Ajith – The Kollywood mass sensation is a household name in the south especially Tamil Nadu. What makes ‘Thala’ Ajith (he is affectionately referred as “Thala” by his fans) a darling among millions of his fans across the tamil speaking populace in India? Ajith, a very serious motor sport & aeromodelling aficionado, ventured into cinema only to clear his debts incurred in a garments export venture gone awry. From humble beginnings he has gone on to become one of the most sought-after film icon not only among the cinema-loving youths in Tamil Nadu but also among the vast tamil diaspora across the world.
Soft-spoken, handsome, sophisticated, charismatic, suave, honest, hardworking, outspoken, stylish, reclusive are some of the adjectives usually tagged to him. Few years back he stunned the tamil cine world by dismantling his fan clubs – with an intention to stop the culture of cultivating fan clubs for political means. It was meant to dis-incentivise his faithful fans on hero-worship and get them on to their lives. In an era of monikers, he dropped the prefix “Ultimate Star” from his name, citing to respect viewers maturity. He has consciously stayed away from parties, award functions, public events and leads a closely guarded personal life. The more he remains aloof from his vast ocean of fans, more they crave to know about him.
It was an era before the advent of social media when I watched his movies and instantly took a liking to his acting and his magnetic charisma. Where I grew up in Mumbai, catching up a tamil movie was difficult a decade ago. Tamil movies were only screened in a few theatres with very limited number of shows. I still recollect watching his movie, Red, way back in 2002 amidst only a handful of people in the movie hall in a suburb in Mumbai. Fast forward to 2011, It was the same theatre – now jam packed with fans going crazy and the movie; the blockbuster Mankatha. The mass-star Ajith had arrived!
The current avatar of Ajith took the leap with cult classic Billa – which I had the pleasure to write a blog movie review back then in 2007. Years later Mankatha (which I had reviewed too) further increased his popularity to new heights.
With the steep rise of social media from mid 2000s, Ajith’s popularity has only skyrocketed to dazzling heights. His monstrous fan following on the digital space as well as hundreds and thousands who throng cinema halls to watch his movies have only grown with each passing day. His fan following cuts across caste, creed, gender, geography and religion making him an icon who has been a glue bringing all of them together. These days fans celebrate his milestones, birthday, new movie releases etc on social media with fanfare and furiously trend hashtags which go on to trend globally. Also, one often witnesses ugly hashtag-wars on twitter among his fans and his professional arch-rival Vijay’s fans. Ajith and Vijay, though professional rivals have always had a great amount of respect for each other and have often condemned their respective fans who post lewd comments and make the conversation vitriolic.
So why are fans so crazy about Ajith? Many vouch that he is a true inspiration with his success story scripted out of sheer hardwork and determination to overcome the biggest of hurdles one can ever face. Fans often love their heroes because they wish to emulate them. They wish to emulate his simple demeanour, gentlemanly behaviour and respect he accords to everyone around him. An Ajith film is indeed like a celebration across the various cinema halls in TN and runs to packed audiences. He is also known famously as the “King of Opening” – to attribute his ability to pull people to the theatres which runs to packed audiences setting the cash registers ringing in the box office. He and his directors often are under tremendous pressure from his huge fan following to ensure the film doesn’t turn out to be a disappointment. This lays huge amount of social responsibility on his and his director/producer’s shoulders and one must say Ajith has conducted himself as an ideal inspiration for his fans on and off the screen.
It is quite interesting how in a rare televised interview to NDTV-Hindu eight years ago, the conversation is mostly around his prime passion – motor-racing and how he wishes to popularise it in India. It was always going to be very tough for him to carry on with motorsports and films at the same time. It appears he has now settled down to concentrate more on movies; which has brought him all the fame and stardom. Several surgeries and setbacks have failed to dampen his fighting spirit. It is indeed amazing how much success he has scaled in the world of cinema – which the other lesser stars can only dream to emulate. It is no secret he is the darling of several other actors who look to him for inspiration. It is also a fact that; many actors and directors use his name and reference to him or his movies directly or indirectly in their movies to grab the attention of his huge fan army.
So, Is Ajith currently the No.1 star of Tamil movie industry (a.k.a Kollywood)? Superstar Rajnikant has long been considered the numero uno of Kollywood. Ajith had famously said in an interview way back in 1999 to rediff.com and I quote “Tomorrow Rajnikant may move onto a different field and that seat is going to be vacant. I want the seat and I am bloody arrogant enough to say, ‘I want his place’.” With Rajini stepping into politics, has Ajith’s desire back in 1999 to be the No.1 come true?
Note: This article was originally published on pgurus.com by the same author.