Movie buffs, your friendly neighbourhood macho is the new feminist in town.
Yes, you heard it right. Ajith Kumar's Nerkonda Paarvai, a remake of Pink -- which had Amitabh Bachchan and Tapsee Pannu in lead roles--would vouch for that.
Given that Bachchan could easily pull off any character, Pink, released in 2016, came to be known as more of a Tapsee Pannu act.
When producer Boney Kapoor announced in 2018 that Pink would be remade in Tamil as Nerkonda Paarvai – meaning direct gaze – Kollywood was anxious to know lead actor. Shradha Srinath's casting as the female lead was widely welcomed but doubts were raised about Ajith, a mass hero, in the lead role.
How could Thala – as Ajith is known among his fans - pull off a character which had grabbed attention with intelligence and prudence than mass appeal.
In a statement, Boney Kapoor revealed that it was late actor Sridevi's wish that her husband produce a film with Ajith in Tamil. He also revealed that the suggestion to remake Pink in Tamil came from none other than Ajith.
If you have seen Ajith in a cameo role in English Vinglish's Tamil version, there would have no room for second thoughts.
Incidentally, Ajith had reprised the role of Amitabh Bachchan in English Vinglish's Tamil version too.
In Nerkonda Paarvai, Ajith turns out to be class act. Unlike the original, Ajith's character was given an insight which develops from his background.
In Pink, Bachachan's character is just a lawyer and the film-makers did not pan his background unlike in Nerkonda Paarvai, in which Ajith is shattered by the demise of his wife (Vidya Balan) plunging him into depression.
Of course, Nerkonda Paarvai has elements designed to charm Ajith's legion of fans, but that has been done with elan.
The fight scenes and the pent-up anger of the protagonist battling depression following a family trauma is unleashed to the audience with intensity.
Gradually, braving medication and the resultant lack of focus, the friendly neighbourhood lawyer embarks on a mission that has its moorings steeped in feminism.
Ajith Kumar sums up the message that 'No Means No' from a feminist perspective convincingly - the film-makers leave no room for any doubts about that.
The plot revolves around a case in which there is a molestation of a woman by a rich spoiled brat and his friends. The influential rich-kids then mount pressure on the victim and her friends - three independent woman who stay together while eking out a livelihood. With their clout, the case gets a twist as an extortion attempt by 'women of suspect character', completely negating the charges of the women. The lawyer protagonist played by Ajith needs to shatter the misogynistic mould of such a thought process manoeuvring through the potholes of law.
Until Vaali in 1999, Ajith had mostly dabbled with romantic films.
It was only by the beginning of the new century that he changed track to the action-drama zone with the 'V' series (Veeram 2014, Vedalam 2015, Vivegam 2017, Viswasam 2019). Rather than 'content-driven' movies, the focus perhaps was on the money-spinning box office exploiting his fan base.
What makes the Nerkonda Paarvai effort noteworthy is that he has seamlessly managed to shed his comfort zone without disappointing his fans. Ajith cannot afford to disappoint his huge fan base. On the contrary, Bachchan, the tall figure in Indian cinema, doesn't have to worry about them.
The lesson Nerkonda Paarvai ushers in is that superstars can sync the objectives of provoking thought without irking fans.
This makes more sense at a time when many superstars are seen promoting misogyny in their films.
It is another matter of debate whether films should actually be differentiated and branded as for and against a feminist perspective.
When Mammootty came up with a role like the one in 'Unda', it represented the anti-thesis of his earlier super-cop films. There were no punch-lines, no terrific BGMs, and stylish stunts. Yet 'Mani sir' – the role played by Mammotty - was widely cheered for being the ordinary cop.
So Nerkonda Paarvai is a welcome de tour from machismo-laced star-studded movies that can trigger a windfall at the box office.
Ajith's well-thought out move should be seen as an astonishing progression in a new realm.