With Nerkonda Paarvai (previously dubbed "Thala59") just a day away, let's take a look at how Ajith Kumar's 'titles' evolved since his first movie, as he grew from an extra to the star that he is today. And by the way, it is more modest than what you might think.
In his 'first' film, Ajith Kumar went uncredited. The year is 1990; 'Thala' was a 19–year old and the film is En Veedu En Kanavar. He briefly appears as school kid, who is made to do sit-ups as some sort of a punishment.
Three years later, in 1993, that Ajith Kumar debuted in both Tamil (Amaravathi) and Telugu (Prema Pusthakam). While the former was the first to a long career in Tamil, with so many films starting with 'A', the latter was his first and last Telugu film.
But that's not the only difference between the Tamil and Telugu industries. While the Tamil film retained his birth name 'Ajith Kumar', the Telugu film seems to have christened him 'Sreekar'.
'Ajith Kumar' (credited name) shared his 5th film–Rajavin Parvaiyile with 'Ilayathalapathy Vijay' (credited name), which was the latter's 5th film too.
Ajith Kumar got his first big break with Aasai (1995); directed by Vasanth and produced by Mani Ratnam.
The success of Aasai led to Ajith being conferred the title of 'Aasai Nayagan' in the following film Vaanmathi which released in the next year.
However, this wasn't a consistent practice. For example, Ajith's next "big success" Kadhal Kottai (1996), co-starring Devayani and Heera Rajagopal, did not feature 'Aasai Nayagan' in the credits.
But, in the following year—1997, we got Ullaasam in which Ajith starred alongside Vikram (who had dubbed for Ajith in his first Tamil film; Amaravathi), didn't have the 'Aasai Mannan' title in the credits. But, Pagaivan which followed in the same year, had it, and in turn Rettai Jadai Vayasu did not have the title. (Fun Trivia: Rettai Jadai Vayasu was the only time Ajith played a character named Vijay).
Why even the the iconic Kaadhal Mannan (1998) didn't have the title. But it instead had a very neat intro-scene—Ajith facing away from the camera, clutching a barbed gate while smoking, only to turn back and give the 'hero look' while his name shows up.
It wasn't till his 25th film–Amarkalam that Ajith was treated to something new. He got the title 'Lucky Star'. But that was another one of Ajith's first-and-last… thank God! 'Lucky Star' sounds so tame compared to 'Thala', no?
But that apart, in those couple of years before 2000, you can find some really unique title cards for Ajith. Unnidathil Ennai Koduthen (1998), starring 'Navarasa Nayagan' Karthik, had Ajith Kumar appear in a "gaurava thottram" (i.e. guest role); while in Thodarum (1999), we get an opening credit which plays over a series of video-games from the 90s, and guess the video game that's playing when Ajith is credited… it is Road Rash (a bike racing game)!
The brilliantly-made Vaalee (1999) also made the fact that it stars two Ajiths pronounced in the title credits. The obsessive twin Deva freaks me out, even though it is a 20-year old film/character. And maybe it is here that Ajith sensed his penchant for grey and dark roles.
Both Anantha Poongatre and Nee Varuvai Ena, released in 1999, and both films had Ajith Kumar share his credits in the same frame with his co-star Karthik and R. Parthiban, respectively. What more? Both films had the 'Aasai Nayagan' moniker for Ajith.
It was with the turn of the new millennium, in Unnai Kodu Ennai Tharuven of 2000 (this time R. Parthiban plays a guest role); Ajith got the new title of 'Ultimate Star', a name that stuck to the majority of his movies in the following decade of 2000s. This happened, inspite of the name 'Thala' becoming massively popular among his fans and public, based on how his character was addressed in Dheena, directed by then-debutant AR Murugadoss, which released as early as 2001. However, ironically, Dheena itself credited Ajith in a very simplistic fashion; 'Ajith' in a plain white font on a black background.
Starting with Citizen (2001); Villain (2002), Anjaneya (2003) and others, all had the same title card where 'Ultimate Star Ajitkumar' would appear over the image of a rotating globe (which reflects sunlight?).
The 2000s decade includes Asoka, Red, Ennai Thalatta Varuvala (a guest role) and Jana all using the 'Ultimate Star' title for Ajitkumar.
Attahasam (2004), like how Johnny (1980) did for Rajini, credited Ajith twice, referencing to his dual role in the film. Talking about Rajini, the remake of the classic and beloved Billa, in 2007, also had Ajith credited as 'Ultimate Star Ajithkumar'.
And finally, it was only in 2011; 10 years after being referred to as 'Thala' for the first-time in Dheena, we got to see the title be transferred onto the screen through Venkat Prabhu's Mankatha, which was also Ajith Kumar's 50th film. The film where Ajith finally came out as the solo, unapologetically ruthless and filthy lead-character, after flirting with milder/sorry/balanced grey characters in Asoka, Villain, Varalaru and Billa, since Vaalee.
And given the success of Mankatha, it seems obvious that the following movies of Ajith Kumar will have different stylized titles of 'Thala', yes? But NO. Surprisingly, in the following eight years since Mankatha, in all those eight movies since, from the highly 'anticipated' Billa 2, to the surprising Viswasam earlier this year; none of the movies had any title adorned over plain 'Ajith Kumar'.
Some of you might feel: "Isn't that how it should be?" Yes, and it is great that it has already started to be that way with a star so big as Ajith.
And the fact that his upcoming movie is Nerkonda Paarvai (an official remake of Pink), maybe we are starting to witness the start of a new culture, and it is great that it is starting with the 'Varalaru' star.