Hero of the Masses
With a chequered career with
as many ups and downs as in a snakes and ladders game, Vijayakanth, with
his tall, dark and robust physique, can be taken as an icon of Dravidian
macho appeal. Written off by the industry 4 times in his career spanning
nearly 2 decades, Vijayakanth has bounced back after every dark phase with
Hero of the hoipolloi, Vijayakanth
completed his 125th film with 'Ulavuthurai' which has the distinction of
being the first Tamil film to shoot under water. In this interview, he
speaks about his struggles, his successes, his failures and his plans.
Q: Hailing from a wealthy
family, why did you enter films? Did you have to struggle to get a proper
A: It was an accident. We
have a rice mill in Madurai and I was managing it. Seeing me moving around
in a motorbike, one of the biggest distributors of that area took some
stills of me and asked me whether I was interested in acting. I succumbed
to the temptation and came to Madras.
Recommended by my distributor
was even signed by a producer. I shot for 2 or 3 days. After a few days'
break, I was shocked to see in the newspapers that another popular actor,
whose name I don't want to reveal now, was doing the role I was signed
Infuriated, I confronted
the director who, to my utter consternation, informed me that I had been
dropped from the film became I could not speak Tamil properly! I was amazed
because Madurai is the seat of Tamil language and culture and how could
I, born and brought up there, not speak Tamil properly? I took this insult
as a challenge and at that moment decided that cinema was my career.
Precisely at that time my
struggle started. The distributor who created in me a love for cinema felt
guilty and introduced me to M A Khaja, then a prolific director, who gave
me a break in his Sudhakar-Radhika starrer 'Inikkum llamai'. It was actually
a negative role and I just had a few scenes and a fight. Director Khaja
also changed my original name Vijayaraj into Vijayakanth. Though a brief
role, it made an impact on the audience.
Then came 'Thoorathu Idi
Muzhakkam', which was delayed unduly owing to financial constraints, 'Neerottam'
and 'Akal Vilakku'. All of them flopped. There was 'Samanthipoo' in which
I was villain. But my career then was in such a bad shape that my name
was deleted from the credit title.
Those days most of the production
companies were located at Kodambakkam and the bus fare to that area from
my lodge was a mere 25 paise. Even that was a big amount for me. My father
refused to send me money because he was not pleased with the idea of my
entering films. I used to starve, trudge to film companies. I put up with
all that only because I was determined to prove my worth in this industry.
Q: Your career went through
several hiccups? How did you survive them?
A: Every hero has a bad
phase, but no hero would have suffered the types of humiliation I was subjected
to and still survived as I did. I was written off, not once but more than
4 times, in these 2 decades.
After 4 consecutive flops,
director S A Chandrashekar, impressed by my performance in 'Neerottam,'
booked me for his 'Sattam Oru Iruttarai'.
During the making of the film, a popular hero sent feelers to the director
that he would like to act in it. Even the distributors were against me
as I was not a saleable proposition.
My position was whether
to swim or sink. I told Chandrashekar that his film was crucial for me
and if he dropped me, that would be the last nail in my coffin. Chandrashekar
had confidence in me and braving all odds went ahead and the film proved
to be one of the biggest hits of the day.
Ironically, even that film
did not help me. After 'Sattam Oru Iruttarai,' I did 18 films and every
one of them bombed. The industry gave credit to Chandrashekar for that
film's success and dismissed me totally.
While I was idling away
my time stoically waiting for yet another break, it was Chandrashekar again
who gave me a second lease of life in his 'Saatchi' against the distributors'
warnings. 'Saatchi' went on to become a success, but again it did not help
'Saatchi' was followed by
a string of flops and aborted productions and my jobless state continued.
Around this time, R Sundarrajan came up with 'Vaidehi Kaathirundaal' which
was a different type of film and its success really helped me because it
was followed by many more hits.
Those days I used to work
3 shifts. One year 14 of my films were released. I met with an accident
during the making of 'Kaalaiyum Neeye Maalayum Neeye'. My eyes were hurt
and I had to take treatment. I was written off by the industry as rumours
spread that I had lost my sight.
My close friend and associate
Ibrahim Rauthar had by then floated his own production company just to
promote me and his 'Uzhavan Magan' was in the making. Because of the rumours
about my illhealth , the distributors stopped funding it.
