Vijayakanth is one of the very few Tamil speaking actors to have acted only in Tamil movies throughout his career, though his movies have been dubbed into Telugu and Hindi. Many of his recent movies contain nationalist plots about a terrorist, corrupt Indian politician or a mafia don troubling the Indian people and Vijayakanth getting back at the troublemakers single-handedly. He is also famous for acting village oriented movies, many of them had huge success across Tamil Nadu. His first film was Inikkum Ilamai (1979) in role of villain. His subsequent films Agal Vilakku (1979), Neerottam (1980), Saamanthippoo (1980) were not commercially successful. He then had a success with Doorathu Idi Muzhakkam (1980) and Sattam Oru Iruttarai (1981) directed by S. A. Chandrasekhar, most of his movies are with him. He is nicknamed "Captain" after the movie Captain Prabhakaran (1991) which was his 100th film and was a big hit.
Vijayakanth was booked in Inikkum Ilamai (1979), his first film where he acted in villain role which was directed by M. A. Kaja. After several films unsuccessful, he then had a success with Doorathu Idi Muzhakkam (1980), the film was screened at the Indian Panorama of the International Film Festival of India and Sattam Oru Iruttarai (1981) directed by S. A. Chandrasekhar. His career took off and was remade in Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada language. After this film, Vijayakanth became one of the leading actors of Tamil cinema. He acted in various hits such as like Vaidhegi Kaathirunthaal (1984). This year, Vijayakanth's films released 18 movies, this is a record and the only Tamil actor who has released all his films in one year in the lead role. He acted in Annai Bhoomi 3D (1985), the first film 3D made in Tamil film industry. He co-starred with Kannada superstar Vishnuvardhan in Eetti (1985) and Tamil actor Sathyaraj in role of villain. The romantic comedy movie Naane Raja Naane Mandhiri (1985), who he is a self-centred egoistic village Jamindar who makes fun of people was a commercial success. He acted in Amman Kovil Kizhakale (1986), which earned a Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil and was a commercial success. He also acted in Manakanakku (1986) "the only film where Kamal Haasan and Vijayakanth worked together till date", followed by drama movie Oomai Vizhigal (1986) which is a blockbuster. It was one of the trendsetters of the 1980s Tamil cinema portraying the role of a cop for a change an aged cop, though he had a small screen time in this multi-starrer he gave a powerful performance. He co-starred with the Legend Tamil film actor Sivaji Ganesan in Veerapandiyan (1987), this was followed by Cooliekkaran (1987), Veeran Veluthambi (1987) and Ninaive Oru Sangeetham (1987) which were successful hit movies. He worked in the movies like Therkathi Kallan (1988), Poonthotta Kaavalkaaran (1988) which earned him a Cinema Express Award for Best Actor – Tamil and Senthoora Poove (1988) which won him a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor and was declared a blockbuster. He also starred two of the super hits of the year Paattukku Oru Thalaivan (1989) and Ponmana Selvan (1989) followed by a crime movie Rajanadai (1989) and a devotional film Meenakshi Thiruvilayadal (1989) at the end of the year.
Vijayakanth acted in a good number of blockbuster and super hit in the 1990s also. Some of them are Pulan Visaranai (1990), this film loosely based on the life of the notorious serial killer Auto Shankar, had R. Sarathkumar portraying the antagonist. Directed by R. K. Selvamani, this film was considered to be one of the best crime thrillers of its time. At the end of the year, he acted in Sathriyan (1990), it was produced by Mani Ratnam about an honest cop and a corrupt politician. This can be easily termed as Vijayakanth's best attempt at the cop role amongst the innumerable times he donned the Khakhi. This is undoubtedly Vijaykanth's best film and also comes in the list of the good cop films made in Tamil cinema. After the success of Pulan Visaranai (1990), Rowther decided to make another project with Vijayakanth and director R. K. Selvamani titled Captain Prabhakaran (1991). It was Vijayakanth's 100th film, after which he earned the nickname "captain". He is the only actor from his period to have tasted a jubilee box-office hit on 100th film and joined the list of actors namely M. G. Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa, Sivaji Ganeshan, whose 100th film was blockbuster. The film was a commercial success upon its release and became a blockbuster hit, followed by Maanagara Kaaval (1991) and Moondrezhuthil En Moochirukkum (1991). Vijayakanth worked in the movies like Chinna Gounder (1992), this film was radically different from Vijayakanth's earlier portrayals as he was donning the role of a soft-spoken village chieftain. The film is remembered for Vijayakanth's underplay. This film was ranked third in Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film, followed by Bharathan (1992), Thai Mozhi (1992) who Vijayakanth made a special appearance and Kaviya Thalaivan (1992). He co-starred with the son of the director S. A. Chandrasekhar, Vijay in Sendhoorapandi (1993) where Vijayakanth plays the role of elder brother. He starred in Sethupathi IPS (1994) directed by P. Vasu, the movie was a blockbuster hit, followed by Honest Raj (1994), Pathavi Pramanam (1994), En Aasai Machan (1994), co-starred with actor Murali as brother in this film, Periya Marudhu (1994) and was commercial success. He acted in Karuppu Nila (1995), a super hit, Thirumoorthy (1995) and Gandhi Pirantha Mann (1995) are failed at the box office. He acted in an action film, Thayagam (1996) which won a Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize. The movie was a blockbuster hit. Followed by Tamizh Selvan (1996), a political film and Alexander (1996), an action film. He starred in Dharma Chakkaram (1997), a drama film with the only movie with the director K. S. Ravikumar and was successful. He acted in his 125th film Ulavuthurai (1998) which became a super hit and two averages films, Dharma (1998) and Veeram Vilanja Mannu (1998). He acted in Kallazhagar (1999), and co-starred with Suriya in Periyanna (1999). it was released on averages reviews. He starred in Kannupada Poguthaiya (1999) produced by R. B. Choudary. The film was a super hit.
