In a defining moment before the interval of Venkat Prabhu directed Mankatha, Ajith glowers at us audience and does something that would make Spielberg proud during his Jaws days. I jumped in my seat, never thinking that this actor that I once dismissed as pretty boy would move me, literally.
It has been a long journey for him appearing as, yes, a pretty boy with buggy eyes in Amaravathi, which I must have watched and dismissed as another pallid romance movie, for actor Ajith Kumar, now appearing in his fiftieth film, Mankatha, an event which was visibly celebrated during the title sequence.
Funny though, in the earlier days, actors would wait until their 100th films before celebrating it. Times are much slower, prolific actors are not heroes or leading stars, they are usually comedians. The generation X actors had to settle for lesser films per year, sometimes per two years, and mull about their box office charm before deciding their next venture.
Ajith is no different. More often than not, he was not sure what kind of actor he is going to become. While others opted to become Rajini’s chair dusters or six-packed bipedal, Ajith often just relied on the directors to pull him to this direction and that, and occasionally making personal statements on things affecting his career (and intertwined personal) life.
His weakness has always been his voice, that childish drawl that often killed many important dialogues, if at all those existed in his films. Heck, in his first film he was dubbed by another artist. Subsequently, it was when he is quieter, like the mute character in Valee, or films where he has minimal dialogue like Billa or Aasal (yeah, I liked this film, sue me), where he was effective. But all that is gone now.
Lifelong smoking has put gravel in his voice, and it was most effective in Mankatha. In this film, he is not a lover boy, not a mute desperado, neither is he a stylish anti hero. He is a tubby, greasy, smoking, boozing, cheating swindling, devious suspended cop who is only eyeing after money. To quote George Thorogood, he was bad to the bone.
In the middle of the film, he goes into a long monologue on plotting certain “deaths” - a one man act that not many of his generation actors can pull off - and he snaps at you. If it was in 3D, it would have given me a stroke. It was that effective. The evilness in him looked real. Ajith the actor has finally found his calling.
He, in my opinion, is going to fulfil the need for more three dimensional, shady characters played by leading stars that has been lacking in the industry. Thanks to Venkat Prabhu, the director who also wrote this film, and what appears to be early success of this film, in future we can see Ajith fulfilling that need.
The film itself is a neatly packaged retelling of chaos. Or heist went wrong and the chaos ensued. Chaos first orchestrated by Ajith’s Vinayak character, and what ensues when he lost control of it. It is not a brilliant script, but it warranted enough scenes to keep us, as the cliché goes, edge of the seat. Or in my case, corner of my seat as I was seated at extreme right (not bad crowd at a sleepy neighbourhood cinema).
Besides setbacks like poor comedy from Premgi, unnecessary songs and dances, too many shootouts (who’s shooting at whom is a secret only Venkat Prabhu knows), choppy fight scenes and a poor leading actress who gives tough competition to the timber industry, the film is as engaging as the recent KO that I enjoyed immensely.
Only difference is, you find yourself rooting for a sleazebag. You find yourself biting your nails figuring out what the unkempt, gray haired, cigarette chomping slob is up to next. Yes, the same scumbag played by Ajith. It was a brave effort, to push the gear, nay as the pilots say, “balls to the wall”, attempt in acting and yet still not showing the limitation he already had.
Other cast members gave a considerably wonderful input, especially Arjun, who knew that we are going to see him as the same, good, disciplined heroic cop that he played hundreds of time. That what made the twist in the climax more surprising and entertaining.
Without Ajith, this will be another heist movie. Good movie, but not as entertaining thanks to Ajith’s performance. So, Ajith, you don’t want to be the next Superstar. That chair is still warmed by the 60 year old grandpa’s bum. You don’t want to be the next Kamal. Nobody can. You just be who you are as we saw in this film, a character actor in a leading role, and to quote one of Rajini’s famous lines, be in your own “Tani Vazhi”.
Kudos to Venkat Prabhu in bringing out the best in Ajith. I dismissed the Billa prequel idea whereby the second Ajith was the best in the first Billa. But after seeing this, I really look forward to the badass dude’s formative years in the prequel. Just don’t give me the near heartattack like you did here, dude.