Sep 13 2011
I’ve never been a big fan of Ajith but things have gotten worse the last few years. The quality of his last few movies has ranged from ‘watchable'(Billa) to ‘atrocious'(Aazhvar) and I can’t remember the last time he delivered a certified hit. Worse, the actor’s performance in the movies was dull and lifeless and there was no energy or joy in his acting. I admired a number of his actions and activities on the personal front but those didn’t translate to liking what he was giving us onscreen. But Mankatha has made me a fan of the actor overnight and the main reason for that is the role he has played in the film. Its ironic that he had to take on the least likeable character of his career for me to like him the most!
Its easy to see why. We’ve been conditioned for years by our heroes playing goody-goody roles and staying away from even the faintest shades of gray. Granted our directors have managed to deliver several good movies while working within those constraints but we have reached the point where the movies with the big stars offer no real surprises. So the nature of Ajith’s character – the way he cheated Trisha and ruthlessly eliminated his teammates – came as a wonderful surprise. The rumors about his character notwithstanding, I kept waiting for some attempt at redemption, some twist that would show his character in a good light. But as the end credits scrolled past without any such act, I was truly surprised.
Ofcourse this is not the first time a Tamil hero has played a bad guy. After doing several similar movies and playing the same character with minor variations over and over again, I’m guessing that it must be liberating for our actors to play a role with gray or negative shades. But its rare to find a popular hero play an outright bad role with no redeeming qualities. Right now I can think of only two – Sivaji in Andha NaaL and Mohan in Nooraavadhu NaaL.
The main reason for our heroes not attempting roles with negative shades is their desire to adhere to an image. One of the ways they get around this and play a negative character is by providing a rationale for the character’s badness. He might steal or even kill but the character earns our sympathy and/or gets us to cheer for him. Sivaji played such a role in Pudhiya Paravai while more recently, Simbhu employed this tactic for his turn as a serial killer in Manmadhan. Vigilantes like Gentleman Arjun and Anniyan Vikram fall into this category too.
The more popular way for our heroes to have their cake and eat it too has been to play a dual role where they can play both the good guy and the bad guy. This allows them to get down and dirty in one role while doing all that’s expected of a Tamil cinema hero in the other. Rajni did this in Enthiran, Kamal in Aalavandhaan, Vijay in Azhagiya Thamizh Magan and Ajith himself in Vaali. Even Satyaraj, who was a popular villain before turning hero, followed this route when he once again played a bad guy in Amaidhi Padai. Its a win-win situation for them since the good guy gets the girl and is left standing at the end while the bad guy invariably gets all the accolades from the audience.
Ajith’s performance in Mankatha is unique because he didn’t go with the aforementioned two options. He was simply a greedy, ruthless man. That’s why his bad guy act might be a small step for cinema but is a giant leap for Tamil cinema. Seeing how much fun it was, all I can say is “Give me more!”
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