"I am a Rajini veriyan (extreme fan)," declares 42-year-old Jayanthi introducing herself in a voice gruff with emotion. "After Amma (J Jayalalithaa), only Rajinikanth will work for the development of women," she says, with conviction.
This mother of three from Trichy works as part of the housekeeping team in a hotel and runs a home just on her meagre salary. But that has done little to stop her from diving head first into responsibilities of over the month-old Rajinikanth Mandram (forum) in her district.
She is among 500 women in the region who have signed forms in support of the actor-turned-politician. Trichy, in fact, has gained the unique distinction of having launched what is touted to be the first-ever Rajini Makkal Magalir Mandram (Rajini Women's Forum) in January.
And ‘veriyan’, a term that is often used to describe intense male fans of actors, has now transgressed gender lines to permeate the clan of female supporters of superstar Rajinikanth.
Male Supporters Shocked
"We were completely shocked by the number of women who turned up on the first day as we distributed registration forms," says Royal Raju, president of Trichy District Rajini Thalam (Fans Welfare Association).
"In fact several of their husbands support the Dravidian parties. When I asked how they were allowed to register with Rajini Mandram, they said that they will ensure their husbands vote for Rajini too." - Royal Raju, President, Trichy District Rajini Thalam
The women members are, in fact, planning a larger event this week to bring in more people to register in the mandram.
On 31 December, Rajinikanth announced his political entry and directed fans to gather supporters for the mandram in their respective districts. Since then, enrollment camps are being conducted across the state and many fan association leaders have told TNM that the target set for the first wave of enrollment is six lakh in every district. The lack of clarity about Rajinikanth's politics seems to have no effect on supporters, irrespective of caste.
"He is a very good man who has a simple lifestyle despite being rich and he will definitely do good for the people." - Jayanti
"We want him to specifically work for women's welfare," she adds.
In the multiple fan meets that Rajinikanth has held over the years, the female representation was almost negligent. A few local fans from Chennai would turn up but fan association positions were only occupied by men. But districts across the state are now seeing women become active in the associations.
And the first-ever women's president of the Rajini Mandram in Vellore district says that she knows why.
Superstar’s Sleeper Cells
"Women fans are like the Superstar's sleeper cells. We were never given a chance to display our loyalty till now," says 40-year-old Sangeetha, an advocate by profession.
"You take any actor, be it Vijay or Ajith, all his fan clubs are led exclusively by men. Women were not given opportunities to even meet Rajinikanth. But now that he is a politician, every one of us, irrespective of gender can demand equal access to him." - Sangeetha, Advocate
In Vellore too, the enrollment work is being taken up by women extensively. "Our target is to reach close to 7 lakh registrations this month and we are going full steam ahead. Perhaps Rajini sir recognised that women will be on his side. That is why he has appointed women presidents in Vellore and Tirunelveli," says Sangeetha.
Currently, she says the number of registration stands close to two lakh.
But what draws these women unquestioningly to an actor-turned-politican who has no experience in administration?
"It is the way he portrays women in his films," says Jayanthi.
Problematic Portrayal of Women
Actor Rajinikanth who had done over 100 films so far has had a wide array of heroines, whose roles have ranged from eye candy to just short of his equal.
His dialogues in films like Padayappa and Baasha for instance have been problematic for sterotyping how a woman should look and behave. This however, does not seem to affect the women fans.
"Whatever he says is for our own good," says Jayanthi, defending the actor.
"When he says a woman should look down and walk, he is just saying that we must stay away from bad things. But when there is any kind of injustice we will definitely look up and fight against it." - Jayanthi
Priya Ramachandran, a homemaker from Ramanathapuram who is leading the enrollment campaign in the district, chooses to draw a comparison to Kamal Haasan when posed the same question.
"When you think of Kamal Haasan based on his films will you even think he is a good man?" asks Priya. "Rajinikanth has always shown women in a decent manner and we know he is good. But we can't say the same for Kamal," she says.
'Spiritual Politics' Tag
But it is not just the Hindu community that is lining up to register support.
Balanamashivayam, president of Ramanathapuram District Rajini Fans' welfare association says, "Muslim women are turning up in hundreds wherever we set up registration desks. We are looking to get close to six lakh registrations by the end of the month."
Women supporters dismiss any notions of religious discrimination that the 'spiritual politics' tag may raise.
"He has already said that his politics is not based on religion or caste. After Mahatma Gandhi, only superstar Rajinikanth sees all humans as equal." - Sangeetha
"In my opinion, when he says spiritual politics, he means clean politics," says Jayanthi. "For a change, everything will be as per law and order," she adds.
The actor has declared that he will be ready to contest in all 232 constituencies. But following this, there has been very little communication from his team to fan associations.
Supporters, however, remain unperturbed. "We are going ahead with the registrations," says Balanamashivayam. "And whenever Rajini chooses to contest, we will make sure he wins."
(This article was originally published on The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)
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