal Haasan in a gesture that recalls the title of their first film together, Apoorva Raagangal (Rare Melodies), 38 years ago.

"I know Kamal for 40 years. He does not hurt anyone. The very fact that he screened the film (Vishwaroopam) to Muslim friends ahead of the theatrical release only shows his love and regard for them. So I request them to give up the demand for the ban on the film for which Kamal has spent Rs 100 crore and has invested his sweat and blood," Rajini said in a statement today.

Rare indeed was the voice as the rest of the Tamil film industry mostly played mute spectator to what is turning out to be the biggest challenge for Kamal Haasan in his half-a-century in films as he battles to save Vishwaroopam. But till late tonight, some of the organisations that had sought the ban remained unmoved.

The spy thriller dealing with terrorism has been banned for the time being in Tamil Nadu and screenings were suspended or called off in several southern cities today for fear of backlash from a section of the minorities. But the movie was screened at several places in Kerala amid protests that forced the suspension of some shows. A judge will watch the movie and decide if it can be screened in Tamil Nadu without hurting religious sentiment.

Those familiar with the spellbinding twists and turns in the lives of the two actors will not be surprised by the gesture of Rajini, one of the few actors who belies his super-size screen image and has never allowed himself to be a slave to vanity. Rajini does not wear a wig after work and makes no effort to camouflage his bald pate ' unlike his supernatural onscreen life that has inspired countless jokes and unlike several other superstars in real life.

Still, Rajini's statement stands out because of the friendship that has survived the tests of ego and cut-throat competition that drive the world of movies.

Rajini said in his statement while extending Milad-un-Nabi greetings: "Kamal is not an ordinary artiste. He is a great artiste who has taken Tamil cinema to the global level. I request my Muslim brothers to factor in this and change their stand of demanding a complete ban.

"I request them to help him in releasing the film by having talks with him upon his return (from the US) and by making corrections to the film without affecting its storyline."

Enduring friendships do exist among several other actors and in Bollywood, too. But more often than not, it is bickering and backbiting that gain currency. When Shah Rukh Khan's My Name is Khan had run into trouble with the Shiv Sena in 2010, several sympathetic noises were made but no superstar issued any statement appealing that the mobs be restrained. Actor Shabana Azmi and her poet-lyricist husband Javed Akhtar were among the few Bollywood notables who voiced their protest and supported Khan.

Not that Rajini and Kamal did not face unsparing scrutiny. In southern India, they were the faces of the inescapable "Who's better?" debate in the 1970s, coinciding with similar pan-Indian heartburn matching up Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna and Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath.

Rajini, now 61, started his film career in Apoorva Raagangal in 1975 in which Kamal, now 57, was the hero.

The two have since acted together in nearly 20 movies with Rajini often playing villain or "second hero". "The chemistry they shared in Padhinaaru Vayadhiniley (At Sixteen Years) where Kamal plays a village bum and Rajini the local thug is still part of cinema folklore," recalled film historian Anandan.

A turning point in Rajini's incredible journey is often lost in the sound and fury that accompanied his latter roles and characters. Filmlore has it that it was only after Kamal insisted that Rajini carve out his own niche that the former bus conductor from Bangalore started playing the hero, quickly emerging as a blockbuster action star and eventually becoming one of the most worshipped matinee idols in the world.

Kamal, meanwhile, experimented with movies that challenged his creativity and histrionic ability, often saying that he made slapstick movies to subsidise his more audacious creations.

The two have created their respective niches and fan-following without trying to undermine each other. "I can say with pride and even a hint of arrogance that in spite of our stardom and success, Rajini and I have shared a deep and honest friendship unlike anywhere else in the film world," Kamal had declared when he was felicitated for completing 50 years in cinema. Kamal had entered the field when he was six.

Kamal and Rajini have shared a silent working relationship, ensuring that the release dates of their movies do not clash as that made poor business sense.

After Rajini returned home from life-saving treatment in May 2011, Kamal was the first visitor he chose to meet.

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