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Hats changed, but crown of magnanimity remained

Moving from Madurai at the fag end of the 70s to pursue a career in films, his initial films either did not do well or did not take off.

Hats changed, but crown of magnanimity remained
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‘Captain’ Vijaykanth (Illustration by Varghese Kallada)

CHENNAI: In a life in which he donned several hats- that of an actor, producer, administrator and then a politician, Vijayakanth will be remembered for the crown of magananimity which was his permanent fixture. A rich man indulging in charity is not unusual, but Vijayakanth went beyond monetary help. There are several testimonies to that.

From creating a revolution in the film industry by providing the same quality food for every member of the film crew in his production with no hierarchical bias to stabilising the debt ridden 'Nadigar Sangam' as its president to emerging as a formidable alternative in Tamil Nadu's political landscape, Vijayakanth's wins in a multi faceted career outnumber his failings. He was a doer. By most standards, his was a success story.

"The culture then was that film crew will get only packed food. When I started my production company, Rawther films, I was the first to provide full spread meals to everyone. I am proud to say that. People can construe it as vanity. But, my philosophy was that what I (the hero) eat is what everyone in the team will eat," Vijayakant said in an interview to Captain TV.

Film Producer T Siva, who had served as a production manager in Vijayakanth's company had noted in an interview, how the actor used to reduce his salary by a few lakhs even for films he did for other production companies to ensure that the crew had sumptuous food.

What Vijayakanth did is still not entirely emulated in the film industry is testimony to the fact that he was a 'Captain' in the truest sense, a moniker which struck with him after his 100th film, Captain Prabhakaran.

Actor Surya Sivakumar had shared about how Vijayakanth once made a train stop in its tracks midway to ensure that the members of the film fraternity who were returning after a show were fed in the middle of the night. Stories are abound about his philanthropy and the times he stood by his colleagues in the film industry in their times of personal and professional distress.

Moving from Madurai in the fag end of the 70's without informing his rice mill owning father to pursue a career in films, his initial films either did not do well or did not take off. "I was branded unlucky," Vijayakanth said in a TV interview. In 1981, "Sattam Oru Iruttarai" directed by Actor Vijay's father, S A Chandrasekar (SAC) catapulted Vijayakanth to the masses. Tamil Cinema got its angry young man. The director actor combo went on to do more than 15 films together.

A decade later, Vijayakanth, by then a busy star honoured his friendship with SAC by appearing in the movie, Senthoorapandi featuring Vijay to help the latter reach the masses. SAC had narrated the story in several stages about how "Viji" acted without any remuneration to provide a launchpad for his son.

"The masses have to accept an actor. That's important. The audience who came to watch Vijayakanth sir will be introduced to me. That was the intention with which the film was made. It happened," Actor Vijay had said in a 1998 interview. In a film career spanning 40 years and over 150 films, he introduced more than 50 debutants as directors.

A Public figure is never going to escape judgment and Vijayakanth, being an actor turned politician coupled with his unabashed nature became the perfect fodder for social media toxicity and a thuggish news media. That his waning film career coincided with the surge of social media meant that he was the favourite punching bag for edgelords with access to internet.

Political strategists who help in image building were not a thing when he got into the ring with two veterans of Tamil Nadu Politics. He still held his space. That Vijayakanth founded the DMDK, became a legislator and also the Leader of Opposition was a commendable achievement considering his colleagues in the film industry either joined one of the two Dravidian majors or were hesitant to take the plunge when the stalwarts were active.

Actor-Producer, Chitra Lakshmanan, who had known Vijayakanth since his first film never misses a chance to ask questions about him to the guests in his popular Youtube show, Chai with Chitra. "Several personalities from the 80's, 90's and 2000's feature in my show. Vijayakanth was an iconic actor in those years. So, the question about him was natural. That the answer from almost everyone was the same shows the original humanitarian that Vijayakanth was," Chitra Lakshmanan told DT Next. "He had always been a straightforward man. Maybe that's why he was able to reach more hearts".

The turnout of public in huge numbers to witness the mortal remains of a man well past his heydays can be best summed up by a line from his movie, "We (Tamil Nadu people) are not sentimental idiots. The public affection, which is hard to come by remains forever."

Srikkanth Dhasarathy
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