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Vijayakanth, DMDK Leader and Tamil Cinema Icon ‘Captain,’ Passes Away


Vijayakanth became the only Tamil actor after MG Ramachandran to achieve notable success in the field of Tamil politics

Tamil superstar and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founder Vijayakanth, fondly called ‘Captain’, died at a private hospital in Chennai on Thursday after a prolonged illness. He was 71 years old.

Vijayakanth’s death marks the end of an influential chapter in the political history of Tamil Nadu and leaves a void in the diverse political image of the state.

Chennai’s MIOT hospital issued a statement confirming that ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth, who was admitted due to pneumonia, was put on ventilator support due to the severity of his condition. Despite the dedicated efforts of the medical team, he succumbed to the illness and passed away on the morning of December 28, 2023, the statement said.

Vijayakanth was earlier admitted to the same hospital due to fever on November 18, from where he was discharged on December 11.

On December 14, the actor-turned-politician made his first public appearance after taking leave to attend the DMDK executive and general council meetings. During the meeting, his wife, Premlata Vijayakanth, was declared the new general secretary of the party.

Vijayakanth’s demise not only marks the loss of an iconic personality but also highlights the declining influence of a political party that once had great potential. After MG Ramachandran, or MGR, Vijayakanth emerged as the only Tamil actor to achieve notable success in the field of Tamil politics.

Vijayakanth, who gave a dose of thrill to moviegoers with his powerful action sequences and fiery dialogues, was born Vijayraj on August 25, 1952, in Madurai. He debuted in the film industry in 1979 with ‘Inikum Ilamai’. His popular films include Senthura Poove, Pullan Visaranai, Chatriyan, Captain Prabhakaran, Chinna Gounder, Sethupathi IPS, Honest Raj, Vanthai Pola, and Ramana. Vijayakanth also led an actors’ organization called Nadigar Sangam.

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In 2005, he entered politics by forming his own party. DMDK emerged as a new political alternative in the Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu. Vijayakanth’s popularity, especially in rural areas, was an important factor in the party’s initial success.

In the 2006 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, just a year after its inception, the DMDK contested 232 constituencies and won an astonishing 8.4 percent of the votes, with Vijayakanth being the sole winner. He contested from the Virudhachalam constituency. This early success established the DMDK as a notable player in the state’s political arena.

In the 2011 assembly elections, he turned the tables by joining hands with the AIADMK. His party secured 29 seats, pushing the DMK to third place and becoming the state’s main opposition.

When the DMDK contested the 2006 assembly elections and the 2009 Lok Sabha elections alone, they had 8.4 percent and 10.3 percent vote shares, respectively.

Ever since the party entered coalition politics, the career graph has changed. It was 7.9 percent in the 2011 assembly elections, 5.1 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 2.4 percent in the 2016 assembly elections, 2.16 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and 0.43 percent in the 2021 assembly elections.

Or, simply put, the party has not won a single seat in the state since 2011, a period that also marked the beginning of Vijayakanth’s health decline and his gradual withdrawal from active politics.

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Vijayakanth’s film career is a story of perseverance and eventual victory
His journey in the Tamil film industry is a story of perseverance and ultimately victory. He faced many failures, his early films failed to make a mark. Doorathu Idi Muzhakkam in 1980 and Sattham Oru Iruttarai in 1981 marked their presence in the industry. His imposing looks and strong portrayal of the characters were a hit with the audience, especially in rural areas, and many people started calling him ‘Karuppu MGR’, at a time when MGR’s film and political career were coming to an end.

It was Captain Prabhakaran (1991), a successful film, that earned him the affectionate nickname ‘Captain’. His role as a village head in the 1992 film Chinna Gounder further cemented his status as a beloved actor among the rural masses, due to the film’s phenomenal success.

In recognition of his contribution to Tamil art and cinema, apart from his cinematic achievements, Vijayakanth was honored with the Kalaimamani Award by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2001. His notable performance in the 2002 anti-corruption hit Ramana earned him the Tamil Nadu State Film Award.

He is survived by his wife, Premlata, and two sons.

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