I’m in a state of trance right now. Anything I see doesn’t register. Anyone saying anything goes tangent to my ears. Any ambient noise around is absolutely muted. Anybody appearing in front of me doesn’t really exist at this moment. My heart is fluttering like a butterfly’s wings prancing in a fully bloomed garden not knowing which flower to attend to. If only words were sufficient enough to express this child-like delight. The morning of June 9, 2012 has ceased to be an ordinary one like any other and will remain special to me for as long as my memory can recall. For all the greed and desires that we as humans innately have, no currency or worldly pleasures can give you this unadulterated joy when you get what you silently wish for deep from the heart. The “pursuit” of happiness as coined carefully by the principal author Thomas Jefferson, in the American declaration of Independence in the list of unalienable rights, does happen someday than just being a journey in pursuit of it. That happiness on this day had a name called Ajith Kumar, with whom I got to spend quality time in person, for the first time ever.
I am going to take the liberty of addressing this humble star by his first name for a sheer reader-friendly narrative just as I would tell my close friend about this super exciting meeting. I do hope his fans won’t mind the creative license that I claim momentarily while I would otherwise choose to call an actor of his stature, seniority and stardom as Ajith Sir. My father’s younger brother, Mr. R. Chandramouli, whom I call Mouli Chitappa, re-connected after about 25 years with Ajith. As a youngster, Ajith used to row at Madras Boat Club in his pre-acting days in the mid 80s. He considers the two years that he rowed and trained at Boat Club as a defining period of his life which gave him the mental strength to face the challenges that lay ahead. My Chitappa, who was the Captain of the Club in the mid 80s, recollects how Ajith would go through long boat outings, run from the Boat Club to Muttukadu and undergo strenuous physical exercises. After over two decades, missed calls and messages in the process of getting in touch with Ajith recently were always returned at some point if he was busy shooting. His stardom didn’t have any adverse effect in treating his old associations indifferently. Their meeting was long overdue either in Chennai or Mumbai where my Uncle resides but somehow it never happened due to their clashing schedules. When the date, time and place were all set, my Uncle sought permission from Ajith to bring along his niece too and he gladly accepted. And when Chitappa told me that this meeting is finally happening, that too in Chennai at his residence, I jumped in exhilaration.
We left our house in Royapettah on the D-day and headed towards Thiruvanmiyur where he lives in his self-earned palatial plot with his wife and former actor Shalini, his four year old angel Anushka besides his brother’s family, parents and in-laws all having a separate living space of their own in the same compound. We left without even a proper address or door no. or street name because I was so sure anybody would know his house and give directions and we did reach there without any hassles as guided by the iron-wallahs and flower vendors. The high rise walls extended and painted in white as most part of the house’s interiors, glistened in the sunlight and the gigantic metallic cum wooden door slid open slowly as the camera perched on top of the gate’s sidewall aided the guard from inside the house to approve the visitor’s car and let us in. We entered the compound, got down from the car and proceeded towards what we thought could be the entrance of his residing portion and I noticed 4 other cars (in white again) along with his trailer parked there with number plates totaling his lucky numbers 6 or 1. As we walked further inside, I heard a deep voice from a few feet behind saying ‘Hi please come to this entrance, I stay in this building’. I turned immediately to see a sprinting Ajith reaching out to us, dressed fresh in a breathing white linen shirt teamed up with smart blue jeans, a simple brown strapped watch; a smart black rimmed zero power glasses with casual sand coloured flip flops. He hugged my Uncle and subsequently shook hands with me, greeted us with his million dollar signature smile and led us into his house that has an exclusive room for guests equipped with all facilities. As we sat comfortably on the couch, the first thing Ajith asked was what we would like to have. While we opted for tea and expected his house keepers to serve after a few minutes into the meeting, we were moved to be served by Ajith himself! So unassuming, nonchalant and absolutely no airs about the star that he is to the world. I already felt like I’ve known him for long from the way he made us comfortable and welcomed us with so much warmth.
Just before we had arrived, he was apparently giving finishing touches to the dish prepared for the day and the fact that he considers cooking (practicing for over 20 years now) to be therapeutic, was evident in his relaxed demeanour. Blame it on his impeccable English, clarity of thoughts, lychee-like complexion, smashing looks, groomed in a salt n pepper hair & stubble; it was so easy for me to get lost in admiration while he was talking to my Chitappa about their good old days and referred him respectfully only as Mouli Sir throughout the conversation and never by just the name. Having met quite a few actors in the industry by now on various occasions, there was one thing that set this handsome artist apart from the rest. I was stumped by his humility and the genuineness he exuded. While leading heroes have the tendency to ignore others’ viewpoints and be so full of themselves, here was one who truly became my hero for taking time out to meet, chat and mutually give us the opportunity to put across our perspective on what was being discussed. The difference between hearing and listening is in engaging the mind and registering it at a deeper level before you absorb and respond to what the other person has said. Ajith is that intent listener who lets you speak without cutting you off or just pretending to listen. When he is with you, his mind is nowhere else and all phone calls get diverted unless it’s an emergency. You have his full attention and he is all ears for what you have to say and responds frankly.
