He’s known as the undisputed king of opening. And he’s one star who lets his films do the talking rather than him. He’s also hailed as a gentleman by co-stars and a fab cook.
Thala Ajith celebrated his 41st birthday on May 1 and did a quick retrospection with Coimbatore Times of his 20-year career, passions and more. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
It’s been 20 years and 50 films. How has the journey been so far?
No regrets. Yes, I have made good decisions, bad decisions; done good films, bad films. I’ve met some wonderful people and been through some very traumatic experiences but I guess that’s what’s made me the person that I am today. So definitely, no regrets. I have become a fatalist in life so I don’t try to set goals. I believe life is a gift and I want to live it productively. I am not into this numbers game. I am not in competition with anybody; I just want to be productive. It’s as simple as that.
Is there any role you feel you haven’t explored yet or wish to do?
I believe in this saying that ‘in every grain of rice, our name is written’. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be, so why fret? What is now, is what it is.
Do you feel that way about the films you sign now?
If we all knew what the formula was, everybody would have a 100 per cent strike rate. It’s all about things falling into place. There are so many factors that influence the way a film is made and so many reasons why a film is made, sometimes even for the wrong reasons. It’s a combination. You can’t be generic about this question.
So what is your criterion for choosing to do a film?
My compatibility with the producer and director first. If I can’t vibe well with them for five minutes, there’s no way I can spend 50 days of my life with them and vice-versa. No matter how much they are willing to pay or not pay, compatibility is a very important issue for me.
And what about the script?
The script is important too. The final call is always with the producer and director. I never, ever interfere. I may improvise a certain scene but the right of refusal lies with my producer and director.
I read somewhere that ‘Ajith has a tendency to speak his mind which sometimes lands him in controversies’. What’s your take on this?
I am pretty expressive with my emotions. I don’t think something and say something else. I don’t know if it’s something I should be proud of or to watch out for. May be I am not politically correct. I don’t know if that’s a crime.
As far as Bollywood goes, you did only Asoka. Was it a conscious decision not to do Hindi films?
I don’t think so much in foresight, I just live for the moment. Honestly, nothing happened. Maybe Asoka happened because Santosh Sivan wanted me to be a part of it. May be nothing serious came after that, so why worry about it or regret it? I am happy.
Vijay said that he and you were friends off-screen and any apparent rivalry was only on-screen. Is that true of everyone in the industry?
I am sure that’s true for everyone. Sangeetha and Shalini bond very well and our kids spend time together. Professionally also we are pretty much set. I don’t see what the problem is. It hurts me to see fans posting very lewd comments about each other. I hope it stops. It’s appalling for a common person to see such comments on social networking sites. Professional competition will always be there between different genres of actors. But to make personal, lewd comments, it doesn’t go down well. That should stop. Whoever does it first, will be looked upon.
Shahrukh Khan thinks very highly of you, are you friends?
I respect him as an actor; he’s come from very humble beginnings to be where he is today. From what I saw during the making of Asoka, he’s extremely hardworking. It’s a quality which I admire in people. We haven’t really kept in touch but he did call me when we were in Mumbai shooting for Mankatha.
You have seen a lot of ups and downs over the years. How supportive has your wife been? Shalini was an extremely successful actress herself.
She’s been extremely supportive. It’s a very cliched thing to say that she’s my biggest critic, but to be very honest, she has given me the freedom to take my own decisions without trying to influence me or interfere in any way. I’m happy that I have a spouse who believes in me. But, yes, I let her share her doubts and I seek her opinion on what she feels. I value her opinion. When things are going well, a lot of people want to be a part of it, everyone wants a piece of the cake. But when we go through traumatic experiences, there are very few people who stand by you like family and friends. She’s been there always and we have been married for 12 years. In fact, on April 24, we completed 12 years of married life. I’m not an easy person to live with. (Smiles)
In your last interview with CT, you said that you preferred keeping your natural grey. Does that still hold good?
A lot of credit for that goes to Venkat Prabhu. It’s very important for a director to be ballsy enough to say, ‘I’m comfortable with you coming as your natural self’. The credit goes to him as he believed in the script and said, ‘I don’t mind my protagonist playing his age’. Again, for Vishnu’s film, I’ll be playing my age and we have a stylist on board who will give me a very different look from Mankatha. I’m looking forward to it.
Your next film is with the original Billa team – Vishnuvardhan and Nayantara.
I look forward to working with Vishnu. Mr Rathnam, the producer, needs no introduction. There are a lot of expectations. We plan to release the film this Dewali. I believe Arya is also on board. We are just waiting for the official announcement from the producer. After this, I start the Vijaya Productions’ film with Siruthai Siva.
The rumour is that you are doing a movie with Gautham Menon.
You have a lot of passions other than cinema. Racing played a big role in your life and you took breaks in between from movies to focus on that. Do you think that was a good move?
As I told you, no regrets. I indulged in things that I wanted to do. Racing was something I indulged in even before I became an actor. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to pursue something that I dreamt of and made it a reality rather than spend my twilight years sitting in a rocking chair and thinking, ‘I wish I could have done that’. I am happy that I fulfilled my dreams. Aeromodelling again is something I did before I came into films. I have certificates when I was an NCC cadet in 1983-84, where it says I am very good at aeromodelling and rifle shooting. You know, boys will be boys. I don’t think it’s something special. I didn’t let the child in me die, it’s still alive!
Are you happy with what you achieved in racing?
Yes, in terms of my own abilities, I am happy with what I have achieved. Given the fact that I started very late, with 15 surgeries and five on my spine alone, and to have participated at the highest level apart from Formula 1, which is Formula 2. I think with my abilities, I have performed exceptionally well. I am very proud. Now, F1 has come to India and we have two F1 drivers – Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok. We have an F1 Indian team and Armaan Ebrahim. Who would have thought a decade earlier that F1 would come to India? I’m not trying to stake claim, but motorsports is growing in our country and I am happy to be a part of it in some way.
Do you have any plans of getting back to racing?
It’s not on my radar right now, but I don’t know what the future holds.
You also have one more passion which is cooking. Your co-stars and unit members always rave about how you cooked them a nice meal, especially biryani. How did it start?
Obviously, our mother made sure all the boys knew cooking. We would help her out during summer vacations. She would teach us how to roll chapattis and cook curries. That’s how we learnt. My father is also a great cook. Our get-togethers are such that our parents come and cook and we all serve ourselves. It’s never been that we call guests and get food from outside. I guess that kind of rubbed off on us. Even when I call my friends over today, I make sure I cook a meal for them. I remember that I started cooking on sets way back in 1995-96. And I want to thank all those who tweeted and spoke highly about my cooking.
Is biryani your signature dish?
I am OK with cooking anything. I have a habit – when I go to a restaurant and if I like something I’ve eaten, I request the chef to share the recipe. I make sure I then try it out at home, before I make it for guests.
Any resolutions on your birthday?
No resolutions, but just a request to all my fans and those who have been following me for 20 years, be happy and live and let live!