Double role: Luck smiles on duplicate but ‘guru’ Rajinikanth yet to bless him

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Being the duplicate of a superstar means one basks in reflected glory, but there is no real respect, laments Kannan Pillai, the mirror image of Rajinikanth, as he dons the grease paint
By Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi

CHENNAI: He has been eating, drinking and sleeping Rajinikanth since he was in sixth grade. And that is as far as he went in formal education in a local school in Palani town, 100 km north west of the town of Madurai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Kannan Pillai, in his forties, is just another ordinary Tamilian, with a special craze for films bordering on insanity. But when he puts on the makeup and grease paint, he transforms into Rajinikanth, the charismatic superstar the world loves. He then transforms into the mirror image of his idol, his guru and everything rolled into one.

“Rajini Sir is an ocean and I am just a drop.”

Kannan Pillai during a shoot

However, it is his height, or the lack of the crucial three inches that robbed him of a chance to do a double for his idol in the film LIngaa. A trifle sad he is, but Kannan Pillai shrugs it off in a resigned fashion – “this is something I cannot help. This is but one dream which, if it comes true, I hope I would get a chance to meet myguru, Rajinikanth sir”.

‘Thalaivaa’ (leader), as his millions of fans call him, Rajinikanth is the highest-grossing actor in Tamil cinema history, and one of the highest-paid entertainers in India.

“I had met Rajini sir once at his home when I was working at a hotel my uncle ran in T Nagar in Chennai. I shook hands with him and took a photograph too. But it has been so long back that I have lost it,” rues Pillai, as he narrates his story to

Pillai has not met Rajinikanth since he became “Rajinikanth” some two decades ago. For this unskilled and uneducated Tamil-only speaking youth from Tamil Nadu, it is his solitary skills of ‘doing a Rajini’ (that his friends, and fellow workers at his uncle’s hotel vouched for), that has taken him places – to the Gulf, Japan and all over India. He has earned name and fame as ‘junior Rajinikanth’(thanks to his height and ability to bringto life Rajinikanth’s mannerisms and style to life) and made a living out of ‘being Rajinikanth’.


Not only does he make a decent living, he has settled down in Palani town, built a house, and has a tailoring shop and a fancy shop opposite a girls’ college in the town, with the savings he made from entertaining people as the lookalike of Rajinikanth. It is Rajinikanth’s popularity in Japan that a show organiser like Chunky Pandey took him along with his troupe that included actors like Mamata Kulkarni and Gulshan Grover.

Pillai has a string of ad films to his credit wherein he rubbed shoulders with the biggest of celebrities – cricketer MSDhoni (for IPL),Bollywood superstar Amir Khan for Coca Cola commercial, and plenty of solo appearances – all for being the Rajinikanth. He has also appeared in Bollywood commercial films like PyarKiya To DarnaKya with Salman Khan, Ayo Pyar Karen with Saif Ali Khan, and a bit role in Kamal Haasan’s Chachi 420 etc.

“I have done nearly 50 commercial ad films and two feature films in lead role – PanchParinde and Jaggu Dada–that never got released.”

“Rajini sir is my Guru. I am ready to give my life as gurudakshina (the ultimate gift from a pupil to a master).”

Even today, from Palani in deep southern Tamil Nadu, Kannan Pillai is sought after for stage shows, ad films and small roles in films, in north India, “thanks to the contacts I made during my struggling days,” he says. “But I do only good standard stage shows,” he notes, adding: “I had done a show in Dubai along with Anupam Kher sir and comedy king Kapil Sharma. Kapil has become so big now.I am happy for him.”

Felicity with Hindi

“Also because of my Hindi, I have been accepted nationally. There are people here who can imitate Rajinikanth but their inability to speak Hindi confines them to Tamil Nadu and a few Tamil speaking countries like Singapore and Malaysia,” he adds.

Of course, when it comes to the real Rajinikanth, his style, mannerisms and dialogues send fans crazy. Pillai is no different andwhen he dons the role of his guru (master), he is simply unstoppable – naan orudadavachonna, noorudadavachonnaamadiri(if I said one, it’s like saying it 100 times), envazhi, thanivazhi (may way, is different way), and the crowd wants more. He obliges. His typical show run into nearly one hour, packed with Rajinikanth, Rajikanth and moreRajinikanth. “YennaRascala, Mind it” are the standard Rajinikanth punchlines that always send the crowds rooting for more.

