Tamil cinema remembers Vijayakant, the hero who touched lives with his kindness

Sukanya, Simran, Laila, T Siva and Tirupur Subramaniam speak about how Vijayakant democratised Tamil cinema sets, even ensuring that meat, eggs, and a glass of milk were provided to everyone on set.
Tamil cinema remembers Vijayakant, the hero who touched lives with his kindness
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Ever so often, there would come up a nostalgic interview with a yesteryear actor, and one name would be spoken about with infinite kindness and some tears — Vijayakant. Those conversations made it evident that there are few lives he did not touch, that he went about changing the world, one action at a time, without making much noise about it. Vijayakant democratised the shooting space, making it equal for all. At a time when women’s safety was neither spoken about nor understood, he ensured a safe workspace for them.

As the star passed away on December 28 after a long battle with illness, his former colleagues and industry compatriots speak about what made Vijayakant special.

Sukanya, actor

For me, Vijayakant sir will remain a wonderful co-star. I did two successful films with him — Chinna Gounder and Sakkarai Devan. Chinna Gounder was only my third film, and he was a huge star. As an industry youngster, I was terrified. But he put me at ease immediately. He used to like it if we said vanakkam on the sets instead of ‘good morning’. 

For a scene, I had to sit with a dove each on my shoulder and head, and hold one too. I had got used to holding a hen in my first film, but this was new. Vijayakant sir reassured me, convincing me that I could manage it. During the rehearsal, he introduced a sudden movement that scared me. That worked so well that we retained it in the movie.

For the climax, I had to roll down a slope which had glass shards and sharp stones. I obviously looked terrified and he told me I don’t have to worry and that there won’t be a scratch on me, because he would be holding me. As promised, I finished the scene, with not a single scratch. He did not have to take the effort to make a newcomer feel that comfortable.

The film ran for over a year and we had many theatre visits and success meets to attend. He was a born leader. His car would go first, followed by that of other cast members. He would not wait for an assistant to give us instructions, but would show us the route by waving his towel in the direction we had to go in. He was committed to taking personal responsibility and caring for others.

He put everyone on set at ease with his behaviour. He would engage in banter with the lightman and they would speak to him like he was one of them. He ensured every single person was comfortable. He ensured all the staff on set got beverages like Boost, Horlicks, or Bournvita.

When people walked in for help, no one was kept waiting or made to feel small. Help would be instant. Remember the song “Andha Vaanathapola Manam Padacha Mannavane?” That is a personification of him. 

T Siva, producer

More than Vijayakant the hero, we should speak about Vijayakant the person. The human being he was is what made people love him as an actor. His humaneness made him win in every space. 

He believed that the only thing people would say enough to is food and that they should be fed till they said ‘enough’. He also believed that the food served should be of good quality. At a time when film units served an egg or half once a week, he brought in the practice of serving meat for both lunch and dinner. There would be two dishes — chicken and mutton, or chicken and fish. And, there would be no bar on the quantity consumed. He brought in the system of badam milk, Boost, Horlicks, and Bournvita on film sets. He wanted everyone to look forward to a day of shooting. On the set, he would supervise if everyone ate before he sat down to eat.

His office was that kind of space too. Anyone could walk in for a meal at any time of the day. That place has nourished so many hopefuls in cinema, so many people who did not have the money to eat. 

If anyone said they’d lost their purse and needed to go home, or needed money for a bus, or for their studies, he would go through people’s requests for financial help on Sunday and distribute money. He kept hardly 10% of his earnings. The rest were for others.

Today, actors bring along bouncers to the sets. He was the original bouncer for the entire set. He would protect everyone. If there was a crisis, he would fold his veshti and stand in the middle, even if it was a crowd of 5,000. If there was trouble during outdoor shoots, he would first send off the actors, costly equipment, and then take the last car out. That kind of courage came naturally to him.

Vijayakant’s success ratio was phenomenal. 

He had the heart to promote new talent. In the 170 films he did, he introduced 54 new directors, including RK Selvamani. Many of these directors came from the film institute. 

Even his films that did not do too well would not drown producers — it would be a marginal loss. Vijayakant sir would compensate for their loss in some other way. He probably took the full salary for only 10% of the films he did. He would give up a major part of remuneration if the production ran into difficulty. He was all heart.

Simran, actor

I’ve worked with him in two movies — Kannupada Pogudhayya and Ramana. He was a very professional, disciplined person on the sets. He was quiet, and if he had to put across a point, would do so very gently. Once he approved of a story, he gave his 100% to it.

Working in a production with Vijayakant sir meant everything was larger than life.  As women, we felt very safe. We were looked after well.

He introduced many new directors and was ahead of his time in terms of the projects he backed. That is why you still remember so many of his movies. As a person, he was a keen observer of life and a great listener.

Laila, actor

Vijayakant was my first hero in Tamil for Kallazhagar. I knew I was brand new here, did not know the language and nothing about the environment I was to work in. He turned out to be the nicest person. Such a wonderful human, who actually sat with me on a stone bench outside a temple where we were shooting to teach me my dialogues. I did not know Tamil, he was not very confident in English, but he made that effort. He did not have to, but he taught me. He would keep telling me not to get stressed, and convinced me that I would learn to deliver my dialogues.

I am relieved he’s free of pain and suffering. He did not have to endure this for the kind person he was. 

Tirupur M Subramaniam, president, Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association

We began our careers around the same time, in 1978-79. We reached where we did after tremendous struggle. He remained the same kind person he was from day one through super stardom and ill health. He respected all and brought in the system of serving the same food for all in the shooting set, and he did this without making much of a noise about it.

Everyone can get a good name as a hero or actor, but to get a good name for being a kind person, that is rare. He wore the same khadi veshti and shirt even at his peak and did not let success enter his head, at any stage.

After MGR, it was his films that had very successful repeat runs. And, at a time when Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan were ruling the roost, he created a place for himself with his affinity for action roles. He was Tamil cinema’s angry young man, taking up cudgels to question society’s inequality. He rocked the role of a law-enforcing officer.

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