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End of maverick politician, large-hearted actor

Tamil Nadu loses its beloved ‘Captain’

End of maverick politician, large-hearted actor

Illustration: Saai

CHENNAI: DMDK founder Vijayakant, a compassionate human being, an established actor and a controversial politician, who came a wee bit close to testing the dichotomy of the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, lost the battle against Pneumonia here on Thursday. He was 71. Leaders of various political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister MK Stalin condoled the demise of the maverick politician and large-hearted actor.

Vijayakant, better known as ‘Captain’ in the Tamil tinsel world, will be remembered for his benevolence and compassion for the downtrodden. Though a son of a rice mill owner in Madurai, a Class 10 educated Vijayakant has only had humble beginnings in Kollywood and his empathy for the have nots mirrored in movies.

A revolutionary actor

Identified as an actor playing lead roles propagating revolutionary and radical ideas in movies like Sivappu Malli and Jadhikkoru Needhi even in the early years of his career, Vijayakant later earned the name Purathchi Kalaignar (revolutionary actor) for echoing the pains and rights of the marginalised and underprivileged. His “Poradada, Vaalenthada” song composed by Ilayaraja for the 1985 movie Alai Osai is an anthem of the 21st Dalit activists too. Vijayakant did not mind bearing the “Hammer and Sickle” insignia of the Marxists in many a movie and that too during ‘conservative’ rule of the then Congress party. Such was the success in the formative years of his cinema career that he acted in a record 18 movies in 1984.

An efficient leader in Tinsel world

During an illustrious career spanning over three decades and acting in over 150 movies, the movie industry also saw the leader in him when he took on the mantle of the South Indian Film Artist’s Association. It was under his aegis that the association was cleared of its deep debt, thanks to the overseas cultural shows he had organised in Malaysia. In a sector synonymous with idolisation, almost every actor-artist reading his eulogy now does not fail to mention his large-heartedness, particularly the manner in which he treated the working class. The actor made it a rule to provide food to the cine workers on par with the movie heroes in the sets of his production. In fact, Vijayakant was famously heard saying in an interview, “In my Rowthar productions, I made it a point that the workers and technicians must get what I have. If I have tender coconut, so must they. If I have juice or mutton, the last worker on the set must also get juice and mutton. I will say it with pride. You can call it arrogance. But that is what I am,” Vijayakant said in one of his old interviews.

A rebel, who was not bound by the conventions of a largely stratified sector, he went by his raw instincts. It was the same uninhibited nature that encouraged him, as the head of the actors association, to organise the film industry’s protest for Cauvery issue in Neyveli and cultural show in Madurai for Kargil war. Unsurprisingly, the same daring attitude also motivated him to allow his fan clubs to contest in the local body elections in 1993, much ahead of a senior Rajinikanth Probably, the early political plunge against the mighty Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa made the job easy a decade later when he formally launched DMDK in 2005. Neither an avid reader nor an articulate speaker, Vijayakant sprung a surprise by tasting victory in his maiden election in 2006 from Virudhachalam a year after floating the party. Victory in Vanniyar dominated Virudhachalam was his political message to the PMK which ran a campaign against actor politicians.

He famously said, “My alliance is with the people,” when he projected DMDK as an alternative to the two Dravidian majors.

Political inconsistency at his peak

However, like most other politicians, his political career was riddled with inconsistencies as well. Barely five years after launching the party as an alternative, he warmed up to the AIADMK in 2011 Assembly polls, which saw his career peak as the Leader of Opposition with 29 MLAs. However, the bonhomie with the AIADMK lasted only a few months.

A few years later in 2014, he rubbed shoulders with Narendra Modi and the rest of the NDA, only to lose big in the Parliamentary election.

His political run nearly ended then before one last shot at power in the 2016 Assembly poll. The People’s Welfare Alliance comprising the Left, Ambedkarite and Congress breakaway faction called TMC fielded him as its CM candidate only to suffer a miserable defeat. That was the last significant political move the ‘Captain’ actively engaged in.

Faced with fading health on one side and fast sliding political clout on the other side, Vijayakant’s decade and a half long political adventure has nearly run aground now.

A firebrand critic of the DMK leadership and its style of functioning for over a decade, cadres of the DMK on Thursday unapologetically shared the video of Vijayakant weeping like a child upon hearing the news of the death of former CM M Karunanidhi who also solemnized his wedding in 1990. An ardent supporter of Tamil Eelam, he named his son Vijayaprabhakaran in admiration of LTTE chief Prabharakaran.

K Karthikeyan
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