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The many faces of Vijayakanth, a versatile superstar like no other

Vijayakanth was one of the earliest dark-skinned actors to achieve great success in Tamil cinema. 

The many faces of Vijayakanth, a versatile superstar like no other
Vijayakanth died at 71.

Last Updated: 12.20 PM, Dec 28, 2023


Yesteryear filmstar Vijayakanth passed away on December 28 morning at a private hospital in Chennai. Earlier in the day, a press release from his political party, DMDK, revealed that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 infection and required the assistance of a ventilator to breathe. And three hours later, the hospital, where he was under treatment, released a statement confirming the news of his death caused by pneumonia. 

Vijayakanth's demise leaves a void that resonates across the realms of cinema, politics, and the hearts of millions of fans. Born on August 25, 1952, as Vijayaraj Alagarswami, Vijayakanth's journey in the world of cinema began as a promising and dynamic talent. Over the years, he became an iconic figure, carving his niche as an action hero and a versatile performer.

Vijayakanth was one of the earliest dark-skinned actors to achieve great success in Tamil cinema. First, it was Superstar Rajinikanth who challenged the stereotype that a film hero had to have certain attributes, particularly fair skin. And Rajinikanth's rise through the ranks of Tamil cinema in the 80s paved the way for actors like Vijayakanth. 

A native of Madurai, Vijayakanth moved to Chennai to pursue his dream of becoming an actor in the 1970s. He marked his big-screen debut with the 1979 movie Inikkum Ilama, where he played the antagonist. At the beginning of the 1980s, things started to look good for him as he transitioned to playing leading man in films. He caught his first big break with the success of Sattam Oru Iruttarai, written and directed by SA Chandrasekhar, which announced the arrival of a promising talent with a flair for essaying the "angry young man roles." 


It was only a matter of time before he achieved stardom in the Tamil film industry by playing a range of roles. From full-fledged action movies to socio-political dramas to films that discussed mundane family issues — Vijayakanth became a huge draw at the box office. He proved the old wisdom that hard work pays off. He achieved the superstar status through sheer hard work and commitment to better himself with each film. In 1984, he played the lead in more than 18 films and emerged as a competitor to the likes of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.  

Seasoned filmmaker SA Chandrasekhar, the father of Thalapathy Vijay, was instrumental in establishing Vijayakanth as one of the bankable stars of Tamil cinema during the early days of the latter's career. He directed Vijayakanth in as many as 19 movies — one of the longest and most successful actor-director collaborations in the history of Tamil cinema. 

Vijayakanth solidified his stardom as a bonafide action hero in the 1990s with movies such as Chatriyan, Captain Prabhakaran, Chinna Gounder, Bharathan and Honest Raj to name a few. While the top stars of his time continued to deal with emotional, social and political themes that were rooted in Tamil culture, Vijayakanth changed the equation by handling the subjects of cross-border terrorism in his movies. His movies were infused with patriotism and he was also the only star in Tamil cinema to have played a cop in about 20 movies. 

Vijayakanth also proved his versatility in essaying dramatic roles in Chinna Gounder (1992), a trend-setting movie of the time. Following the massive success of this film, it inspired numerous dramas set against the rural backdrop, romanticising the village experience. However, these movies have not aged well, considering how they celebrated and glorified the caste hierarchy. 

At the turn of the century, Vijayakanth struck a rich vein with a new generation of film-going audiences with Ramanaa. The 2002 movie will remain a milestone in his career as it leveraged the best qualities of Vijayakanth as an actor in a refreshingly new way. Director AR Murugadoss's film narrated the story of a vigilante, the leader of an extensive covert network of honest government officials, waging a war against corruption and bribery. Vijayakanth's compelling portrayal in the movie, as a man grappling with profound personal tragedy yet resiliently fighting to prevent others from enduring similar fates, resonated deeply with audiences.

Ramanaa celebrated the sharp intellect of its middle-aged protagonist brimming with facts and statistical data, drawing admiration from the young audiences, who were typically awed by the boyish charms of Vijay and Ajith Kumar at the time. However, as time and age took their toll, the vibrant energy that endeared Vijayakanth to audiences began to wane. Eventually, he became a popular subject for comedic memes among Gen Z social media users.

Popular Vijayakanth memes
Popular Vijayakanth memes

However, for the 90s kids, Vijayakanth will always remain as the 'Captain' who protected the country from external threats; a high-ranking police officer with an uncompromising commitment to serving the poor and helpless; a dynamic professor with great intelligence; a devoted family man and our first fitness inspiration.