The same walk, gait, style…

Pillai has got Rajinikanth’s walk, gait and style and mannerisms to the T, the rolling of the cigarette, the wearing of goggles, the playing with the scarf and dance steps.

His Rajinikanth looks have also got him chances to participate in reality shows on Star One channel – Hello Kaun, PehchanKaunetc.

“I am famous because of Rajinikanth. Jahan who Rajini ji eksamundarhain, meinusmeekboondpanihoon (Rajini sir is an ocean and I am just a drop of water in that ocean),” says the humble man, for whom the life of being a Rajikanth has been good and got him money. However,the one thing he laments is the lookalikes are not accordedthe respect they deserve. But that is the lament of many a dupe or double, who at times risk their lives for the real ones.

How it all started

Kannan Pillai with duplicate Amitabh Bachchan

The Rajinikanth “profession” started for Pillai when he landed in Bombay (as it was called then) in 1993 “to roam around” and was doing his “Rajinikanth gig” just for kicks at the Gateway of India. A crowd had gathered and was enjoying the free show (He would pass the hat along after the show). But fate was about to intervene. A car stopped and out came a person. He approachedhim and his friend S Raju, and said the boss sitting inside the car wanted to see him. This man(manager) was Srirram Gaekwad of Pune and his boss was Raj Kamble, who owned a stage show company. Taken in by his raw talent, Kamble offered him a place in his show and took him to Pune where Pillai trained, polished his act, and learned Hindi.

Happy with the direction his life was taking, Pillai played along. A photo shoot happened in a Bombay hotel and the results were “astounding” for his boss. “I used to write Hindi dialogues in Tamil script. But mostly, my show was style, mannerisms and dance,” says Pillai as he reminisces his maiden show.

“The cigarette fell 10 times and the crowd began to get restive. That was when hisboss came and explained to the audience that in unlike in the films where there are takes and retakes, this is reality and he would master his act soon. And soon, I did,”Pillairecalls,giving the credit to Kamblefor discovering the Rajini in him.

“But for my height. I am 5’7’’ (five feet seven inches) while Rajini sir is 5’10’’’ (five feet 10 inches), which is why I became famous as ‘junior Rajinikanth’,” he explains.

He worked for the stage show for about four years after which he moved to Bombay to sign up with KalakarOrchstra, a famous Bombay stage show company, owned by Sudhir Sinha. “I was doing daily shows, and the initial payment was Rs100 per show.Later, it went upto Rs500,” recalls Pillai, who has performed at almost every famous auditorium in Mumbai – Shivaji Mandir, Birla Maheswari, Dinanath Hall, Baidas Hall, Andheri Complex and the like. “I really became famous as the south Indian superstar Rajinikanth’s mirror image”.

The journey continues

One good thing led to another and he went solo in 1994,doing shows that he got through the contacts he developed in Mumbai and while touring across the world.

In 2004, he got married to Shanmuga Priya, a girl his parents chose and was living happily in Mumbai, where his first son, Vishnu was born. Later in 2010, Kannan moved back to his home town of Palani as he found rearing children was becoming way too difficult for him in Mumbai.

He returned to Palani in 2010 and bought a house there. He also opened a fancy store and his wife runs a tailoring unit in the shop.

“I am now living a normal life, without letting anyone in Palani know about me. I only go out to other cities when there are programmes, film shoots or ad film work. I do that and come back to my normal self, leading a life away from all the hustle and bustle, which I like,” he says.

“I shall be very happy if my son gets educated. He goes to an English medium private CBSE school. My daughter, Aishwarya is just three and she will start KG now.”

Does he do Rajinikanth style acts for his wife Shanmuga Priya? “Oh never! But she has seen all my videosthoughshe has never come to my show,” he replies.

For Pillai, Rajinikanth is the guru he never met. “I learnt everything about him, through papers, television and DVDs. But he is my guru. “

What about gurudakshina (the ultimate gift from a pupil to a master)?

“If I meet him, that is my biggest dream.And I will give anything he asks for. He only has to ask. I am ready to give my life for him, as gurudakshina,” Pillai says in a tone reserved for a reverential figure.

(Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political issues and takes a keen interest in sports as well. He has worked with Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times.)



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