Chennai: At the time of his death, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founder and actor Vijayakant was heading a political party with a negligible vote share of around 0.5% in Tamil Nadu. His party is almost a non-entity in the political landscape, which it shook in 2006 and 2009 taking on the mighty DMK and AIADMK.
Many of the 29 persons, who were elected MLAs on the DMDK ticket in 2011 had left him years ago.
Yet, on Thursday, thousands of men and women of different age groups, converged at the DMDK headquarters in Koyambedu, a bustling hub of Chennai, to pay a tearful homage to Vijayakant, the man with a “golden heart” and “black diamond”. The building where the party headquarters stands was once a marriage hall, the Andal Alagar Kalyana Mandapam, which he had built in memory of his parents.
It once stood on a sprawling campus before a large portion of it was demolished during T R Baalu’s tenure as Union Minister for Highways for building a flyover. That incident had deeply wounded Vijayakant and he felt the DMK had acted out of political vengeance, though the Madras High Court had given Baalu a clean chit. Politics aside, as Vijayakant’s mortal remains were placed at the venue, the flyover was taken over by hundreds of weeping people who wanted to catch a last glimpse of the philanthropist.
Vijaykant: The star of Kollywood
Vijayakant, who had struggled in Chennai for some years, before he made it big in Kollywood, was known for his loosening his purse strings since the 1980s, much like the successful actor-politician M G Ramachandran (MGR) and yesteryear hero Jaishankar.
“At a shooting spot, I had once just laid my hands on food, when someone screamed the hero had arrived and asked me to get up. That affected me a lot and triggered me to ensure that my crew was served food on plantain leaves at shooting spots. Those days only parcel food would be served. It was my film company that introduced the practice of serving food on plantain leaves. The crew would eat the same food as I. If I drank juice, they too must get it, if I had tender coconut so would they...I am saying this with both pride and arrogance. You may take it as you want but this is it,” he told an interviewer decades later.
Whenever there was a natural calamity or fund raiser event for the Army, Vijayakant would contribute a significant sum, which would invariably be higher than the donation made by the top actors. He would fund the education of children and help poor set up livelihoods by giving them a sewing machine or an auto rickshaw.
A notable figure in both film industry and politics
He was an able leader who steered the South India Film Artistes’ Association out of debt in the late 1990s as its president. He also ensured that Tamil cinema’s colossus Sivaji Ganesan’s final journey was on a scale compared to those of mass leaders.
It is this philanthropy and capability that not only drew crowds, despite him having gone politically adrift, but also prompted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin to announce a funeral with State honours. His last rites would be performed on Friday evening at the same mandapam he had built in his parent’s memory.