Even Rajinikanth's fight scene with the umbrella in Kaala is inspired from my father’s life, claims Jawahar Nadar

With scene-by-scene examples, Mumbai-based journalist Jawahar Nadar tells us how the story of Karikaalan in Kaala is actually based on the life of his father S Thiraviam Nadar, also known as Kaala Set

Nandita Ravi Published :  09th June 2018 12:41 PM   |   Published :   |  09th June 2018 12:41 PM


This story is not a work of fiction. All names, characters and incidents reported in the story are true. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely intentional.

A few days ago, a Mumbai-based journalist, Jawahar Nadar made it to the newspapers himself. He had filed a legal notice against the makers of Kaala, demanding Rs 101 crore in damages, asking that his father Late S Thiraviam Nadar, be credited in one way or the other, as the inspiration behind the film. Jawahar claimed that the film, which has Rajinikanth playing Karikaalan or Kaala, was the story of his father, a well-respected icon in the Dharavi area of Mumbai, where the film was set.

The story was widely reported before the news of the dull opening day reports of Kaala (perhaps the dullest opening for a Rajinikanth film) took over, and Jawahar Nadar and his claims were buried away. He and his sister Vijaylakshmi Nadar (currently in the US), however, refused to let the story die. Despite the Madras High Court rejecting their plea ahead of the release of the film, Jawahar says that they will continue to fight for their cause. “We never had an agenda to file a case, right from the beginning,” he tells us in a phone conversation from Mumbai. “We aren’t asking for royalties. We aren’t asking for a share in the profits that the film makes. We aren’t here to harass anybody. All we ask is our father be acknowledged in some way in the film – a reference point is provided – to a man who selflessly helped the Tamilians in the area. There was no mention of our father, in the teasers or the trailers. We did reach out to the filmmakers, but nothing materialised. We were forced to slap this defamation suit to make our point.”

We are not even interested in the money. We are not asking for royalty.
In fact, we have communicated to the filmmakers that if anyone comes on our behalf asking for money, they are free to turn them away.

Peas in a pod

The similarity between Karikaalan and Thiraviam Nadar, according to Jawahar, is uncanny. “My family and I are huge fans of Rajinikanth ourselves, so there can be no bigger than having our father being played by Rajinikanth on the big screen. Sadly no one knows that our father is the man that Rajinikanth plays, which is why we ask that the filmmakers credit our father,” he says adding, “I admit that I hadn’t watched the film when I had filed the complaint. It was based on what we saw in the trailers and the songs. But I was in Chennai recently to watch the film, and when Rajini came on screen, I was reminded of my father  - from the way he dressed (just replace the black colour with white), right down to his walk, and even the claims that Rajini’s character stakes (like ‘this is our land, and our people should have the right to this land’)  – everything had my father written all over it.”

They (the filmmakers) know, their conscience knows. It is all over the media. They cannot deny the fact that they didn’t know about S Thiraviam Nadar. They shot in Dharavi for a couple of months, and I am dead sure that the people there must have told him tales of my father. 

What’s in a name?

So much so, that Kaala, the name of Rajini’s character in the film, is a direct reference to Kala Seth – which was the late Thiraviam Nadar’s monicker – one he was christened with by the people of Dharavi after he made it big in the jaggery business. “My father used to be called Gudwala (jaggery) Seth because he sold jaggery. He was also called Kaala Seth – because of his skin colour. The reference is right there in the song – Semma Weightu, Kaala Seth,” he says, adding that the film has a shot of Kamraj Memorial High School, which was built by his father in the late ‘60s. Another big similarity, Jawahar points out, is the fight scene in which Rajini uses the umbrella. “Anyone in Dharavi, or any Tamil-dominated area for that matter, who remembers my father, will tell you that he never used to go anywhere without an umbrella, be it rain or shine. I later found out that Pa Ranjith, the director of the film, had in fact conducted ground research in these Tamil dominated areas, to find out about how they had come to the area and established themselves – who was the guiding force behind them, who their point of authority was, etc. When so much effort has been taken, is it so wrong to ask that credit is given where it is due?”

