Such is ‘Thala’ Ajith’s star power that while he rarely makes public appearances, and never gets involved with the marketing of his films, they still take phenomenal openings making him one of the most bankable stars in Tamil cinema.
Born on May 1, 1971 in Hyderabad to a Palakkad Iyer father and a Kolkata Sindhi mother, Ajith completed his higher secondary education and subsequently took up a job to fund his passion for cars, bikes and racing. Working, amongst other things, in a garment export factory, and doing small-time modeling, he began concentrating on the latter as it helped him to survive financially. This led to his first screen role, playing a school boy in the Tamil film, En Veedu En Kanavar (1990). He then acted in the Telugu film, Prema Puthakam (1993) to below average reviews, and then had his voice dubbed by fellow struggler then, ‘Chiyaan’ Vikram in the Tamil film Amaravathi (1993), which was a moderate success. However, an accident while practicing for a motor race, saw him have three major surgeries and largely being bed-ridden for more than a year.
Ajith resumed his acting career with supporting roles in the Aravind Swamy-Revathy starter Paasamalargal (1994) and Pavithra (1994), convincingly playing a cancer patient. After playing Vijay’s friend who commits suicide after being unsuccessful in love, in Rajavin Paravaiyile (1995), Ajith finally broke through in the Tamil film industry with the Mani Ratnam production, Aasai (1995). The film, directed by Vasanth, was a huge success at the box-office even if the scene stealer in the film was Prakash Raj as the major obsessed with Ajith’s girlfriend.
Kadhal Kottai (1996), a love story where the protagonists correspond through letters and only meet in the end, further cemented Ajith’s position in the Tamil film industry. Apart from its huge success at the box office, the film also went on to win the National Awards for Best Tamil Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay (both Agathiyan). Ajith was now a star.
Ajith saw an extremely successful period building a strong fan base between 1996-98 but his next landmark film was undoubtedly SJ Suryah’s Vaali (1999). Ajith played dual roles in the film, including the psychotic younger brother, who covets his elder brother’s wife (Simran), extremely effectively winning his first Filmfare Award for Best Actor. Ajith went from strength to strength post Vaali, winning his second Filmfare Award for Best Actor again playing dual roles – that of a bus conductor and his twin, differently abled – in Villain (2002). In between, he established himself as a mass hero with the success of AR Muragdoss’ Dheena (2001), while being appreciated by the classes as well in Rajiv Menon’s Kandukondain, Kandukondain (2000). His one disappointment in this period was Asoka (2001), his Hindi debut, where he played a strong supporting role to Shah Rukh Khan.
As Ajith began concentrating more on his car racing career , he considerably lessened his film output in the period from 2003 up to 2006. The fact that most of his films flopped at the box office didn’t helped. And to make things worse, Ajith had turned down blockbusters like Saamy (2002), Kaakha Kaakha (2003) and Gajini in this period.
Thankfully for Ajith, the tide turned in 2006. After the reasonable successes of Paramasivan, where he lost about 20 kgs for his role, and Thirulathi, Ajith returned with a bang in KS Ravikumar’s Varaluru, convincingly playing triple roles, including an effeminate dancer. The film saw him get his third Filmfare Award for Best Actor.
Billa (2007), a remake of the 1980 Rajinikanth hit of the same name, itself a remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s Don (1978), established Ajith as one of the most stylish actors in Tamil cinema. The film was extremely successful at the box office. That year Ajith also had a moderate hit with Kireedam co-starring Trisha.
With the flopping of the Main Hoon Na (2004) remake, Aegan (2008), Ajith once again hit a rough patch in his career with Aasal (2010) also failing dismally at the box office. However, he bounced back with Venkat Prabhu’s thriller Mankatha (2011), his 50th film. While the film is strictly average, it is Ajith who rescues it with a deliciously wicked performance with great charm and style in a role that is similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Thereafter, while Billa II (2012), the prequel to Billa, disappointed with lots of style but no substance, the slick Aarambam (2013), massy Veeram (2014), Gautham Vasudev Menon’s final film of his cop trilogy, Yennai Arindhaal (2015), and Vedalam (2015) all did well enough at the box-office reinforcing Ajith’s massive drawing power today among Tamil audiences.
On the personal front, Ajith is married to his co-star of Amarkalam (1999), Shalini. The couple have a daughter, Anoushka, and a son, Aadvik.