Presumptuous Poster Boy

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Sparkplug Bombastic speeches and dramatic gestures mark the style of actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth, still a superhero for his followers. Photo: Adam Jones
Sparkplug Bombastic speeches and dramatic gestures mark the style of actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth, still a superhero for his followers. Photo: Adam Jones

In the halcyon days of Kollywood cinema, his larger-than-life character defused the deadliest bomb with his teeth, as if it was a piece of cake. Exploiting the sentiments of a state known for hero worship, the superstar was found in many films deflecting bullets with vests made of cardboard and tin foil.

Most memorably, his character thundered in a blockbuster: “When an ordinary man touches electricity, he gets a shock. But in my case, electricity gets a shock if it dares to touch me.” That’s just a rough translation of his punchy line — the bombastic dialogue delivery can’t be conveyed in print.

Actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth, now 64, set up the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005 after acting in nearly 150 films. His blockbusters include Oomai Vizhigal (1986) and Pulan Visaaranai (1990) and fans loved him most in the roles of police inspector and labour leader.

Much water has flown down the Cooum river in Chennai in the last decade. But Vijayakanth, presently Leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, seems to be replicating his onscreen histrionic skills and outbursts sans logic. While the state is inching close to another Assembly election and all political formations excluding Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK are seeking alliance with his party, Vijayakanth is not treading with caution. When a journalist asked him a difficult question on the prevailing political situation last week, he spat and swore, kicking up a controversy.

The state is also being subjected to mounting tension as the superstar from yesteryears melodramatically directs his fans to remove hoardings with pictures of Jayalalithaa. With AIADMK cadres turning defensive and the police starting to take action, the image of Vijayakanth, fondly called ‘Captain’ since he portrayed an Indian Foreign Service officer in his 1991 hit Captain Prabhakaran, takes another beating.

This is not the first time the actor, also known as Karuppu (Black) MGR, makes headlines for the wrong reasons. He slapped a party cadre in Kancheepuram three years ago in front of TV news cameras for alleged over-enthusiasm. Only three months ago, his party’s Cuddalore secretary was thrashed for not organising a meeting in the manner he expected.

With patience and tolerance finding no space in his dictionary, Vijayakanth now finds it difficult to keep his party intact. Veteran politicians including deputy leader Panruty Ramachandran have already left to join the AIADMK. Unable to withstand humiliation, a number of MLAs switched to other parties, ignoring the anti-defection law. The DMDK is now by and large a family affair, with his wife and brother-in-law deciding day-to-day functioning.

According to Prof. Ramu Manivannan from the department of Political Science at Madras University, Vijayakanth is a spent force, promising very little to the electorate in Tamil Nadu. “He is a person lacking not just in political ideology but personal and public traits as well. I do not think he would make a good leader.” By making himself available for bargaining, he has become a symbol of the rotting political system, adds Manivannan.

‘Captain’ and his party draw much of their support from northern Tamil Nadu, especially the Vellore-Krishnagiri region. Yet DMK leader M Karunanidhi still clings to the belief that the presence of Vijayakanth is crucial in a ‘grand alliance’ to take on the might of Jayalalithaa in the Assembly poll three months away. The alliance of Left parties with MDMK is also keen on his inclusion.