To dispel the rumours, I
participated in a day's shooting for the film in the presence of the entire
media and industry bigwigs. That was my third difficult phase.
For a long time, my films
were not big grossers, but proved safe bets at the box office. While I
was doing 'Pulan Visaaranai,' I suffered another setback, but of a different
type. Luckily 'Pulan Visaaranai' became a hit and I overcame the difficulty.
With my 100th 'Captain Prabhaakaran' clicking in a big way, I was finally
accepted by the industry.
Now I've reached a point
where I can carry the entire film on my shoulder.
Q: Was it true that at one
point of time in your career, many heroines refused to act with you?
A: Yes. During the making
of 'Saatchi' and 'Paarvayin Maru Pakkam' almost all the heroines refused
to act with me because I was a flop hero. Ironically, the same heroines
acted with me later when I became a hit. I understood this industry well
only during the bad phases.
Q: Is it to wreak vengeance
on them that in your films now heroines are used as mere glamour dolls?
A: I am not that avenging
type at all. I don't agree that in all my films the heroines are mere glamour
dolls. In some films, yes, they are. But there were such films as 'Poonthotta
Kaavalkaaran,' 'Chinna Gounder' and 'Amman Koil Kizhakkaale' where the
heroines had equal importance. In 'En Aasai Machchaan,' the climax was
completely centred on Revathi.
In my films, heroines are
treated with dignity. You can never come across vulgar dance movements, embarrassingly
intimate love scenes or double entendres. Only 'Pathavi Pramaanam' had
an overdoze of sex and that film failed.
Q: Radhika and you made
a hit pair. Did your personal rift with Radhika make any difference to
A: Not at all. I have given
hits with other heroines, Radha, Revathi, Sukanya and so on.
Q: You have so far not acted
under noted directors except Bharathiraaja whose film with you flopped.
You have not approached them even for your home productions. Instead, you
prefer fresh Film Institute students. Is it because you want to dominate
A: Time was when I approached
every top director, begging for a role. Now I consider all my directors
as big. Most of my films have been directed by Chandrashekar, Rama Narayanan
and Sundarrajan. I have struggled and come up to this level on my own.
I know what it is to struggle. So in my own productions, I give opportunities
to directors who are going through a lean phase.
I don't reject a director
outright just because he has given a string of flops. Hits and flops are
not in our hands. I prefer Film Institute students because they not only
come up with fresh ideas but are flexible and receptive to our suggestions.
Q: While some of your earlier
films propagated leftist ideas, your recent films and your off-screen activities
suggest that you are interested in entering politics. Are you?
A: My 'Sivappu Malli' and
'Auto Driver' had overtones of communist ideology. I believe in communist
ideology. I organised a felicitation function for (DMK leader and Tamil
Nadu chief minister) M Karunanidhi as I am an admirer of his scholarship
and erudition. I am a DMK sympathiser, but politics is farthest from my
mind. I did not even go for electioneering.
Q: The trend is now changing.
How long are you going to play the role of an avenging cop?
A: You are asking this question
just because a few love stories have clicked at the box office. Film trends
change every 6 months.
Q: You are still a hero
of the masses. Why are you not making efforts to cater to the class?
A: I agree. I am more popular
in the rural areas down south. But some of my major hits have done well
in 'A' centres also.
Q: Despite the hoopla that
preceded it, your 125th film, 'Ulavuthurai,' did not do as well as expected.
What went wrong?
A: I think we were too excited
that it was my 125th film and went on adding things not necessary for the
film. Thereby the film lost its edge. Technically it is a brilliant film
and it is the first Tamil film shot under water. We should not have killed
the heroine in the first half, and that I think was a major mistake. Still
the film did well down south.
Q: What are your future
A: I never plan my future.
Right not I am working for 'Dharma,' a sentimental story. In the next film,
I am doing a double role, of father and son.
Q: Is it your love for Tamil
that prevents you from acting in other language films?
A: I am a great lover of
Tamil. I am not shrewd enough to pick up other languages and I feel it
is meaningless to act in a film without knowing the language. I am happy
and contented being an exclusive Tamil actor.