Remembering Vijayakanth: A look at the life of beloved 'Captain' and beleaguered politician!

Vijayakanth's life is etched with historical triumphs, twists, and turns. How an actor can act in eighteen movies in a year and how a political newbie can shake the decades-old political giants with an unabated following? Thanks to Vijayakanth for making these possible, which uniquely and strongly established him in the millions of hearts across and beyond Tamil Nadu. 

From a polite upbringing to becoming a potential powerhouse in Tamil Nadu, Vijayakanth's legacy has a lot to offer for more generations. While his steady rise as an actor with his generosity earned him a reputation, his political downfall put him in a bad light. As an ardent fan of MG Ramachandran (MGR), Vijayakanth's journey has similarities with MGR himself both in the cinematic and political landscape. 

While MGR inscribed a unique and versatile acting, Vijayakanth followed his footsteps and invoked what has become his signature style of stunt in fighting scenes. Vijayakanth had an illustrious career in cinema amidst the dominance of top actors including Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. He is known for featuring in patriotic movies and for giving prospects for new faces. When he was in the peak as an actor, he plunged into politics and started a new innings. 

He went through a slew of ups and downs in his political career and his prolong health setback had been doing more damages to his life and confined him from the battlefields. On Thursday - December 28, Vijayakanth has passed away at the age of 71 in MIOT Hospital in Chennai due to age-related ailments. Though he wasn't active in cinema and in politics nearly for a decade, he strongly remained a household name in Tamil Nadu due to which the news of his demise has immensely saddened the whole state and brought millions of people to Chennai to pay their last respects. Let's take a look at his life that touched millions of lives, 

From Vijayaraj to Captain Vijayakanth

Born in 1952 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu as Narayanan Vijayaraj Alagarswami, he wasn't a bright student in education and stopped his schooling till tenth grade. He, however, sowed his dreams towards pursuing a career in cinema after becoming a fanboy of MGR. Though he worked in his father Alagarswami's rice mill, Vijayaraj has never missed relishing MGR's movies in big screens and never missed to foster his dream towards cinema. 

He then took a major leap in his life - came to Chennai to search prospects in cinema. He took up petty jobs and amidst enduring several obstacles, he was committed to win as an actor. After years of wait, he made his debut in acting in the movie 'Inikum Ilamai' in 1979. It was an era of new actors as he acted in his first movie four years after the debut of Superstar Rajinikanth. It is said that inspired by Rajinikanth's acting, Vijayaraj has changed his name as Vijayakanth and later became an asset of the Tamil film industry. 

File photo: Vijayakanth during his initial years as an actor 


Vijayakanth had a first breakthrough two years later through the movie 'Sattam Oru Iruttarai', which got released in 1981. He went on to act in several successful movies including 'Doorathu Idi Muzhakkam', 'Amman Kovil Kizhakale', 'Uzhavan Magan', 'Sivappu Malli', 'Nooravathu Naal', 'Vaidhegi Kaathirunthaal',  'Oomai Vizhigal', 'Senthoora Poove', and 'Paattukku Oru Thalaivan'. During the 90s, he appeared what became blockbuster movies of his career. The movies like 'Pulan Visaranai' and his 100th movie 'Captain Prabhakaran' are synonyms to his stupendous acting career.

After the success of Captain Prabhakaran, the term 'Captain' prefixed before his name and he came up with a new avatar as Captain Vijayakanth. During his initial years of acting career, Vijayakanth delivered magical performances as he had the release of 18 movies in 1984 alone, a milestone that remains unbroken till date. In what has become another feather on his cap, Vijayakanth acted in the movie 'Annai Bhoomi 3D', which stands as the first 3D film in the Tamil film industry. 

File photo: Vijayakanth in his 100th movie Captain Prabhakaran 


In 2000s, Vijayakanth continued his successful march through the movies 'Vaanathai Pola', 'Vallarasu', 'Thavasi', 'Devan', 'Ramanaa', 'Chokka Thangam', 'Thennavan', 'Engal Anna', and 'Perarasu'. His 150th film was 'Arasangam' which released in 2008 and by that time, he rose as a potential star in politics. In 2009, Vijayakanth received a Filmfare Top 10 Legends of Tamil Cinema Award for his three-decade career as an actor. 

Besides being an actor, he became a doyen in the Tamil film industry and he meticulously balanced every corner of the industry, from his good rapport with the producers, directors, and artisits to his move of ensuring equality prevails on and off the sets. His trait of treating the grassroots workers of cinema equally was widely celebrated, so his commitment to clear obstacles that lie before the industry. Interestingly, Vijayakanth has a unique milestone of introducing 54 new directors into the industry. 

