Mersal to Kaththi: Five political films Vijay starred in before entering politics

Vijay’s movies began taking a political slant in the early 2010s, and have tackled a series of issues that plague Tamil society ranging from corruption to farmers’ struggles.
Vijay's Neyveli selfie and the art of responding to political targeting
Vijay's Neyveli selfie and the art of responding to political targeting
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Social media is in a furore after Kollywood actor Vijay, fondly known as ‘Thalapathy’ (commander or leader), announced his new political party Tamilaga Vetri Kazhagam (TVK) on Friday, February 2. He said the party would contest in the 2026 Assembly elections in the state. Vijay’s political entry does not come as a surprise as the actor had been teasing his fans and audience with stories and anecdotes, always hinting at his interest in politics. 

Even before rumours of his political aspirations began floating, Vijay had taken a public interest in several political events in the country. In 2011, the actor participated in Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption campaign. After the horrifying 2018 Thoothukudi shooting, when the police opened fire at people protesting against the opening of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant and killed 13 people, the actor visited the families of the victims and offered a solatium of Rs 1 lakh. This was seen as a censure of the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) which was in power in the state. Even Vijay’s movies began taking a political slant since the early 2010s and have tackled a series of issues that plague Tamil society ranging from corruption to farmers’ struggles. 

As Vijay and his party gear up for electoral politics, here are five political films that ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay has starred in: 

Thamizhan (2002): One of the first ever Vijay movies to portray him as an ‘angry young man’ fighting against corruption, Thamizhan is not a ‘political’ movie in the conventional sense, but it takes on the judicial and executive wings of the government. Filled with idealism, the film by debut director Majith follows the happy-go-lucky law student Surya (Vijay), who does not take his career seriously until a horrible family tragedy. Even before tragedy strikes, Surya embarks on ambitious, albeit unrealistic, goals of wishing to settle India’s debt and manages to persuade all the citizens in the country to send Rs 4,000 to the Union government as ‘their share’ in the debt. The film subsequently follows Surya’s endeavours to rid the society from the evils of corruption, which he manages to do, for which he is praised by the President of the country.

That said, there is a problematic romantic track between Surya and Priya (Priyanka Chopra) in Thamizhan, with no dearth of body-shaming and sexist jokes in the film. 

Thalaiva (2013): After what seemed like a brief break from political films, Vijay was back at it with Thalaiva, touching upon the intermingling of religion and politics. The film narrates the story of Vishwa (Vijay) who moved to Australia from Mumbai with his father’s friend Ratnam (Nassar) as a young child, after his father Ramadurai (Sathyaraj) murders an underworld don Bhadra to avenge his wife’s death. Vishwa falls in love with Meera (Amala Paul) in Australia, and her father (Suresh) wishes to meet Vishwa’s father before the duo gets married. The three of them return to Mumbai, but as events beyond Vishwa’s control result in his father’s death, he takes over Ramadurai’s gang and is given the title ‘Thalaiva’ (leader). The rest of the film follows Vishwa’s actions to restore peace in Mumbai and eradicate social evils from the city.

The film also ran into trouble with the former Chief Minister and leader of the AIADMK J Jayalalithaa, who was allegedly upset with the film’s tagline ‘born to lead’, as it hinted at the actor’s political aspirations. Owing to this and bomb threats from unidentified persons, Thalaiva’s release was postponed several times. This also took a hit on the film’s box office collections in Tamil Nadu. 

Kaththi (2014): Kaththi revolves around the struggles faced by farmers in Tamil Nadu after the government sees it fit to invest in companies manufacturing soft drinks over agriculture. In this AR Murugadoss directorial, Vijay is an escaped convict named Kathiresan, who pretends to be Communist activist Jeevanantham who tries to liaison with the government to hear the plight of the drought-stricken farmers. Soon enough, Kathiresan begins to empathise with the farmers’ cause and fights to seek justice for the farmers. 

The actor also made impassioned speeches in the film against the soft drinks manufacturing units as they usurped the water meant for irrigation, but was quick to be called out by the audience for starring in Coca Cola advertisements years before Kaththi’s release. 

Mersal (2017): Like Thalaiva, Atlee’s Mersal also landed Vijay in political trouble with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), even though it was not in power in Tamil Nadu during the movie’s release. A dialogue criticising the newly introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the climax of the movie irked the BJP to a point where H Raja, a senior politician in the party, made pointed remarks about Vijay being a Christian and accused him of starting a “hatred campaign.” 

The film features Vijay in a dual role, as a doctor (Maaran) and a magician (Vetri), who avenge the doctors responsible for the death of their mother Aishwarya (Nithya Menen) after botching her C-section surgery. The film also goes on to question the excessive cost of medical tests and the corruption in the medical field, which severely affect the average citizen. 

Sarkar (2018): Sarkar, also an AR Murugadoss directorial, is one of the first political films of Vijay’s which dealt with electoral politics and fraud. This is also the first movie where the character Vijay plays is seen contesting the elections directly, instead of criticising the government or acting independently to rid the society of corruption among other evils. Sarkar follows the story of Sundar (Vijay), an NRI corporate raider, who comes to Tamil Nadu to cast his vote but is told that someone else already cast a vote in his name. Digging deeper, Sundar unearths an elaborate voting scam and decides to contest against the ruling party headed by Masilamani (Pala Karuppiah). The rest of the film follows the multiple hurdles Sundar faces while going against a legacy political family electorally. It was also after the release of Sarkar that rumours around Vijay’s political entry began growing stronger, although the actor remained silent about them.

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