Location: Sets of the film Amarkalam
Shot: Hero pretends to wound the hand of the heroine.
A knife and a streak of blood — one can say this is what marked the start of the story of a Kollywood couple that many aspire to recreate. The scene was planned, but Shalini’s injury wasn’t. Ajith was only supposed to pretend, but by mistake, Shalini ended up with a gash on her wrist. The unfortunate mistake brought out polar opposite reactions in Ajith and Shalini. Flabbergasted at what had transpired, Ajith was incredibly worried about Shalini. Shalini, on the other hand, was composed. In a case of ‘opposites attract’, sparks flew between the leading couple. For Shalini, it was the intensity of Ajith’s empathy that drew her to him. For Ajith, it was Shalini’s tranquility that made him look at her differently. And thus, began one of Kollywood’s favourite love stories.
However, that wasn’t how Ajith and Shalini met for the first time. One has to dial back earlier for that story. Shalini was preparing for her Grade 12 exams when she was approached for Amarkalam. Fresh from the success of Kadhalukku Mariyadhai, her first Tamil film as the leading lady, Shalini wanted to focus on her academics. But director Saran was keen on pairing Ajith and Shalini. Hence, Ajith had called her to ask her about her decision. Still hesitant to break her studies, Shalini was reluctant to give her nod. Sensing her predicament, Ajith and Saran assured her that the shoot would begin only after her exams. Meanwhile, Kaadhal Mannan had released and Shalini got an invite to attend the premiere of the film. In a 2010 interview, Shalini recounted meeting Ajith at the premiere. “I had gotten my hair curled. He shook my hand and said that curls didn’t suit me well. I was annoyed. Looking at my face, he immediately added ‘Please don’t take it in the wrong sense. The way your hair flew freely in Kadhalukku Mariyadhai looked really good.’ I liked the honesty with which he spoke,” Shalini had said.
Shortly after the Amarkalam incident, Ajith realised that Shalini was the woman he wanted to be with. In an interview, the Thala of Kollywood mentioned Shalini as his sea. “I am like a river. My life has taken several turns, clashed with several rocks and am carrying a lot of things on my shoulders. I have now found the sea for me. I believe that this would help me calm down and channelise my spirit,” said Ajith in a 1999 interview to a Tamil magazine.
The couple waited for Shalini to finish her commitments before getting hitched. A celebrated child artist and a successful heroine, Shalini decided to quit films in her prime. “I enjoyed acting but Ajith was more tempting. I had no qualms about quitting. I am not the kind of person who could manage a home and an acting career. I was very clear about my priorities and it is very peaceful,” she said in a 2009 interview with JFW. She also mentions that it feels good when people tell her that they miss her onscreen. “I feel I did the right thing otherwise it wouldn’t be this way. This has earned me a lot of respect,” she had said.
The couple now has two children — Anoushka and Aadhik. In an industry where romances are turbulent, the story of Shalini and Ajith is one for the ages.