Vijayakanth had three releases, Vaanathai Pola (2000) which won two awards a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film of the year and National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment. It was a big blockbuster. Vallarasu (2000) and Simmasanam (2000) out of which former two films became hugely successful in box office. After this year, he still played in action movies like Vaanchinathan (2001), and Narasimha (2001). Viswanathan Ramamoorthy (2001) in which he made a cameo appearance and Thavasi (2001). All these films received mixed reviews from critics at the box office. He acted in Raajjiyam (2002), and Devan (2002) co-starred with the actor Arun Pandian directed by him and Karthik. He gave a blockbuster Ramanaa (2002), this film was Vijayakanth's last sensible film before he set on a rampage to deliver duds and bid adieu to films in order to join politics and which won him a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film of the year. He had two releases Chokka Thangam (2003) a drama film, and Thennavan (2003) a political film became average grossers at the box office. He acted in three movies Engal Anna (2004), a comedy film for years, Gajendra (2004) and Neranja Manasu (2004) all three received average reviews. He acted in three action movies, Perarasu (2006), Sudesi (2006) and Dharmapuri (2006) which were all successful at the box office. He starred in Sabari (2007), the story of Doctor Sabarivasan who goes on a revenge spree against rowdy elements who are disturbing peace and tranquility in the city. His 150th film was Arasangam (2008), the film was about a police officer who discovers and unravels the mystery behind a terrorist gang plotting to steal information about the growth of the Indian economy, set in Chennai and Toronto. He acted in Mariyadhai (2009) with the second film with the director Vikraman after Vaanathai Pola, followed by Engal Aasan (2009) where he co-starred with Vikranth, the cousin of actor Vijay.
He acted in Virudhagiri (2010), a remake of the French movie Taken. After five years without films, he made a cameo appearance with his son, the first movie of actor Shanmugapandian in Sagaptham (2015). In November 2015, he came back to acting to feature in Arun Ponnambalam's Thamizhan Endru Sol alongside his son, Shanmugapandian, the second film with him. The film began production during November 2015, and will be released during 2017.
Vijayakanth's most critically and commercially successful films include:1986 – Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil for Amman Kovil Kizhakale1988 – Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor for Senthoora Poove1989 – Cinema Express Award for Best Actor – Tamil for Poonthotta Kaavalkaaran1994 – Tamil Nadu State Film Honorary Award (MGR Award)1996 – Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize for Thayagam2000 – Cinema Express Best Actor Award for Vaanathaippola2001 – Kalaimamani Award from the Government of Tamil Nadu2001 – Best Citizen award2001 – Best Tamil Citizen Award by Mayor of Houston U.S.A2009 – Filmfare Top 10 Legends of Tamil Cinema Award2011 – Honorary doctorate
He formed the center-left party Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), a regional political party in Tamil Nadu. He formally announced the party's formation on 14 September 2005 in Madurai. His party contested in all seats in 2006 assembly elections and won one seat contested by him. The DMDK, led by Vijaykanth, proved to be an important player in the 2006 Tamil Nadu assembly election, garnering 10% of the voters and securing 10.1% in this Lok Sabha election. According to the study, it secured more votes than the winning margins of candidates in about 25 constituencies. In 2006, polling showed that DMDK was able to get more DMK votes than AIADMK votes, but in this election, they were able to wrestle more Congress voters from 2004 than any another party. Contrary to the claim of many in the AIADMK camp blaming DMDK for the defeat, there is no evidence for this to be true. Vijayakanth has declared that he would not ask donations for his party, and most of the funding for the party comes from his own pocket. He has so far rejected alliances with other political parties. In a by-election to Madurai Central assembly constituency, DMDK secured around 17000 votes, which is just 2000 votes less than AIADMK. DMDK was also able to secure a significant number of seats in Local Body elections.