Whatever life he had apart from being our father, he never shared it with us kids.
There were only very few instances where, as kids, we got to see his so-called ‘other’ life, first-hand.

Most of it, we came to know from hearsay.
We used to wonder what 'reputation' people were talking about.

Family flashback

S Thiraviam Nadar and his family in Dharavi, Mumbai

For those who are uninitiated, here’s the full story. In the early 50s a young boy from Tirunelveli came to Mumbai with one-and-a-half-rupees in his pocket, and a head full of dreams. His integrity and his willingness to do any kind of work soon landed him a job in Krishna Glass Works, a glass factory. “I clearly remember Appa telling me this story when I asked him about his early days,” says Jawahar. “He had just got his first salary, some amount of money in cash, and he was on his way back home when he was attacked by a few local goons who tried to steal the money. Never one to give up, my father valiantly fought them off. Everyone was arrested, but since he was the only one who couldn’t speak the local language, Marathi, and he was just let off with a warning. This earned him the respect of the local slum dwellers there. No one had ever stood up to the bullying of local goons before.”

Slowly, but steadily, Thiraviam Nadar’s respect as a ‘fixer’ or a ‘problem solver’ grew among the locals. “In Tamil, we call it katta panchayath. It was a sort of instant justice. People would come to my father to settle their disputes, and he would help them out in a fair manner. Even when it came to his own family, my father ensured that he never took sides. If someone had a dispute against us, and it went to my father, he would only side with what was right, and wouldn’t make any allowances for us, just because we were family,” says Jawahar. But none of that mattered to Thiraviam Nadar, who Jawahar claims, never resorted to violence unless he was forced to. “He always said that he was here to go about his business honestly. Which is why, despite my father being friends with people like Varadarajan Mudaliar and Haji Mastan, he was never on the wrong side of the law.” Interestingly Varadarajan Mudaliar’s story was made into the Mani Ratnam classic Nayakan, starring Kamal Haasan.  

A still from the film with Rajinikanth and Eswari Rao, who plays his wife

And his mother? “My mother was the pillar of our house. She was my father’s biggest support. She was the only one who could stand up to him. In fact, the scene in the film where Selvi (Eswari Rao’s character) stands up to Kaala and says ‘aama aama poduvaru, sandai poduvaru. Innum etthinnu naalu poduvaarunu naanum paakaren’ (Yes, he will fight. Let’s see how long he continues fighting) – is something I have seen my mother tell my father, right in front of my eyes. My mother used to constantly tell him that the kids were growing up and to stop everything. But when someone came to him for help, he could never refuse. There was a point where my father couldn’t speak even properly, he was bedridden, and there were a few people who came to settle an argument, simply in his presence, because they were sure that he would solve their problems. Even in that state, my father called me, and told me what to do to settle their arguement,” recalls an emotional Jawahar.  

My father led a very dignified and respectful life, despite the fact that he wasn’t formally educated. Even today, although I have my own identity, I am known as S Thiraviam Nadar’s son. I cannot allow that reputation to be damaged. I did not want to tarnish his name and more importantly, that is not how my father raised me.

When S Thiraviam Nadar finally breathed his last in 2003, Jawahar remembers how almost the whole of Dharavi had come to pay its respects. “There were thousands of people who came up to me and told me how my father had impacted their lives. Almost all the shops in the area shut down voluntarily, and people just were seen consoling each other. That was the respect that my father commanded,” he recalls.

 At the end of the day, when so many references directly point to the life of S Thiraviam Nadar’s life, why not say it on record, questions Jawahar. “When we saw the trailers and the teasers and the songs, and read reports in the media about the development of the film, we were thrilled. We felt that 15 years after his death, our father’s story is finally being told,” he reiterates.