Vijayakant: The man who redefined the ‘act’ in action

A look at one of Tamil cinema’s first and best action heroes, Vijayakant, who managed to hold his own amidst other superstars, and in due course, become a stepping stone for many who dreamt of the spotlight

Updated - December 29, 2023 10:40 am IST

Published - December 28, 2023 04:10 pm IST



It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call the ‘80s and ‘90s in Tamil cinema the era that reformulated the action genre. With luminaries like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth cementing their stardom by then, the 90s saw a sharp fall in the number of films they starred in. With the local audiences’ interest towards Hollywood films at an all-time high, action, as a genre, was turning out to be a game changer, and at its forefront was Vijayakant.

The not-so-calm before the storm

After commencing the decade with Doorathu Idi Muzhakkam, widely regarded as one of the new wave films that came out in the early 1980s, the decade was when Vijayakant personified the ‘angry young man’ avatar. Just the decade earlier, Amitabh Bachchan had perfected the persona in Hindi cinema, and the infallible trait was something Vijayakant lapped up with his first major hit that came in the form of SA Chandrasekhar’s sophomore directorial Sattam Oru Iruttarai; a career-defining film for both the filmmaker and the actor. The very same year, the actor and director would go on to team up for two other films, Nenjile Thunivirunthal and Needhi Pizhaithathu.

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

What followed was a slew of films that featured the veteran as a common man who burst out to save his people from those in power. Sivappu Malli, for example, dealt with themes of communism and Marxism. In 1984 alone, he played the lead in around 18 films; a record very few could even fathom. But before starting a fiery innings in the 90s, Vijayakant experimented with genres in the 80s. He gave dark comedy a shot in Visu’s Dowry Kalyanam and had a tryst with a mystery thriller in Manivannan’s Nooravathu Naal, an unofficial adaptation of the Italian film Sette note in nero.

Vijayakanth and Radhika in a still from the film ‘Poonthotta Kavalkaran’

Vijayakanth and Radhika in a still from the film ‘Poonthotta Kavalkaran’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In contrast to the explosive roles he was making a name for himself with, Vijayakant starred as the melancholic Vellaisamy in Vaidehi Kathirunthal, which gave us the iconic ‘Rasathi Unnai’ and ‘Azhagu Malaraada’ tracks, while giving the actor a much-needed breakthrough. Vijayakant wrapped up the 80s with more hits under his belt in the form of titles like Amman Kovil Kizhakale, Poonthotta Kaavalkaaran and Senthoora Poove. The decade is also when he started trying his hand with cop roles, something that would become synonymous with him over the years.

He came, he saw, he conquered

Vijayakant then kickstarted the ‘90s with the brilliant Pulan Visaranai in which he played the cop Honest Raj, a name that would end up becoming a film’s title starring him in the lead later. The hit film doubled as an appetiser to what the veteran cooked that decade. 1990 also saw him in khaki as ACP Panneer Selvam in Chatriyan, a story penned by Mani Ratnam; a cult classic that has one of the best comeback sequences and training montages in the history of Tamil cinema. The very next year, Vijayakant scored a century when his 100th film Captain Prabhakaran was released.

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The actor was one of the very few who could churn out a blockbuster from his landmark film; a feat even Kamal Haasan couldn’t do with Raaja Paarvai or Rajinikanth with Sri Raghavendrar. The film also earned Vijayakant the sobriquet ‘Captain’ and the iconic action sequences from it featuring the famous ‘kicks’ of Vijayakant that have turned metonyms for his action style.

About eight years ago, during a political conference, the actor-politician said his perfect back kicks and scissor kicks are a product of his younger days in which he was an ardent footballer.

In a recent clip, shared by AVM’s Aruna Guhan, the man himself spoke about an action clip from Sethupathi IPS which he called the riskiest action sequence he had ever done. Considering how he fights atop a car and backflips onto another car’s bonnet, they are inarguably one of the best action sequences of the era.

Speaking of Sethupathi IPS, the film also featured a clock tower scene that the actor pulled off without the use of a stunt double.

Vijayakant shooting for ‘Sethupathi IPS’

Vijayakant shooting for ‘Sethupathi IPS’ | Photo Credit: @arunaguhan_/X

Vijayakant’s ‘90s filmography cannot be discussed without the contributions of Liaquat Ali Khan and Ibrahim Rowther whose dialogues and stories were integral in cementing him as a force to reckon with. While the decade saw Vijayakant in various action roles in films like Maanagara Kaaval and Honest Raj, that didn’t deter him from trying dramas like Kaviya Thalaivan or turning the village head honcho in Chinna Gounder. The latter was such a success that Rajinikanth gave the village chieftain role a shot the very next year with the film’s director RV Udayakumar in Ejamaan.

Vijayakanth and Kushboo in ‘Veeram Velancha Mannu’

Vijayakanth and Kushboo in ‘Veeram Velancha Mannu’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Back to the roots and holding the fort

Just like how he started the year 1990, 2000 also began with a bang with Vaanathai Pola which rightfully won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment. The film, like several before, proved once again that Vijayakant was more than just an action hero. While dual roles are something he had done aplenty over his long career, the difference he brought in with the two pensive characters ably showcased his prowess as a performer. Add to the equation SA Rajkumar’s tracks like ‘Kadhal Vennila’ and ‘Engal Veetil Ella Naalum’ and what we got is a textbook example of a wholesome entertainer. The rest of the decade saw him perfect the cop roles and it resulted in films like Vallarasu, Vaanchinathan, Narasimha and Thennavan. He also went back to his rural roots to deliver hits Chokka Thangam and Thavasi while reinventing himself with a film like Ramanaa.

Giving back to the industry

Very few names come to our mind when the topic is giving back to the industry, and Vijayakant tops the list. While the stories of how his office always had food for the needy will be narrated for a long time, his contribution to the Tamil film industry needs an article of its own. The biggest success story from them has to be how he revived the Nadigar Sangam from its debts by organising first-of-its-kind events in Singapore and Malaysia.

Actors Namitha, Swarnamalya, Vijayakanth and Prabhu Deva in a still from the Tamil film, ‘Engal Anna’

Actors Namitha, Swarnamalya, Vijayakanth and Prabhu Deva in a still from the Tamil film, ‘Engal Anna’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As a friendly gesture to director SA Chandrasekhar, with whom he made some of the biggest hits of 80s, Vijayakant starred alongside Vijay in the latter’s second film as the lead, Sendhoorapandi. After a not-so-stellar debut with Naalaiya Theerpu, SAC felt Vijay’s sophomore film needed star power and Vijayakant made it happen without charging any fee. The veteran teamed up once again with the filmmaker for Periyanna, which was one of Suriya’s earliest films. The list of talents introduced by Vijayakant is long and he is also said to be instrumental in getting Vadivelu a substantial role alongside Goundamani and Senthil in Chinna Gounder.

It would not have been a cakewalk for the actor to make his mark on an industry that also housed Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan in their heydays, spawning film after film, delivering super-hits while also experimenting in his own little ways. Not only did Vijayakant manage to do the impossible but was also one of the very few stars to have acted only in Tamil films throughout his career. In an illustrious career that spanned more than 30 years, Vijaykant has done everything, including producing a number of films and even directing. Apart from his colossal contribution in front of the camera, his works behind it made him a hero in reel and real, making his demise a cavity that cannot be filled. To quote a line from Walt Whitman’s poem, “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done!”

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