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March 23, 2000


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'I find it difficult to handle success'

Ajith Ajith came to the Tamil film world from a family that had no connection with films at all. With no godfather to support him or recommend him, or any mentor to advise him. He was injudicious and imprudent in the beginning.

But he learnt from his mistakes and, now, is sensible and cautious in his approach and careful and intelligent in the choice of roles. There is variety in his selection; each new character he plays is quite different from the ones he had done earlier.

In Vaali, his first hit after a series of five flops, he is a deaf-and-dumb man lusting for his younger brother's (also played by Ajith) wife. In Amarkalam, he is an uneducated ruffian, in Nee Varuvaaneya, a loving army officer and now, in Mugavari, he is a very ordinary young man earnestly trying to realise his dream of becoming a music director.

Mugavari is Ajith's sixth hit in a row. But he is not the excited and impulsive person that he used to be. Instead, he is rather composed and collected. He has, indeed, mellowed down as a person.

Shobha Warrier met him in his new, aesthetically designed office. One big photograph of Shalini and another one of Ajith collecting an award from Vijay, his competitor in the film industry, adorn his notice board.

You have had five consecutive hits before Mugavari. Were you nervous before the release of the film?

No, not at all. I think I have stopped being nervous about the outcome of a film. The five consecutive flops in 1997 and the five consecutive hits in 1999 have mellowed me in many ways. I don't get too excited or depressed these days. What is more important to me now is job satisfaction. As far as Mugavari is concerned, I knew it would be a success the moment I heard the script.

Vaali too, was very close to my heart and I gave it everything I had. That was the first time I was playing a dual role and I received a lot of bad publicity initially. People said it was too early for Ajith to do a double role and the film would never get released. There was a lot of scepticism.

Were you not scared to play the role of the elder brother who lusts after his younger brother's wife in Vaali? Of course, you also acted as the younger brother. But was it not a very bold subject?

Ajith You had it in the Ramayana, you had it in the Mahabharata. It was nothing new. If you read the interviews I gave before the release of Vaali, you will find that I was pretty sure about the success of the film. I knew Vaali would silence my critics.

After Vaali came Amarkalam, in which I was playing a bad character. But I was happy with all these films, and happiness and satisfaction were very important to me. The reaction of the audience comes only later.

So personal satisfaction is more important to you now.

(Personal satisfaction) is also important. For me as an actor, that's more important. Success is left to the people. The film might be good and successful, but my character might not be that challenging. It's okay by me. But the actor in me will not be satisfied with that kind of a film. Even though the way Mugavari ended was totally different and offbeat, I personally liked the film and the character a lot.

After playing the brothers in Vaali and a bad thug in Amarkalam, this was a totally different, homely character. In Mugavari, people will relate to me as a part of the family. So, on a personal level, that is much more important.

Much more important than the commercial success of the film?

I don't work for the commercial success of the film. I work to satisfy my producers who give me the money. I work to satisfy the director who has written a script for me. Of course, I have to satisfy the actor in me, but I want to satisfy them first. All of us work together and give something to the public with the hope that they will like it. Then, it is for them to judge.

I know there are a lot of people who want to capitalise on me because I am saleable today. They may think, okay, we will have Ajith in the film to sell it. I don't like to work with such people. I like to work with people who want to make films because they are passionate about films and not because they want to sell films and make money. I am not for people who get the most saleable actor and then the most saleable director and sell the film. I need a producer who will look for a good script. I need a director whose purpose to make a film is not for his survival, but because he loves making films.

Do you feel that is only now that you are able to satisfy the actor in you? It is because you have had five hits in succession?

I don't think so. I had five flops in a row. Still, films came my way. But I did not accept all those films. I was choosy then too. I chose a film like Vaali. I waited for Amarkalam. I waited for Aanada Poongatru.

Jyothika and Ajith in Mugavari It is not that I act only in films that are 100 per cent commercial. Now I am doing a film called Citizen. I have given seven months of my time only to that film. I am planning to completely concentrate on Citizen.

Now, I want to do only one film at a time. That's what I am doing now. I had to share my time between Mugavari and Rajiv Menon's Kandu Konden, Kandu Konden this time. Two films, that's the maximum I will do at a time.

In Citizen, I have seven different getups. That's one film I am really looking forward to. I am doing that film to win an award, a National award! I want a National award.

Let me ask you about Mugavari. The protagonist of the film, Sridhar, had a dream but couldn't realise it in the end. It was quite an unusual end for a Tamil film. Were you doubtful about its acceptance by the audience who were fed on happy endings?

Do you know some people told me even before the release of the film that the film wouldn't do well? They felt people wouldn't like the ending. But my producer, my director and I were confident that it would do well.

So many people come to this city with an ambition to become an actor or a music director or a singer or... the list is long. But how many make it big? Not everybody succeeds. How many Rajinikanths are there? Just one. How many MGRs are there? Just one. How many Kamals? Just one.

