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Formula for success?

Never mind the misses. Actor-racer Ajit is determined to make it at the British F3, says PRINCE FREDERICK


ACTOR AJIT KUMAR says his will is as indestructible as an airplane's black box. "Setbacks don't crush me. My first film was a disaster. If I had let the `bad start' influence my thinking, I would not be where I am today." He brings this same "never-say-die" attitude to his overriding passion - motor racing.

His performance in the 2003 Formula BMW Asia Series, though not poor, was nothing much to write home about. With 29 points, he finished 12th in a field of 20. Surprisingly, he is embarking on the much more challenging British F3 Formula Scholarship Class this year. Is he overreaching himself?

"No," says the actor-racer. He is doing this because he feels instinctively that this is what he should do. He is confident of "reaching the highest level of the sport one day" "That I am 32 today does not bother me. The inimitable Fangiou started racing when he was 38."

Brushing aside accusations that he is meting out a step-motherly treatment to cinema, which has given him everything, including the money to take up motor sports, he says he will manage to live comfortably in a halfway house between his two passions. "Unlike the BMW Asia Series, the British F3 Formula will require that I take a sabbatical from cinema. World over, the racing season is from March to September. So I would race during this period and from October to February, I will be acting in films. So, I will be pursuing one goal at a time. Before leaving for the championships this year, I will have finished shooting for all my films." Ajit acted in four films in 1996, five in '97, four in '98, six in '99, three in 2000, four in 2001, three in 2002 and just one in 2003. Interest in "Silver Stone" races is obviously making inroads into his time for the silver screen. Would cinema take second place to motor racing in the future? He says he is as committed to cinema as he is to motor racing, and the two can co-exist. "Cinema has given me everything - money, fame and a beautiful wife. I met Shalini because I was an actor and I dread to think how life would have been if I had married somebody else," says the Taurean. "When you are starting a career, quantity matters. After a point, only quality does. That accounts for the decline in the number of films," he says, adding that despite being a stickler for quality, you may sometimes end up unsuccessful at the box-office.

He says he is sandwiched between two activities, which are gruelling. To the outsider cinema looks greener, he says. Awards and big parties add glamour to the profession. But, in truth, it is among the toughest professions. "Any actor will have to walk through slush, eat out on the street, work in spite of a glaring sun. Believe me, a lightman or an actor or a director is doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world."

Motor-racing, on the other hand, is more dangerous than volunteering for a knife-thrower. "Every time a racer gets into the car, he knows he may not walk out of it alive. If you are killed, no problem! But I have seen drivers who have been maimed for life."

If he is aware of the danger involved, why is he courting it?

"I wish I knew," he smiles. "I transcend myself when I press the pedal to metal... I cannot communicate that feeling to you...putting it simply, I am in my elements when I am racing."

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