While the entire city is vying to get hold of 'Kabali' tickets in the opening week, theatre owners are competing with each other to invite a 71-year-old retired BMTC bus driver, along with his extended family, to watch the screening at their premises.
The man is P Raj Bahadur, who steered the wheels of the Route 10A bus, on which Rajinikanth worked as a conductor for three years from 1970. “We used to make eight trips between Srinagar and Kempegowda Bus Stand in our shift between 6 am and 2 pm and our friendship was forged then," Bahadur recalls.
“Rajini used to act excellently in plays. I knew he had terrific talent and goaded him to go study film acting in Chennai," he said.
“Back then, Rajinikanth was not that well-off and I helped him study the two-year course. He was then spotted by K Balachander and was cast in 'Apoorva Ragangal'. His career took off instantly from there," Bahadur recalls.
The modest bachelor, still a very close friend of the Tamil superstar, refuses to take credit for his friend's stardom. “He had the talent and made it big. I wanted him to become a star and I am happy beyond words that he made it. Even in my dreams, I never thought he would become such a big star," Bahadur says.
So what are his plans for 'Kabali'? He is yet to decide about the theatre. “The owners tell me if I watch it in their theatre, they get a feel that Rajini is watching it there! I have to watch it on the first day though and then make a call to Rajini to give my opinion about the movie," he said.
Bahadur follows this routine every time Rajini's movies are released. Rajini literally waits to hear his critical analysis, Bahadur claims.
Has stardom changed the Padma Vibushan awardee star in any way? “Not even one bit. We still address each other in singular (the word 'da' in Tamil). Whenever he visits Bengaluru, he asks me to come to the airport and he comes to my house in Chamarajpet and stays with me or we both go to his house near Golf Grounds."
“Rajini has offered to help me out numerous times and even insisted I give up my job as a driver and live with him. I have turned down any offers or help, financial or otherwise, as I feel all that would affect our great friendship," he says.