For every Rajinikath, there are hundreds of people who have landed on the streets because they tried to pursue their goal of becoming an actor. For one A R Rahman, there are a hundred unsuccessful music directors here. There are so many people who come to Madras with the dream of becoming somebody, but they land up being nobody.

The intention of making Mugavari was to bring people face to face with to reality. For several years, we have had this hero worship. We had films where heroes are projected as a supermen, which is not the case in real life. Just look at Malayalam films. They portray the hero as a very, very normal human being who behaves like a normal person. There, the hero can also get beaten up.

But, in all our films, the hero wins in the end. Does everybody win in life? In Mugavari, the hero does not realise his dream. He sacrifices his dream to support his family, the family which has done everything for him.

Were you confident that people would identify with the character?

Every single person will. He could be a cricketer, he could be a businessman, he could be a musician and he could be a rickshaw-puller. Mugavari is a realistic and believable film.

Ajith Do you see yourself in the film? You wanted to be a racing car driver, you wanted to be a cricketer...

Yes, I saw myself in Sridhar. I wanted to be a garment exporter. I wanted to be a motor-racer. Yes, I could relate to Sridhar. So I was not acting, I was relating to his dreams. I was just being myself. But when I saw the film for the first time, I couldn't see myself on the screen. I saw only Sridhar.

With this kind of an offbeat end, do you think you will be able to change the kind of Tamil films that are made now?

No, I am not here to change anything. I am here to satisfy the people, the producer, the director and myself as an actor. I am just doing a job.

See, winning for the first time is easy but maintaining it is so difficult. I find it difficult to handle success than failure.

Do you feel a lot of pressure now?

I feel a lot of pressure now. To be honest, I have lost my sleep. When I was not doing well, I was sleeping much more peacefully because I had nothing to lose. But now, after six successful films, it is very difficult.

That is why I asked in the beginning -- were you nervous?

The pressure is always there. The nervousness is there. But I don't work with the thought of making a film a grosser. But, as far as Vaali and Mugavari were concerned, I was sure that they would be successful. That's why I gifted a Santro each to both the directors before the release of the films. That was because I was very happy with them and the film. I am just giving you an example.

When you were down, there was a lot of criticism against you. Now that your films are doing well, everybody is complimenting you. Do you feel the attitude of the people changes once a person is successful?

Everybody knows whatever little success I have achieved today is after a lot of hardship and struggle. The audience knows this man went through failure, a bad relationship and three surgeries on his back. They know he lost a lot of money and he is on his own and he doesn't have any godfather in the industry. In spite of all the odds against me, I came back. I will not say, I fought back. I came back. I didn't come back because people were sympathetic to me or they felt sorry for me. I came back because I gave good films to them.

Ajith in Mugavari There are two films I am looking forward to. One is Rajiv Menon's Kandu Konden, Kandu Konden. But it will not be an Ajith film. It will be A R Rahman, the musician, and Rajiv Menon, the technician's film. The star cast is big with Mammootty, Tabu, Aishwarya Rai, etc, in it.

But I can confidently call the next film my film. It is produced by R B Choudhary and I play the role of an army recruit. We shot with actual recruits. I cut my hair short, I underwent physical training and weapon training. We did the passing out parade with the actual recruits. It is going to be released on May 1, my birthday. Last year, we released Vaali on that day and it was a success. So, this year, we are releasing this film.

Are you superstitious?

I am not superstitious. I am God-fearing and I believe in astrology.

You said the success of your films makes you happy. Does the failure of your competitors' films make you happy? Of late, all your films are successful but Vijay's films are failing at the box office.

I know only one thing. When I was doing badly, he was doing well. Today, I feel bad that they are criticising him when they shouldn't be. They should be encouraging him. When a man is doing badly, you should bring back his confidence.

I try to sympathise with him because I know what it is to go through a string of failures. The feeling is very bad. But, believe me, it is a circle. I tell you, Vijay is going to come back with lots of hits. He is just going through a bad phase, that's all.

Yes, there is a lot of competition between Vijay and me and I respect the competition.

Do you enjoy the competition?

I do. I enjoy the competition because competition is what gets both of us going. There is not one bit of jealousy between the two of us.


Honestly. We talk to each other. We are friends. I don't encourage anyone to bitch about him in my office. I like people telling me whether my film is good or bad, but not about the box office failure of his films. The moment I hear somebody bitching about any other actor, I ask them to get out of my office. I respect my competition.

How do you feel about the fact that your fiancee is acting with Vijay?

It is purely professional. I know where my relationship with Shalini stands and I don't feel threatened by anybody.

When are you getting married?

Very soon, on April 24.

The Mugavari review
Pyaar to hona hi tha!
Bad back, great future

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