In the 2011 election, held on 13 April 2011, he formed an alliance with All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and contested in 41 constituencies. His party saw phenomenal success by winning 29 of the 41 seats it contested. Notably, DMDK won more seats than the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Vijayakanth occupied the position of MLA for the second time, winning the Rishivandhiyam constituency. Cho Ramaswamy encouraged Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) to forge an alliance with AIADMK. DMDK launched a vigorous campaign to defeat DMK; it made a resolution to call all parties to come together to defeat the ruling DMK in a conference held in Salem on 8 January presided over by its leader Vijayakanth. S. Ramadoss, leader of Pattali Makkal Katchi, expressed his dissatisfaction with people from the film industry ruling Tamil Nadu since 1967. He also urged voters not to vote for Vijayakanth with his long career as a Tamil actor.
Following the election, Jayalalithaa and Vijayakanth had fiery exchanges in the assembly that started the rift between the two parties. Due to this reason, Vijayakanth got separated from AIADMK. In the 2014 parliament elections, DMDK forged an alliance with BJP, a non-DMK and non-ADMK alliance of parties such as MDMK, PMK, IJK, and other small parties. Even though his party drew a blank in the polls, his image in the national politics rose(???) with PM Modi giving special reference to him in the NDA leaders meet and referring him as his friend. DMDK Leader Vijayakanth loses his position as leader of opposition in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly as eight of his MLAs handed over their resignations to the speaker of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.
He lost both his seat and deposit in the 2016 election. A two-time MLA (2006 and 2011), he was contesting from the Ulundurpettai constituency in Tamil Nadu’s Vilupuram district. He could manage only 34,447 votes which saw him finish a distant third. The seat was won by the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK) candidate R Kumaraguru, who polled 81,973 votes. His nearest rival was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) candidate GR Vasanthavel, who managed 77,809 votes to finish second.
Vijaykanth was born in Madurai. The media has widely publicized an ongoing dispute between Vijayakanth and comedic actor Vadivelu, who was Vijayakanth's co-star in a number of notable films. On 21 September 2008, Vadivelu's residence, located in Saligramam in Chennai, was pelted with stones by a gang leaving several windows and furniture damaged. Vadivelu reported that he suspected that it was Vijayakanth's men who because of a court case which he had filed against Vijayakanth for assault, for which the final court hearing was to take place the following day. The attack may have been set up to prevent Vadivelu from attending the hearing. Filing another case for attempted murder against Vijayakanth, Vadivelu mentioned his interest in competing against him in the next assembly elections and "teaching him a lesson." In response, Vijayakanth told a press meet on that Vadivelu's allegations are based on hearsay. During the legislative assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 2011, Vadivelu vehemently campaigned for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its alliance. During his public speeches, he predominantly condemned Vijayakanth, whose party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), allied with the opposition party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). In a campaign speech in Tiruvarur, Vadivelu stated that "(his) only aim is to sweep out Vijayakanth’s whole team and to campaign vigorously for DMK’s victory". Vadivelu was criticized as being biased, only supporting a DMK-led victory for personal gains and not once mentioning the then-official opposition, the AIADMK, or its leader, J. Jayalalitha. In a turn of events, the election was eventually successful for the AIADMK alliance while Vijayakanth was victorious by a significant margin in his own constituency.
He founded Shri Andal Alagar College of Engineering in 2001. His wife is the chairman of this college. On 1 October 2001, Vijayakanth declared that 1 October, which is actor Sivaji Ganesan's birthday, be observed as Actors' Day in Tamil Nadu. In 2001, he was the former president of South Indian Film Artistes' Association and under his presidency the debts of the association were cleared by organising celebrity shows overseas. Vijayakanth has launched a 24-hour television channel called Captain TV on 14 April 2010.
Vijayakanth has been a continuous target of criticism from pro-Tamil leaders like Seeman of Naam Thamizhar Katchi and other Tamil Nationalist Parties due to his Telugu origin. He has been criticized for making obscene gestures in public, often towards journalists. He is often the subject of jokes or abuse on social media for his lack of English proficiency or his gaffes during speeches, and his party cadres lodged a complaint with police to stop people creating such memes. While speaking at an election campaign meeting in 2016 he criticized Rajinikanth, causing a considerable backlash from supporters of Rajinikanth.