Adios, Captain Vijayakant: The quintessential cop and crusader on-screen

A look at Vijayakant’s three-decade film career pays tribute to a role he mastered — the man in uniform who fights for justice

December 28, 2023 05:27 pm | Updated December 29, 2023 03:26 pm IST

Stills of Vijayakant as police officer in’Sethupathi IPS’, ‘Maanagara Kaaval’, ‘Captain Prabhakaran’ and ‘Virudhagiri’

Stills of Vijayakant as police officer in’Sethupathi IPS’, ‘Maanagara Kaaval’, ‘Captain Prabhakaran’ and ‘Virudhagiri’

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that for every other cop you come across in modern-day Tamil cinema, there might be a Vijayakant cop movie that shares some degree of similarity. Widely known for his stellar portrayals of the silver screen man-in-uniform (the star has donned the khaki in over 30 titles), ‘Captain’ personified valour and patriotism in several of his films. On one hand, he had a string of commercial entertainers like January 1 and Chatriyan, and then there were the more niche attempts like Oomai Vizhigal that tasted success.

Vijayakant, the honest cop-turned-vigilante

Oru kutravaali police aaga mudiyadhu. Aana oru police kutravaali aagaalam.” (A criminal cannot become a cop, but a cop can be a criminal). This is the first of many iconic dialogues of khaki-clad Vijayakant, and this one came in his 1982 Rama Narayanan-directed movie Sivantha Kankal. Batting for the rights of industrial labourers, the film showed him questioning the discouraging attitude against police amongst common folk while also having him face a corrupt system that makes people lose their faith in the police. This has been a recurring theme in many of the films that followed; the stories featured the star hanging up his police boots to take the approach of a vigilante to seek justice. 1983’s Saatchi, Vijayakant’s sixth collaboration with SV Chandrasekhar, was one such film that saw him remove his uniform to be freed from its restraints.

Also Read: Vijayakant’s funeral LIVE updates | Thousands gather to pay their last respects

Who other than Captain could enter the office of IG as a suspended DCP ‘Honest’ Raj only to call him out as a political puppet? That’s 1990’s Pulan Visaranai for you, in which he takes on a criminal inspired by real-life serial killer Auto Shankar. 1994’s Honest Raj also had him remove the uniform but on a quest for vengeance over the death of his mother and wife. In 1991’s Maanagara Kaaval, despite getting suspended, ACP Subhash goes on a mission to right his wrongs by capturing an elusive gang of criminals who are helped by a mole among the higher ranks of the police.

Revenge and hanging the boots might be a common theme in most of these films, but when Captain decided to rejoin the police force and take the legal route to exact revenge, the result was an explosive blockbuster in the form of Chatriyan (1990), directed by K Subash; that scene involving the star shooting a shield will always be a show-stealer.

Vijayakant, the cop who always stood for women

Considered popular for championing feminist themes, many of his cop roles had him fight against issues faced by women. The aforementioned Pulan Visaranai, had the star run after a serial killer who abducted and sexually assaulted young women, eventually forcing them into prositution

Puthiya Theerpu, a much earlier attempt in 1985, took on the issue of forced sex work directly. The film batted for the rehabilitation of the victims and stood against the harmful notions that work against them in society. His last film as a leading man, 2010’s Virudhagiri, the only film he directed, might have been a debacle but that he wrote a story against human traffickers who prey upon transwomen and women showed that ‘Puratchi Kalaignar’ has indeed stood tall in his views on gender and gender politics.

Vijayakant, the cop who saves the day (and nation)

Vijayakant playing a cop to save the nation from terrorism or a serial threat is a favourite sub-genre for many fans. His 100th film, 1991’s Captain Prabhakaran which earned him the beloved moniker of ‘Captain’, had him fight a nefarious forest brigand (said to be inspired by the infamous Veerappan) and corrupt politicians who aided the criminal for their own benefit.

The action-heavy Sethupathi IPS (1994) featured some Mission Impossible-esque stunt sequences and a climax set inside a hijacked aircraft. One of the biggest blockbusters of the star, it had him take down a unique enemy group to save the nation: Indians trained in foreign countries.

Of all the titles that followed this suit, the one that is most popular in public memory is Vallarasu (2000), in which he thwarted the efforts of a Pakistani terrorist group that was being helped by a local politician. Its spiritual sequel Narasimha — released the following year — might have not done well at the box office, but holds a special place in Tamil pop culture.

Also read: Vijayakant’s films featured some of the finest songs, from ‘Antha Vanatha Pola’ to ‘Rasathi Unna Kanatha Nenju’

Vijayakant, the cop in dual roles

The double-action films of the star have a following of their own. Though most of these dual role projects only earned average success at the box office, the titles are fascinating to look back at.

K Rangaraj’s 1989 film Dharmam Vellum, for instance, was an emotional story that featured Vijayakant as a father and son. On one hand, the son wages an earned battle to free his mother from prison, while the father, a police officer, is torn with guilt on having stood as a witness against his wife in pursuit of law. Interestingly, Dharmam Vellum was released alongside another Vijayakant film that featured him as a cop, Rajanadai, directed by SA Chandrasekhar.

Meanwhile, Rajadurai (1993) is another film that featured him as a cop forced to take on his criminal son. The 1998 Veeram Vilanja Mannu featured him as a father (a forest brigand) and his son (a son who later takes over the father). The film spoke about the political ploy behind a man’s venture into sandalwood smuggling, and was considered to be Vijayakant’s attempt to tell the other side of the Veerappan story, after having done a film like Captain Prabhakaran.

Kaalaiyum Neeye Maalaiyum Neeye and Poruthathu Pothum are some other obscure titles in this list, the interesting detail being that the name of the cop he plays in Poruthathu Pothum is Vallarasu, which makes you wonder if it was the inspiration behind the 2000 film. But think dual-role Vijayakant police film and the title that immediately pops up is Perarasu (2006), thanks to its pop culture reputation. The film features one of the most popular Vijayakant vs Vijayakant face-offs in a story filled with twists and turns.

In his vast filmography, the 30-plus police roles of the star may not necessarily stand out as the most notable of his performances, but that still doesn’t take away the fact that Vijayakant made an ever-lasting impression in khaki. Adios, Captain.

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