What you see is what you get. That implies both figuratively – Ajith the honest person with no pretense and pressure to please people and therefore sound politically correct and literally – Ajith the actor whose on-screen look is not supported by any make up whatsoever for any of his films in the last decade. For someone with sharp features, killer-of-a-smile, perfect dentures, and piercing eyes, Ajith doesn’t need any make-up except the right lighting as aptly identified by cinematographer PC Sreeram while working with him in one of his films. The only point of criticism that is often brought up (for the lack of anything else to pin him down with) is his weight issue but with the amount of health battles he has had to fight at every point and the resultant medication to overcome it, it is his will power that has transformed him into a walking miracle. With the number of complicated spinal and knee surgeries, Ajith’s resilience to swim against the tide, to attempt his own stunts even if it means practicing till 2 a.m in the morning and being ready by 6 a.m for the stunt scene recently shot for his Billa 2 action sequence or his never-say-die attitude to pursue his racing or flying passion (purely with his hard-earned money and never borrowed) puts any 20 something physically fit person to shame.
‘Being’ a star is one thing and ‘behaving’ like a star is another. When you try hard to behave like one, it doesn’t make you the real star anyway. Probably why Ajith insists on standing in queues like anybody else be it for his daughter’s admission at school or for casting his vote. At the airport, if officials offer to take him through a fast track immigration queue, he declines, and stands in line like anyone else. He takes his white Swift car to drive around the city and would rather not use a flashy car. Recently, when dark sun film was banned for car windows, he dutifully changed it to the permissible limit because he believes rules are rules for a movie star or a common man. It was heartening to know that the actor whom I grew up admiring and watching all his movies right from ‘Amaravathy’ turned out to be not just a successful star but a wonderful person, loving husband, doting father, respectful son-in-law, affectionate son, caring brother and a myriad other roles that he plays efficiently off screen as well.
Beyond just ensuring that his immediate family is well taken care of, he also supports various genuine families in need of financial aid for education, kidney transplants, debt trapped workers and many other social causes at large. If you’ve noticed, he has never talked about it or made a big deal out of it unlike others tom tomming their contribution in game shows and movie promotion interviews or at any such given occasion. Even to mention this in my column, I requested his permission simply because he inspires a staggering amount of his fans worldwide and it can have a positive effect by following the values and principles he stands for. He keeps his left hand from not knowing what his right hand gives and guards his good actions closely because the minute you let the world know, in his opinion, it would seem as seeking publicity or pernicious to the genuine intent of the act. What matters most to him is any cause that he supports should come from the heart and not be acted upon for superficial reasons of earning brownie points from the audience. Good karma is in doing things even when nobody notices you doing it and he stands testimony to that. We youngsters in the industry and other stars who behave ostensibly should definitely lap up the values that this self-made man has nurtured over the years.
Ajith has had his share of travelling in the heat and changing 3 buses before reaching his work place – a garment factory in the outskirts – during his early years of working and that struggle continued in various other ways even when he got into films until he became a star. That’s also why he is so grounded today and never lets the success get on to his head. All of us make mistakes in our personal and professional lives but only few like Ajith are bold enough to own up to their actions, be it the choice of films that didn’t do well or his much gossiped social life before his rock-solid wife Shalini gave the stability and support he deserved in his life. When there’s so much to talk about the life and times of Ajith, the opportunity to get to read his auto-biography or the thought of writing Ajith’s biography someday did occur to me at some point during the meeting. But as if he could read my mind, the discreet Ajith justified why there will never be one documenting his life because it will have to be 100% truth with no hidden facts and diplomatic interpretations. Secondly, that truth might harm the others who’ve moved on from his life and started afresh. As if there weren’t enough qualities in him to look up to, his considerate nature and concern for others’ privacy elevated him to another level yet again.
With regard to Ajith’s choice of projects of late and striking the right chord with his unconventional negative shades in Mankaatha, Billa series or his next role in yet another untitled film under discussion, he revels in not just traversing the road less travelled but even laying his own path along the journey. He is daring enough to play roles that suit his age and has no qualms about experimenting with scripts provided he shares a good rapport with the director. After 52 films and 20 years in the industry, he is wise enough to pick the right team and is content with doing just one film at a time. Ajith also believes that his films should entertain the audience and make cinema viewing an enjoyable time rather than subjecting their minds to disturbing scenes of blood, violence and gore that is in ample dosage as it is in real life and reported sensationally across media.
As a growing up teenager smitten by Ajith’s charm and charisma in his ‘Vaali’, ‘Kaadhal Kottai’ and ‘Amarkalam’ days, I managed to meet him a couple of times when I was in school very briefly (which understandably he couldn’t recollect when I mentioned about it) but this was the first time I got to meet him after growing up into a matured independent woman (if I may claim myself to be so) who would know exactly what to talk, how to react and gauge the meeting’s response as it progresses. I expected it to last for 20 mins or at the most 30 mins considering his super squeezed time with the whole wide world waiting in line to get his attention to hear scripts or shoot or dub and so on. Ajith was at his casual best when he opened up beyond just movies ranging from his growing up years to racing on the international circuit to cooking to Vaastu shastra to the country’s education system to social causes and the works that I hardly realised two full hours had gone by exclusively with us.
All good things come to an end and so did this precious time with him but these two hours will be imprinted in my memories and turn into stories that I would narrate to my grandchildren someday. We requested him for the proverbial photo session to take back as souvenirs of this special meeting and he patiently posed while we took turns to click pictures. So much that Ajith even offered to being clicked with my chaffeur who was waiting outside to just get a glimpse of the star as we stepped out to leave. That’s Ajith for you. As for me, he has gifted me one of the most magical days that will always belong to my priceless world of happy memories. The man. The magic. The miracle. The all encompassing, ultimate Ajith.
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