The lensman who gave Vijayakant an image makeover

The bulky, but powerful Charton camera shaped the lads destiny

Nearly 33 years ago, it was ‘Charton,’ a bulky but powerful box-type camera made in Japan, which had to be pushed around on a three-wheel trolley, that shaped the destiny of a Madurai lad, Vijayaraj, at the hands of R Asaithambi, owner of Rasi Studio here and helped his eventual transformation into Vijayakant, the actor-politician. Consumed by a passion to act in films, Vijayaraj, a school dropout, was running from pillar to post to spot a photo studio that would capture in still photographs, his ability to portray different moods.

Vijayaraj intended to send a set of these photographs to Tamil film producers and directors in Chennai and secure a toehold in the film world.

“I took stills in several studios of Madurai, but nothing seemed film-grade material until I stepped into Asaithambi’s Rasi Studio,” Vijayakant himself recalled later. The photographer has proudly laminated that interview the actor gave in Madurai in 1986.

Asaithambi said he photographed Vijayaraj with that big Japanese camera for 41 days, working till the wee hours. Vijayaraj was patient, prompt and worked very hard to get an acceptable face to enter filmdom.”

From hundreds of stills, “we selected 36,” recalled Asaithambi. Then Vijayaraj moved over to Chennai. “Periodically, I used to send good quality black and white prints to him through friends. Armed with them, Vijayaraj knocked on many a film maker’s door.”

Asaithambi remembered how Vijayaraj used to hang out in those days at the office of Masuk Gazhiyar, Madurai’s famous film distributor. Gazhiyar Used to distribute films starring MGR and Sivaji Ganesan. After MGR quit films in 1977 to turn chief minister, Ghaziyar suffered a financial loss. He wanted to make a film with Rajnikanth but the busy star could not give Gazhiyar a call-sheet. Gazhiyar then prompted Vijayaraj to enter Tamil cinema. “I took some stills of Vijayaraj in the Rajnikanth mould so that it may impress some film producer or director,” said Asaithambi.

Finally, producer M A Kaja gave the boy a break with ‘Inikkum Ilamai’. Thus, actor Vijayakant was born. At the Union Christian Higher Secondary School here, one of the oldest schools in South India established by the German Lutheran Missionaries in 1883, from which Vijayaraj had dropped out in 1969, the latter is vividly remembered as an ‘eternal back-bencher.’ The school has been the alma mater of nationalist leader Muthuramalinga Thevar and sage Ramana Mahrishi.

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