Fiery films & fearless politics: How Captain Vijayakant championed Sri Lankan Tamils

As an actor and a politician, Vijayakant was one of the few figures in the public eye who was vocal about his support for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause during the civil war in the island nation.
Captain Vijayakant
Captain Vijayakant
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Days after ‘Captain’ Vijayakant passed away in Chennai on December 28, grief over his passing continues to echo beyond Tamil Nadu, across the Palk Strait, resonating deeply in Sri Lanka's Tamil-majority regions. This outpouring of sorrow wasn't just for a beloved entertainer, but for a staunch advocate who championed their cause during the island nation's civil war. As an actor and politician, Vijayakant dared to speak up for Sri Lankan Tamils, earning him their enduring respect and affection.

The conflict between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka started in the 1980s, leading to the formation of the Tamil rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Soon enough, the conflict escalated into a civil war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military, which resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides. But Sri Lankan Tamils were at the receiving end of much harsher war crimes, including sexual violence, destruction of property, and torture, to name a few. 

As the civil war was peaking in the 90s, Vijayakant starred in a movie titled Captain Prabhakaran (1991), which was viewed as an ode to LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. While the movie does not have anything to do with Sri Lanka or the civil war, Vijayakant’s charismatic portrayal of the protagonist Prabhakaran was well-loved by the Tamil audience. The film even earned Vijayakant his ‘Captain’ moniker. 

The timing of the release of Captain Prabhakaran and its loaded political meaning are significant, because this was a period when even elected politicians in the state were careful about their comments regarding the escalating war in Sri Lanka. The film, however, was seen as an unflinchingly brave support to the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, and it earned Vijayakant the respect and admiration of Sri Lankan Tamils across the world. 

Even after Vijayakant exited Tamil cinema and became a full-time politician, he was unabashed in his support for the Sri Lankan Tamils. Vijayakant founded his party Dravida Desiya Murpokku Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005, when the civil war in Sri Lanka was still ongoing. Soon enough, Vijayakant and his party came to be viewed as a legitimate alternative for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). 

Also read: Rajinikanth’s cigarette and the start of Vijayakant’s DMDK

In 2006, Vijayakant contested in the Assembly Elections from the Virudhachalam district in Cuddalore and won with a margin of 13,000 votes. Shortly after his victory, Vijayakant began requesting the Union government to assist the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. In a moving statement, the actor turned politician said the Tamils in Sri Lanka were “orphans” and that India was bound by duty to direct Sri Lanka to stop killing them. He went on to state that if the Union government did not come to their aid, his party would be involved in agitations against them. 

Besides lending his support to Sri Lankan Tamils, Vijayakant also did not hesitate to question the inaction of elected representatives with regards to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. He even criticised former Chief Minister and DMK stalwart M Karunanidhi for his alleged soft stance on the issue. In 2011, two years after the civil war had ended and Prabhakaran was killed, Vijayakant lashed out against Karunanidhi and said that he had “betrayed the Tamils” in Sri Lanka by failing to protect them. The politician went so far as to say that the half day fast undertaken by Karunanidhi in April 2009 condemning the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of the LTTE  was “merely eyewash”, and that his actions did nothing to end the war or help the Tamils. 

Owing to his unwavering support to the Sri Lankan Tamils, Vijayakant’s death was mourned by many in the island nation, especially in areas such as Jaffna and Batticaloa with a significant Tamil population. An account on X (Twitter) named ‘Streets of Tamil Eelam’ shared pictures of condolence posters, and several people paying their tributes to the deceased actor-politician. Other accounts on X shared the fiery speeches Vijayakant had made in support of Sri Lankan Tamils during his tenure as a politician. 

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