OTTplay Logo
settings icon
profile icon

Vijayakanth: From cinema's hero to meme icon, a complex journey of triumphs, flaws and political stature in Tamil Nadu's history

The life of actor-politician Vijayakanth, who passed away in Chennai, is not merely a tale of cinematic triumphs, but of political ambitions, human flaws and the eternal quest for identity and legacy

Vijayakanth: From cinema's hero to meme icon, a complex journey of triumphs, flaws and political stature in Tamil Nadu's history

Last Updated: 06.23 PM, Feb 27, 2024


In the rich and varied landscape of Indian cinema, a sombre note echoes today, marking the end of an era. The film industry and the people of Tamil Nadu mourn the loss of a legend, as Vijayakanth, the revered icon of Tamil cinema and a notable figure in its political tapestry, passes away at the age of 71. His departure leaves a void, a silence where once was the thunderous applause of an admiring audience, and the fervent discussions of political discourse.

In the annals of Tamil Nadu, under the sultry sun and amidst the lush greenery, echoes the tale of Narayanan Vijayaraj Alagarswami, known to the world as Vijayakanth. His saga, like a Faulknerian epic, weaves through the alleys of Madurai, where he was born to KN Alagarswami and Aandal Azhagarswami on August 25, 1952. A tale not merely of cinematic triumphs but of political ambitions, human flaws, and the eternal quest for identity and legacy.


In 1979, in the bustling world of Tamil cinema, Vijayakanth stepped into the limelight with Inikkum Ilamai. Yet, this debut under MA Kaja’s direction, where he portrayed a role shrouded in negativity, did not herald success. Films like Agal Vilakku, Neerottam and Saamanthippoo followed, each a struggle, a battle against the tides of an indifferent box office.

But as Faulkner believed in the endurance of the human spirit, so did Vijayakanth endure. The year 1981 brought Sattam Oru Iruttarai, under SA Chandrasekhar’s direction - a film initially spurned by many, yet one that would redefine his career. Producer Chidambaran, struck by Vijayakanth’s performance in Neerottam, cast him in a role that would sculpt his image as a commercial hero. This film, with Poornima Devi and Vasumathi, resonated across languages, remade in Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam, and Kannada.

Vijayakanth’s cinematic journey, henceforth, was a crescendo of roles varying from the revolutionary to the romantic, the sentimental to the heroic. He became a challenging competitor to Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, his work ethic formidable, often taking three shifts a day, sometimes forgoing remuneration to aid struggling producers. 

The transformation of Narayanan Vijayaraj Alagarswami into the cinematic icon Vijayakanth is a tale of identity and branding as intriguing as his film career. Upon stepping into the realm of cinema to chase his acting dreams, he made a strategic change to his name for his debut film, MA Kaja’s Inikkum Ilamai. He dropped the "Raj" from his original name and adopted "Kanth," forming the moniker "Vijayakanth." This name change was more than just a cosmetic alteration; it was a symbol of his new identity in the film industry, a name that would soon become synonymous with action, charisma, and versatility.

Vijayakanth's career trajectory took an upward swing as he began to explore diverse roles. Films like Shivappu Malli, Jadhikkoru and Needhi saw him portray young, angry revolutionist characters, earning him critical acclaim for his performances. He then transitioned to romantic and sentimental films, cementing his position as one of the top actors in Tamil cinema with numerous superhit films. In 1984, Vijayakanth achieved a remarkable feat when 18 of his films were released, setting a record for the most films released in a year by a Tamil cinema actor in a lead role. The following year, he starred in Annai Bhoomi, the first 3D film made in Tamil. His versatility and reach extended further with Eetti and Manakanakku, which also had Kamal Haasan. In Oomai Vizhigal (1986), Vijayakanth portrayed the role of an aged cop, delivering a performance that turned the film into a cult classic.

But it was Captain Prabhakaran (1991), his 100th film, that bestowed upon him the title 'Captain', a sobriquet that transcended its cinematic origins to symbolise his leadership and stature. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he reigned as an action icon, his presence a guarantee of box office allure.