Arguably, no actors across the world could have introduced 54 directors in their careers other than Vijayakanth and he is also celebrated for giving more prospects of new producers and technicians. Some of the iconic directors like RK Selvamani were introduced by Vijayakanth and it was RK Selvamani who helmed Vijayakanth's successful movies 'Pulan Visaranai', and 'Captain Prabhakaran', his 100th film and the reason why Captain Prabhakaran still rules his realm is that it was a blockbuster hit and changed the trend where the 100th films of contemporaries like Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Prabhu, and Sathyaraj have failed. 

There was a reason why he was fondly called 'Captain' - he lived to it through his leadership qualities. In 1999, he became the chief of Tamil actors' union and when he tookover the role, the union was on a verge of facing bankruptcy. As a trailblazer, Vijayakanth took it as his personal loss and mastered the moves of rescuing the union. He took the baton of clearing the debts and conducted several events and concerts in Malaysia and Singapore and he repaid the debts with the money those events made. 

            File photo: Vijayakanth is feeding food to a boy 


Furthermore, with the view of rescuing the drama and downtrodden artists from financial distress, Vijayakanth championed in introducing separate fund and fixed deposits for them. For the artists in the industry, Vijayakanth has never left anyone behind and he also supported then-young actors including Vijay and Suriya. In Vijay starred 'Senthoorapandi', Vijayakanth has appeared in a cameo role as his brother and Vijayakanth has also made a cameo appearance in Suriya starred 'Periayanna' and 'Maayavi'. 

Beyond being a hard-working actor and a bold leader, Vijayakanth also has taken part in the protests including anti-hindi movement and he led the actors' protest against the Karnataka government for not releasing Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. As an actor, Vijayakanth played 154 movies in his career and he was listed as one of the top 20 best Tamil actors of all time by The Cinemaholic. 

From beloved Captain to beleaguered politician

When Tamil people's beloved Captain Vijayakanth was in a peak as an actor, he began his new innings that yesteryear actors failed and some were reluctant to begin. Though his political aspirations were high, he hasn't had a longlasting political success and the electoral debacles and health setbacks beleaguered his political career. His life shows that during the initial years of 2000, he was aspiring to enter politics and in some of his movies like 'Raajjiyam', he made political dialogues and touched on political issues. 

According to the people who followed Vijayakanth closely, he deeply sought to build a political establishment and following the footsteps of his idol MGR, he plunged into politics. Vijayakanth accelerated his political pace and on September 14, 2005, he conveyed a massive gathering in Madurai and announced his political party's name 'Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam' (DMDK). He audaciously entered politics when the political giants Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa were active in the battlefield. 

File photo: Vijayakanth feeds food to a physically-disabled child 


Ironically, Vijayakanth invited then DMK chief Karunanidhi to his political party launch ceremony, which showed the respect he had for Karunanidhi when there were controversies over the DMK-backed central government's National Highways Department had issued notice to acquist Vijayakanth's marriage hall in Chennai to construct a flyover. Later, a part of Vijayakanth's land was acquired for the project and his marriage hall had later become the party's headquarters. 

Vijayakanth had an experience of how he is rated in political field. Several members of his fans outfit, that was known for its welfare activities, had contested in the state local body polls during the 1990s and some of the members turned victorious. After launching the party, Vijayakanth neither turned back nor waited for more time to contest in the polls. A year after launching the party, he contested in the 2006 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls. 

While the direct race was between Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, Vijayakanth appeared to be an alternative and reaped historical vote share in his political debut. As their beloved Captain entered politics, the ardent fans and followers gave Vijayakanth a momentous reception as DMDK proved to an important player in 2006 polls. In the 2006 elections, DMDK has secured 10% of voters and though his candidates failed in the race, Vijayakanth won his first election from the Vridhachalam constituency. 

Taking his party in a distinctive direction, visionary Vijayakanth declared that he would not ask donations for his party and most of the funding for the party has come from his own earnings. Buidling him as an alternative, he vowed that he won't ally with other political parties. However, years later, he backtracked from his stand as he sealed an alliance with Jayalalithaa-led ADMK in the 2011 Tamil Nadu Assembly Polls. It was this decision that marked his political downfall. 

