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In the race as always

Ajit is a name to reckon with in the Tamil cinema scenario of today. In this interview to SREEDHAR PILLAI the actor reveals forthrightness, commitment and a rare acumen too.

Ajit... very clear about the dos and don'ts.

AJIT HAS a new passion. It is not a girl or a bike ... it is flying. The star has just obtained a Student Pilot's Licence (SPL) to fly a single engine Cessna A152 aeroplane. Ajit may have left the racing track behind him, but his love for adventure sport remains. He has a garage full of the latest motorcycles and remote-controlled helicopters at his swanky seaside villa in Tiruvanmiyur, a Chennai suburb.

As far as his career is concerned the actor is on a roll. Today in Tamil cinema after Rajnikanth, Ajit is one of the few actors who has star power. Ajit's latest film "Raja" carries mediocre reports but is taking a fantastic `initial' at the box-office all over Tamil Nadu. This means that the distributor is able to recover a large part of his investment in the first week itself.

On the personal front in spite of all those rumours that his marriage is on the rocks, Ajit and Shalini are a lovely young couple with perfect understanding and love for each other. Ajit has weathered many storms and despite setbacks has remained undefeated. He boldly takes all the controversies head-on. Excerpts:

Where have you been hiding of late?

I have just decided not to attend any show or make public appearances for some time. Right now I feel my career requires a lot of attention. I believe that the movie industry is sheer magic and I don't want to expose myself too much.

Heard that you are not attending the show in Malaysia, sponsored by Nadigar Sangam... ?

I went through hell during the early phase of my career. It was then that I decided not to be a part of any group and remain neutral. Whatever I have achieved in life is because of cinema and hence I have great respect for an organisation such as Nadigar Sangam. But as a matter of principle, I will not do any stage shows.

You have an image of being a very arrogant and secretive person...

I am very articulate and do not believe in wasting my time, as well as others'. I am very clear about my views and these may have hurt some people. Is it my fault? I know that there are people in the industry who praise me in person and then stab me in the back.

So you have gone through tough times to reach the top...

Definitely. People started taking me seriously only after "Vaali" happened, before that I suffered a lot. In 1997 five of my films flopped in a row and the industry wrote me off. Today, I am more mature and level headed than ever before and my aim is to come first like in any race (smiles).

Did you enjoy doing intense roles like the ones in "Dheena" and "Citizen"?

I enjoy doing every scene of a film. Today it is more important for me to do some memorable roles. The applause of my fans has become an addiction for me.

Your critics have been tearing you apart for your choice of films like "Red", where you seem to be carrying on long monologues with your fans...

I don't make films for critics, but for the ordinary man who earns around Rs. 100 a day ... he is willing to spend Rs. 30 out of that to see my film. What is entertaining for him may appear unintelligent for critics and the elite. My producers are paying me to bring the common man to the cinema halls and remember ... they form the bulk of today's audience.

Do you have any political ambitions?

Please don't drag me into politics. I have absolutely no political ambitions. As I told you earlier, I make films for the common man and at times some issues that he faces are conveyed through the characters.

Why are you keeping away from interviews, commercials, endorsements and stage shows?

I have been offered obscene amounts to do commercials and stage shows abroad, but as a matter of principle I am against them. I rarely give interviews. I am against doing television interviews or chatting on the net, even to promote my films. This is my personal decision and it is not to hurt or embarrass anybody.

Does producer S. S. Chakravarthy control you?

Chakravarthy is a good friend who stood by me through thick and thin. In private we do have our fights and arguments. Earlier, I tried to dabble in film distribution and burnt my fingers. It was Chakravarthy who showed me the way the film business operates.

How do you react to all the gossip about your marriage with Shalini going kaput?

The best thing that has happened to me till date is my wife, Shalu. We have a perfect understanding and there is no room for such weird gossip in our lives.

Do you have any role models?

Not exactly, my father was my biggest source of inspiration. I was a school dropout from the Asan Memorial School, in Chennai.

I used to be more interested in cars and bikes, right from a very early age and my father put me as an apprentice in an auto workshop.

So tell us about your fascination for car racing, bikes and flying.

I have left the racing track behind, because as an actor I have to be careful about my body and looks.

Though I don't race any longer, I am still passionate about the sport. I have a few bikes and still use them to rush for a shoot or dubbing, as it is easier to manoeuvre through the Chennai traffic.

Recently, I got the student pilot's licence to fly a real Cessna 152 ... it was a thrilling experience. Someday I want to be at the controls of a Boeing 737 or 757!

Are you a religious person?

I believe that there is a power above us, but I am not a fanatic. My father is a Palakkad Iyer my mother a Kolkata Sindhi and my wife Shalu is a Christian! I go to various temples and I accompany my wife to the church on Sundays. What are your other projects?

"Raja" has just been released and is being appreciated. My next film "Villain" is with director K. S. Ravikumar and is a fast-paced revenge story that will be ready for Diwali. Then I am also working with Shaji Kailas in "Thiruda" which is shaping up well.

Where do you see yourself a few years from now?

Everything in my life revolves round my career and I enjoy my work more than anything else. Today I am focussed as far as my career is concerned. My aim is to stimulate the audience into a long-term relationship.

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