Vijayakant: The ‘angry young man‘ of Kollywood who turned into a mass hero

Quite in the MGR mould, Vijayakant who entered Tamil cinema as a villain, went on to carefully choose roles from the angry young man, to honest cop, and lovable patriarch - and seemed to have a strategy chalked out, one that would take him on a political journey in the future.

December 28, 2023 10:06 am | Updated December 29, 2023 10:42 am IST - Chennai

Vijayakant in a still from  “Vanchinathan”.

Vijayakant in a still from “Vanchinathan”.

Vijayakant, the actor who carved out a niche for himself on the silver screen in the heydays of Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan, had started his career as a villain in an almost unknown film, Inikkum Ilamai. In later years he played multiple roles and is fondly remembered for his portrayal of lead characters in action movies, village-based dramas, and a few notable roles as a romantic lead, commanding a huge fan following, especially in rural areas and small towns.

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

Angry young man from small town

Born Vijayaraj in Madurai, the dark skinned and well-built young man, became popular initially as Vijayakant, a screen name given by M.A. Kaja, the director of his first film Inikkum llamai, as around the same time there were two other emerging actors with similar sounding names.

Arguably, Vijayakant’s first major hit and one which is remembered even today is Sattam Oru Iruttarai, which was directed by S.A. Chandrasekar, father of actor Vijay. Just a cursory look at the titles of some of the movies he starred in the 80s - such as Sivappu Malli (Red Jasmine), Jaadhikku Oru Needhi (Law for each caste), Sattam Sirikkiradhu (Law is Laughing), Alai Osai (Sound of Waves), Engal Kural (Our Voice), Neethiyin Maruppakkam (Other Side of Law), Enakku Naane Needhipathi (I am my own Judge) – will show how Vijayakant propelled his career by playing ‘angry young man’ roles, who fought against the injustice meted out to ordinary people by the justice system, against discrimination in society and showcased resistance.

The song ‘Poradada Valendhada’ in Alai Osai became an anthem of resistance for the Dalit communities in the southern districts against other backward castes who were exerting their dominance over Dalits. The 1980s also saw him perform well in roles as a romantic hero in Amman Kovil Kizhakkale and Paatukku Oru Thalaivan.

The honest cop who ‘kicks‘ injustice out

In the 1990s, Vijayakant reinvented himself from ‘angry young man’ roles to ‘honest police officer’ roles in films that showcased his ability to perform well in action sequences. He was especially known for his ‘kicks’ in action sequences.

Vijayakant had two releases where he played an honest cop – Pulan Visaranai, in which he played the role of DCP ‘Honest’ Raj and Chatriyan (ACP Panneer Selvam) – in 1990. Throughout the 90s, Vijayakant was seen in movies such as Captain Prabhakaran, in which he played a forest officer tasked with nabbing a sandalwood smuggler modelled on real-life Veerappan. He came to be affectionately called ‘Captain’ following his stellar portrayal of the title role in the film.

In Maanagara Kaval, Sethupathi IPS and Alexander he tasted tremendous success before playing the hit role as village head man in Chinna Gounder (1992).

As an established actor in 2000s, Vijayakant delivered the biggest hit in his career with ‘Vanathai Pola’ and followed it up with another cop movie titled Vallarasu, which was also a huge hit. After a few average grossers such as Vanchinathan and a highly-trolled, Narasimha, Vijayakant’s decision to join hands with filmmaker A.R. Murugadoss in Ramana made him the most bankable actor by 2002.

From Kodambakkam to Fort St. George

While he had a few forgettable films after 2002 with films such as Thennavan, Gajendra, Engal Anna, Perarasu and Dharmapuri, Vijayakant had already set his sights on entering politics with his films being increasingly projecting his political ambitions and showcasing his party symbols and featuring ‘political’ dialogues that had nothing to do with the movie. Vijayakant was last seen in the 2010 Tamil movie Virudhagiri.

Following in the footsteps of former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, Vijayakant, who commanded a huge fan-following in the rural areas, entered politics in the 2005 by founding DMDK and contested the 2006 State Assembly elections, in which he was widely identified as ‘vote cutter’. The 2006 State Assembly elections saw DMDK poll 8.38% vote share, which went up to 10.3% in 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

When DMDK was expected to dislodge DMK and AIADMK in 2011 as well, Vijayakant formed an alliance with AIADMK and became the main Opposition leader.

(with inputs from B. Kolappan)

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