At 10 years old, Vijay's first role was in the drama Vetri (1984); he continued to perform as a child artist in films until Ithu Engal Neethi (1988), directed by his father S. A. Chandrasekhar. He then featured as the lead in Naalaiya Theerpu (1992), again directed by his father. He received his breakthrough in the film Poove Unakkaga (1996), which was directed by Vikraman. Vijay began the new millennium with successful films such as Kushi and Priyamaanavale. The success of his masala film Thirumalai (2003), where he was paired opposite Jyothika, changed his on-screen persona to that of an action hero. He appeared next as a kabaddi player opposite Trisha in Dharani's Ghilli (2004), which went on to become the most commercially successful Tamil film of the year and the first Tamil film to earn ₹500 million (Indian rupees). His performance in Thirupaachi (2005) earned him a Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize. Vijay continued to achieve commercial success during the 2000s with films including Sivakasi (2005) and Pokkiri (2007).