Though DMDK won 29 seats in the 2011 assembly polls in ADMK alliance, Vijayakanth and Jayalalithaa locked horns and the former disputed against the latter. In the wake of a division, Vijayakanth came out of the ruling coalition and became the Leader of Opposition. During his stint as the Opposition Leader, Vijayakanth raised to be a strongest foe of Jayalalithaa and we can still recall the war of words and heated exchanges between Vijayakanth and Jayalalithaa in the assembly. 

In 2011, Vijayakanth's DMDK won more seats than Karunanidhi's DMK. Nevertheless, some of the MLAs switched sides and joined ADMK. After historical victories in the first two assembly polls, Vijayakanth's party started declining and several parties including DMK, Ramadoss-led PMK, and Seeman's Naam Tamilar Party have built a momentum against DMDK. Vijayakanth's prolonged health setbacks fueled the decline of his party.  

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, DMDK for an alliance with the BJP with regional parties and it was when Narendra Modi came to the national politics. However, in the 39 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP-DMDK alliance won only two seats while the rest were won by ADMK. On the other hand, Prime Minister Modi referred Vijayakanth as his friend and in the 2016 assembly polls, Vijayakanth's electoral debacle continued and shockingly, he lost his seat and deposit. 

File photo: As DMDK president, Vijayakanth had a good rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi 


The defeat made a huge twist in his political tale and alongside his politics, he had received medical treatments in home and abroad. His famous 'political kingmaker' slogan and his political coalition 'Makkal Nala Kootani' in 2016 didn't take off as he expected and his chapter as a beleaguered politician continued in the 2019 general elections and in the 2021 assembly polls. Vijayakanth's ailing health condition dimmed his political aspirations along with a slew of controversies. 

During his political run, Vijayakanth's contentious conducts with the mediapersons put him in a bad light as he strongly accused the journalists of being biased and he challenged them to ask questions to his political foe Jayalalithaa. Throughout his political career, he never hestitated to slam the mediapersons and known for his kind gesture, Vijayakanth was criticized for making obscene gestures in public against mediapersons. After he was confined in home owing to his health condition, his politics was also confined. 

Vijayakanth took part in DMDK's general council meeting in Chennai on December 14, 2023. It eventually became his last public appearance 


DMDK is still struggling for a revival and though Vijayakanth's wife Premalatha took the party's leadership, the party hangs in plight and now, with Vijayakanth's demise, the future of the party is bleak. In the 2021 assembly polls, DMDK secured only 0.43 vote share and the political observers say Vijayakanth has failed in clearly defining his party's direction and over the electoral alliance. After the defeat in 2016, Vijayakanth's political influence drastically declined in the state. 

During his career as a beleaguered politican, the DMDK's chapter has come to an end and with his death, it is less likely that DMDK would have a chance to redeem its base, because Vijayakanth was the face of the party and that it is still unclear on whether the people would accept Premalatha in his place. Speaking to BBC Tamil, veteran journalist A S Panneerselvan said that DMDK's prowess declined when Vijayakanth decided to make a political alliance. 

Vijayakanth's mortal remain is kept at DMDK headquarters in Koyambedu, Chennai - December 28, 2023


"There was a vote bank in the state that voted for an alternative instead of DMK and ADMK. During the 1980s, the parties like Vaiko's MDMK and Mooppanar's Tamil Manila Congress had reaped that vote bank and in later years, DMDK became the choice of that voters. In 2011, after Vijayakanth made an alliance with ADMK, the party's prowess started declining and in 2021 polls, those voters voted for Seeman and Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam instead of DMDK", Panneerselvan added. 

From being an ardent fan of MGR to winning MGR Award from the Tamil Nadu government in 1994, Vijayakanth's life had close connections with MGR and that followed in his politics as well. Vijayakanth is often regarded as 'Karuppu MGR' (MGR's black version for his politics and generosity) and he had a successful start in politics like MGR. There were several actors who plunged into politics but only MGR and Vijayakanth had managed to successfully bear fruit.

Goodbye captain: Thousands of people are queued up in Island Grounds, Chennai, where Vijayakanth's body is kept, to pay their last respects - December 29, 2023


As Vijayakanth is on his final journey, millions of people across and beyond Tamil Nadu are arriving in Chennai to pay their last respects and to give teary sendoff for their beloved Captain. As we remember his unparallelled contributions to the public life and for his vision for uplifting the downtrodden people, as he celebrated his birthday as the poverty eradication day, we take part in the pain brought by his demise and join the millions of people to stand with bereaving family and fans at this difficult time. 

Goodbye Captain! May your soul rest in peace.