Here’s Why ‘AK 47’ Ajith Kumar is Still Top Gun
Ajith Kumar (AK) dares to drop his stardom and re-invent himself. At 47, will he do it again?
Thala (chief, to his fans) Ajith Kumar is a name to reckon with in the Tamil film industry. He’s one of the longest-standing actors (after Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan) in Tamil cinema. He’s belted out consequent hits, and has seen more highs than lows in his career. He’s aged well and has managed to wear his wrinkles and his salt and pepper hair with grace.
But the real reason this ‘Ultimate star’ stays relevant even at 48, is because time and again, he has dared to drop his stardom. And to great effect.
Here’s Ajith, in his first commercial, as an 18-something lad, for hawai chappals.
Third Law: Equal and Opposite Re-Action
Aasai (1995), was the only film thus far that made any recognisable dent in Ajith’s career. If you were a 90’s teen in Tamil Nadu, you’d remember this slew of love stories that took over the industry, like mauve stinger jellyfish, covering the entire decade in cheesy slime.
And then came Vaali, a thriller at heart, shrouded in romance, which was surprisingly fresh. Ajith played a double role, that of the hero, and his speech-and-hearing impaired evil twin. The evil was never over the top. It was credible. This was Ajith’s 23rd film – his true big break.
The movie achieved two things. True to the laws of motion pictures, the public feared the terribly deviant villain, and in equal measure, fell in love with the trusting hero. Ajith’s rise to stardom started here. And despite the occasional ebbs, the rise has been steady.
On a personal note, all through the 90s, I was called the ‘evil twin’, since I was quieter of the two. I liked this ‘joke’ even less, especially because my brother seemed to be enjoying it more than necessary.
Second Law: ‘Mankatha’, the Hard Push to Move Faster
Imagine Asha Parekh as a vamp. Imagine Nana Patekar as Singham. Imagine Diljit Dosanjh play a tam-brahm from Mylapore. Mind-boggling? Thought so.
Ajith’s character in the 2011 dark heist flick Mankatha was equally outlandish.
At the peak of his stardom, he decides to drop the Thala and the ‘Ultimate Star’ additions to his name in the credits, and plays a corrupt cop, without a single honest bone in his body.
Did this alienate his fans in rural Tamil Nadu? Deviation from the usual mass-masala formula has resulted in massive flops for even stalwarts like Rajinikanth, Vijay and Sivaji Ganesan. But in Ajith’s case, playing a negative role on screen somehow worked in his favour. This was in part due to the rising number of pubescent and 20-somethings in his fan base, with a much wider exposure in terms of content, and a sort of disillusionment with staid hero roles.
Ajith is also a well-known philanthropist in real life, with a penchant for being nice to strangers, and extremely familial with literally everyone on set. Unlike Rajinikanth, who is impeccable and beyond reach, Ajith has always been approachable. On set. He’s more of a recluse than Rajinikanth in real life, and doesn’t show up even to promote his own films.
First Law: To Set Career in Motion, Think Hatke
With monickers like ‘ultimate star’, one would imagine that life is set. This is 2015. Ajith is sitting on top of three Filmfare Best Actor awards, numerous nominations, yearly blockbusters (One movie per year. Huge blockbuster, ala Sallu bhai). And then GVM happens.
GVM – for those who came in late – is Gautham Vasudev Menon, a tamil film director, who’s basically makes two-hour long ad films for film stars of his choice. From Minnale (2000), which made Madhavan the ‘chocolate boy’ of Tamil cinema, to Vettayadu Vilayadu that brought back Kamal Haasan’s cool guy status after the confusion that was Mumbai Express, GVM is the star re-vamper.
Yennai Arindhal saw Ajith Kumar as a police officer (a recurring theme with GVM) donning three completely different looks. Ajith Kumar spews expletives and bullets with equal ease and style in this one, and manages to look good while he’s at it.
The Season of the ‘V’s With Siva
Director Siva is the 'Jigarthanda’ of Tamil cinema. Like the coolant, his movies are a refreshing mix of flavours and textures that don’t really make sense, but do deliver. The point here though, is that he’s extremely regional in his sensibilities. Since 2014 (Veeram), 2015 (Vedalam), 2017 (Vivegam), he’s only made films with Ajith Kumar, and vice versa. All of the films have been blockbusters, and are in a way, filling the void that Rajinikanth’s mass-masala self has left behind; now that Rajinikanth has accepted his age, and has done away with punch dialogues.
At 47, Ajith Kumar has come a long way from his career as a race-car driver, which was marred with quite a few near-death accidents. But when it comes to movies, he’s got his feet firmly dug in for at least another decade. Here’s hoping he exits the ‘V’ phase at least by next year (Siva’s Viswasam hits the floors in June), and re-invents himself. Again!
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