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Actress Khushbu was referring to the reception to Ajith’s film Valimai. In what seemed like a mix of admiration and envy, she tweeted in Tamil: “Only you [Ajith Kumar] draw such crowds.”

On Wednesday (Feb 24) evening, at a theatre in Thoothukudi, there was a large crowd of mostly young men on bikes. They had come to buy tickets.

The next day was houseful at the theatre. All tickets were sold out. Shows were starting late. Power problem, said the security man. It was probably just the difficulty in managing the crowd that was causing delays. The 2:35pm show started at 3pm. As soon as the censor certificate for the film, Valimai came on screen there was a loud cheer.

Valimai Memes

The next big celebration came as a full throated hoot from many fans. That was for Huma Quershi who is by now a familiar actress on Tamil cinema, after her star turn in Rajini’s Kaala.

The loudest cheer was for Ajith making an appearance. He had forbidden the use of the word, Thala (leader) for him, so fans were careful not to say it.

Khushbu didn’t say exactly what the reason for her puzzlement and wonder was. But it was clear. Ajith Kumar is among the most wooden actors in Tamil cinema. A robot could have done better in Valimai.

Shahrukh Khan has said he has just about one other face to show for the camera, one emotion he can present. Ajith Kumar has none. While he is deadpan and blank most of the time, Valimai more than makes up for it with all the bikes whizzing around and blood and gore being unleashed to inject frenzied life.

The reason for Rajini’s or even Vijay’s appeal is obvious. They bring a certain energy, a vitality. Rajini was a live wire in his youth and continues to be one.

But Ajith?

Well, Ajith is a good man. And that’s enough to drive fan frenzy in Tamil Nadu.

Ajith is a star and a celebrity but is down to earth. He has no airs. He is humble. He treats everyone with respect, cooks biryani for the lightboy on the set.

Ajith scorns the trappings of stardom. He genuinely cares for people, helps them. The Thalaa auto you see on Chennai streets has probably come from his largesse.

Valimai Memes

Good guy, Ajith.

For all the young men on bikes, Valimai is a warning and a piece of advice: Be good, love your parents who love you, and do your duty.

It’s the MGR formula reworked: Good guy in real life and good guy on screen. While MGR’s image was in-part, or in large measure, due to orchestrated propaganda by the DMK, in Ajith’s case it looks like the image is the reality.

Ajith is teflon. There is not even a whiff of scandal about him. No gossip. He bought apartments for all the hired help in his house in Thiruvanmiyur.

Was Ajith’s opening shot in Valimai an indication of things to come? He rises up from inside a van and poses – not very different from Jayalalithaa’s vantop election campaigns. His film was released on her birthday.

In the film, Ajith criticizes people who say the system is broken. He is for fixing it, for reforming it, from the inside. His roles are increasingly a hyper presentation of his real life persona.

MGR’s film image was used to create a political career. Vijayakanth showed that can be replicated to an extent.

But Rajini went the other way. He milked his political entry to drive interest towards his film. Instead of using films to enter politics, he used talk of politics to sustain his film career. And he would make statements favouring the state government before each of his film releases to ensure a tax waiver and cheaper tickets.

Valimai is probably just the producers and Ajith Kumar himself milking political talk to sustain the film’s collections.

Valimai Memes



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