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Recently, in an interview post the release of 3, Dhanush was asked about what he found difficult; doing real-to-life characters like the one in 3 and Mayakkam Enna or the more commercial dashing hero types. He said that doing the ‘mass hero’ was tougher than anything else, because real-life characters are ‘real’, we have seen them around us, experienced emotions similar to theirs, been in their shoes at least a few times in our lives, whereas there was nowhere or no one to refer while playing a ‘mass hero’, which is something completely imaginary. As an actor, he said, it was very tough to those ‘larger than life roles’ than anything else. Coming from a National Award winning actor, this opinion carries immense weight, because it lands a blow at the roots of the beliefs about great acting. We have lived all along believing, thinking and feeling that being as real as possible in front of camera was the ultimate touchstone for an actor. But, here is an actor who has seen both ends of the spectrum saying that it is wrong. I would really love to hear Kamal Haasan’s take on that. Not to prove anybody wrong or right, but just to know what one of the greatest actors of our times thinks about the parameters on which an actor should be judged.

That brings us to another question; what defines a bigger star? Is it the number of good movies that he/she has been part of, or is it the number of bad movies he has been part? Well, that might seem to be a crazy question to ask. But, if you want to know the stature of a star, you should count the number of flops he delivered without suffering the slightest scratch to his star value. The biggest star is the one whose star image remains untouched and unscathed even after delivering the most despicable of movies. It’s a funny theory, but if the definition of a ‘star’ is that of an actor who can draw people into theatres by his mere presence, then the stature of a star should be measured by the movies that have managed to have huge openings in spite of being rank below-average products. A star should be judged by the trust that people place in him, time and again, even after being bitten with bad movies. Of course, a star is born only by delivering a good number of quality entertainers. But, the strength of an actor’s stardom is best tested when he hits a rough patch, where good scripts evade him. If people back him through that rough patch, then his stardom is real.

That is where one gets immense respect and awe for the stature of someone like Ajith. The last decade has been one that had more downs than ups for the star. Honestly speaking, Ajith has been part of some of the most insufferable big budget films of the last decade. Films that seemed to revolve only around his star image, films that had almost nothing to offer but his screen presence. Of course, one cannot forget Vijay too, who has delivered his own share of on-screen insufferables. Had this same number of disappointing results been delivered by stars of a lesser stature, they would have been cooling their heels off at home now. But, the fact that both Ajith and Vijay have stayed with a stable very high market value even amidst all the wrecks is the biggest testimony to their stardom. The proof of Ajith’s stardom is not the fact that Mankatha made many crores at the box office; but the fact that it did so after a decade where he had delivered films like Anjaneya, Jana, Paramasivam, Ji, Aalwar, Aasal, Thirupathi etc. Similarly for Vijay; it is not Nanban’s enormous success that proves his stardom, but the fact that the audience still have faith in him after films like Sura, and Villu.

A look at the last decade will tell us that Ajith has been part of more debacles than Vijay. Even more importantly, Ajith has had more debacles than successes. But, it is amazing to note that not even once has his pedestal suffered even the slightest of threats. That shows that his stardom, a well as Vijay’s, is a fortress that failure finds hard to breach. Even a dissolved fans’ association does not affect it.

To put things into perspective, we should take a look at the adage: ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Yes, if we have to find out who’s tough, the going must get tough first. The going had got tough for both Ajith and Vijay and they have shown that they are tough. Every star has a mid-career crisis where he is poised for everlasting stardom. The not-so-tough ones fritter away from that position of poise, like a generation of actors who were contemporaries to Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Once a star turns that corner, they are tough to stop. Ajith and Vijay seem to have turned that corner. Like one very clinching dialogue from Rocky Balboa, ‘It’s not about how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep going, how much you can take and keep going. That’s how winning is done’. Similarly, for a star, ‘it’s not about how many hits you can deliver, but how hard you can flop and keep going, how many flops you can take and keep your belief. That’s how a star is cemented’. Both Ajith and Vijay have proved their toughness. Who’s bigger; let time decide. And, what is the real touchstone for acting? Well, we would love to have the top actors debate that out.


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