Why Ajith and Tabu made a combustible pairing in Kandukondain Kandukondain: Remembering their restrained, yet explosive romance

About 22 years ago, Ajith Kumar, who had begun to show signs of the gruff and tough action hero he is today, played the role of a hot-headed struggling director in Rajiv Menon’s musical Kandukondain Kandukondain. An adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility, with a star cast featuring Tabu, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Abbas and Mammooty. It was the first film I saw of Ajith, and probably why it took me a long time to connect with the massy hero he later became. He was a far cry from the noble and earnest Edward Farrars that Austen had imagined, but Ajith’s irritable Manohar could be perceived as a fresh twist on the character. Replacing the quiet English greenery with the traffic of Chennai and the stress of corporate lives, Ajith and Tabu brought forth a modern story of Elinor and Edward, laced with all the tension you can expect from a Tamil musical.

It was a genius move to cast Ajith opposite Tabu, who played the mature and calmer elder sister, Sowmya, trying to steer her family out of financial hardship and family drama. It was a unique pairing, but the chemistry was particularly enjoyable to watch and re-watch, especially in the song, Enna Solla Pogirai. Looking back today, the video for the track had nothing to do with the story, as it showed Tabu in the desert while Ajith was not allowed to come to her — a strange, peculiar, and yet wistfully symbolic interpretation of their relationship.

Their romance was a quiet celebration, constituting the ‘sense’ part of the Austen’s title, while Aishwarya Rai’s, heady , impulsive and romantic ‘sensibilities’ regarding Abbas and later Mammooty, offered the balance for the film. Manohar and Sowmya fall in love after much misunderstanding, but they cannot settle down until they both have some financial security. Miscommunications arise and Sowmya, who has been convinced since childhood that she is unlucky, believes that Manohar’s film did not work because of her as she had chosen the title. Rather than address the issue with him, she quietly withdraws and only at the end of the film, the emotion bursts forth between the two and they get married. The reconciliation is one of my favourite scenes in the film — as Ajith tries to talk to Tabu, who closes the door on him and tells him to leave. An exhausted and helpless Ajith leaves — but tries one last time, when he sees her at the balcony, and she finally accepts him.

Ajith as a romantic, lovelorn lead is something that deserves a re-watch — it’s how I still tend to think of him, as just a normal man meeting his girlfriend at her workplace, or tearfully asking her to marry him, as she stands at the balcony. He could communicate affection through small glances and gestures, and yet the desperation would break forth like a burst dam when he realised that he might be losing the love of his life. It fits perfectly with Tabu’s quiet and beautifully layered persona—the woman who was struggling to keep it all together, as she didn’t think that she had the luxury to break down in tears. Ajith wasn’t the first choice for the film, as director Rajiv Menon later admitted. Nevertheless he took on the role while Menon read the script to him as he was recuperating in hospital.

In an interview to The Hindu, Menon recalled, “We looked for a couple of actors to play the role of Manohar, the struggling filmmaker. Prashanth was one option, but he said he would prefer playing co-star to Aishwarya Rai and not Tabu. The name of Ajith came up, and I was told that he was injured and recuperating. I visited him at the hospital, and narrated the script to him when he was in bed. He then came on board.”

Ajith and Tabu Ajith and Tabu (Photo: Twitter)

It would have been interesting to see Ajith and Tabu in another romantic and mature drama, though Ajith might have left those days far behind.

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