Any comparison is meaningless and provokes endless debates. The two have not appeared together in movies for several decades now – a decision that makes a lot of commercial sense and has enabled them to portray their own vision of cinema, accumulating millions of fans along the way.
It is interesting to see the few movies they did together in the late 70s and the fruitful collaboration has provided us great entertainment and cinema.
Together they have appeared in about 18 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi cinema. Typically Kamal starred as the protagonist while Rajni played the antagonist. Eventually Rajni emerged as a popular hero in his own right and, given that twin heroes subjects are rare in Tamil cinema, it made little sense for them to star together any longer.
Also on account of their popularity, such combinations would not have made much commercial sense either if they were to be paid the remuneration they commanded in the market. My Top Three movies would include –
16 Vayathinile (At The Age of Sixteen)
Helmed by Bharathirajaa, known to etch heroine-centric stories set in the countryside, the movie starred Sridevi along with the duo. The story was focussed on Sridevi (Mayil) as an attractive and intelligent girl having starry dreams about her life. Kamal’s role (Chappani) as an innocent, uneducated and unappealing rustic, gains scale and dimension only towards the end of the movie. Rajni’s villainy shines through from the start and his trademark flick of the cigarette and punch line – that he mouths after every act of villainy – Idhu eppadi irukku? (How’s this?) are popular even now.
Aval Appadithan (That’s her nature)
Directed by Rudraiah, this was again a heroine oriented film. Starring Sripriya, the movie was known for its mordant satire and cutting commentary. Kamal, true to type, plays an innocent protagonist who is gradually educated about the true nature of the heroine. Rajni as usual plays a villainous character with elan – he could easily warrant to be described as an ‘MCP’. The real drama is on account of the contrasting narratives voiced by Sripriya and Rajni – Kamal does not add much to the story and is almost like a bystander who watches things happen around him.
The movie has you ‘on-the-edge’ as you savour the witty exchanges and keep wondering on how the film will eventually unfold. It was ahead of its times and did not meet with much success at the box-office. It has become a cult classic now.
It is a K Balachander movie and Sujatha plays the determined protagonist. Rajni has a bigger role in the movie and plays the role of her sadist ex-husband. Kamal is a bit incidental in this movie playing the role of a silent and unrequited lover. He is popularly remembered for his ventriloquism act using the muppet, Junior. Yet again the movie was ahead of its times and did not do well commercially.
The three movies are representative of meaningful cinema that Kamal and Rajni created along with a strong female protagonist character. They were not the typical commercial pot boilers but certain aspects were still typecast. Kamal had established himself as a leading actor and so he played the supporting protagonist. A strong counter that was required to make the script interesting was provided by Rajni who revealed newer dimensions in conveying villainy and wiliness. The formula came to a natural end when Rajni too became established as a popular hero. Kamal paid a fitting tribute to the end of this phase, by appearing a cameo role in ‘Thillu Mullu’ that went on to become a popular comedy movie by Rajni.