Yet, Vijayakanth’s odyssey extended beyond the celluloid. The world of politics beckoned, leading to the formation of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and his tenure as the Leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly from 2011 to 2016. His political journey, marked by his representation of Virudhachalam and Rishivandiyam, was a testament to his commitment to societal change.

But as with every Faulknerian hero, Vijayakanth's narrative is checkered with human flaws. Moments of impulsiveness marked his political life, from the controversial slap to MLA Sivakozunthu in Cuddalore to the infamous spitting incident at reporters in 2016. These instances, now etched in public memory, highlight the dichotomy of his persona - a revered figure with moments of vulnerability.

Vijayakanth in a still from Captain Prabhakaran
Vijayakanth in a still from Captain Prabhakaran

To the baby boomers of Tamil Nadu, Vijayakanth remains a legend, an icon of cinematic brilliance and political will. Yet, to the digital generation, he is a meme, a symbol of an era gone by, yet still resonant in the digital cosmos. His dialogues and expressions, once the soul of Tamil cinema, now find life in the virtual world of humour and satire.

However, for the present generation, particularly those who engage heavily with social media and internet culture, Vijayakanth is often remembered in a different light. The advent of digital media and the meme culture has led to a new form of recognition for Vijayakanth. His expressive acting style and memorable film scenes have become fodder for memes, making him a popular figure in the digital realm. The phrase "Vijayakanth memes" has become a common Google search, showcasing how he has become a part of the contemporary digital lexicon.

Popular Vijayakanth memes
Popular Vijayakanth memes

This dichotomy in perception underscores the ever-changing nature of fame and legacy in the digital age. While the older generation views him through the lens of nostalgia and respect, the younger generation interacts with his legacy in a way that is typical of the internet era – through memes and social media. However, it's important to note that even as a meme, Vijayakanth continues to be a relevant and recognisable figure, indicating the lasting impact of his work. Despite these differing perceptions, what remains constant is Vijayakanth’s status as a legend and a great human being. His journey from a struggling actor to a cinematic icon and a respected political leader speaks volumes about his character, talent, and dedication. Whether revered as a legend by the older generation or celebrated as a meme by the younger generation, Vijayakanth's legacy in Tamil cinema and Tamil Nadu’s political landscape continues to be significant and influential.

Popular Vijayakanth memes
Popular Vijayakanth memes

In this solemn moment, as the curtains fall on the extraordinary life of Vijayakanth, we stand in collective mourning, yet in celebration of a legacy that transcends the realms of cinema and politics. His passing at the age of 71 marks not just the end of a life lived with fervour and conviction but also the culmination of a journey that has left an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of millions.

Vijayakanth’s saga, rich in its tapestry of triumphs and tribulations, reminds us of the complexity and depth of human experience. His life, echoing the narratives of Faulkner, was a blend of heroic endeavours and human flaws, a journey through light and shadow. In his roles, in his dialogues, and in his actions, he mirrored our own struggles and aspirations, becoming more than just a figure on the silver screen or a voice in the political arena.

Vijayakanth has acted in over 20 films as a cop
Vijayakanth has acted in over 20 films as a cop

As we bid adieu to this iconic figure, we find solace and inspiration in the enduring words of Walt Whitman:

"For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;"

Let us remember Vijayakanth, the Captain of the cinematic ship, not just for the roles he played or the political paths he tread but for the spirit he embodied. His journey from the humble beginnings of Madurai to the pinnacle of Tamil cinema and the corridors of Tamil Nadu's political landscape is a narrative of resilience, a testament to the power of dreams and the enduring nature of human will.

"Here Captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead."

As the sun sets on Vijayakanth's life, we, the admirers, the critics, the contemporaries, and the successors, stand in homage to his memory. His legacy, like the tales of Faulkner, will be told and retold, remembered and revered, in the annals of Tamil Nadu's rich history. In our collective memory, Vijayakanth will forever sail as the Captain, his journey etched in time, his legacy unfading in the twilight of our remembrance.

"Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen, cold and dead."

Farewell, O Captain, your voyage is complete, but your story, your essence, will forever navigate the seas of time, guiding, inspiring, and reminding us of the undying spirit of a true legend.