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If you really want to see one of most exhaustive yet brilliant television interviews of Jaylalithaa, look no further than the one conducted by Simi Garewal for her popular chat show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal way back in 1999. Right from delving into her shy childhood to dabbling in films and politics to talking about why she never ever got married, Jayalalithaa spoke like never before, a fact she herself admitted towards the end of the interview. After her unfortunate demise on Monday night, Simi couldn’t help but remember with a heavy heart the interview that gave her a chance to understand one of the Indian politics most enigmatic personalities from close quarters.
Talking to indianexpress.com, Simi said, “Jayalalithaaji had seen the previous seasons of my show and she had liked it. Therefore getting her to be a part of the show was not difficult. She was an amazing person. She didn’t shy away from answering any of my questions.”
Before meeting Jayalalithaa, Simi was aware of the different images of the late CM floating in the media, some of which highlighted her as temperamental and difficult to deal with. Narrated Simi, “The year was 1999. My impression of Jayalalithaa was confined to what I had read about her in the media. I was warned she could be imperious and difficult. Even temperamental. So I went to Chennai armed with some apprehension but also fascination for a woman who held her own in the patriarchal politics of the South.The reality of meeting and talking to Jayalalithaaji was something I could not have anticipated. The media had tried to analyse her as a politician and I felt it was far more important to try and understand her first as a human being.”
The shoot was scheduled to start rolling at 4.30 pm and a punctual to a fault Jayalalithaa walked in two minutes prior to her call time. “She was grace itself. Punctual to the second, she arrived at 4.28 for our 4.30pm shoot. She seemed quite aloof and hardly spoke a word before the cameras rolled and the interview began. In the first 3-4 minutes of the interview, I sensed she was making a quick assessment of me. Something must have clicked in her intuition for soon she dropped her guard and a few minutes later we were singing ‘Aaja sanam’,” said Simi.
Simi points out that during the course of entire conversation, she and Jayalalithaa spoke more like friends having a freewheeling chat. “Our conversation took off on a life of its own. It was like there were no cameras whirring, no clock ticking. Just two human beings connected and travelling together into the depths of experiences and feelings.”
And did Jayalalithaa’s eloquence surprise her?
“I realized I was talking to a highly intelligent woman,” says Simi and adds, “I knew from my research that Jayalalithaa was a brilliant student but her articulation and clarity of thought amazed me. No fumbling or searching for words to express herself. She never evaded any question. She was very frank and honest. There was sincerity, there was humour, there was pathos and pain. In fact I can say Jayaji fulfilled the words from my theme song of my show, ‘Speak so I can see your soul.’ ”
After wrapping up a particularly detailed interview, Simi and her sister joined Jaya for some light-hearted banter over high tea. “After the interview, she graciously laid out a superb tea for my entire crew and invited my sister and me to join her in her private rooms for tea and a chat.”
The biggest take away for Simi from the interview was the extraordinary courage displayed by Jayalalithaa. “I came away from my rendezvous with a sense of awe for this magnificent and courageous lady. The latter manifested by her very survival in the ruthless world of male-dominated politics.”
The day Jaya’s interview was telecast, Simi’s phone rang incessantly with many newspaper editors and politicians calling the actor-anchor to say that they had never known this side of Jayalalithaa and had judged her wrongly. “Jayaji herself rang me and said the feedback she received was amazing,” recollects Simi.
Did she ever stay in touch with Jayalalithaa? “We corresponded for a short time. I invited Jayaji to my exclusive Rendezvous 100 celebration in Mumbai with this personal that read, ‘I don’t know if it is at all possible to have you with us. Possibly the constraints of your position and life won’t allow it. But wouldn’t it be lovely if like the Princess in ‘Roman Holiday’ you could just take off for an evening and spend it with a select circle of interesting people who admire you and would be greatly honoured by your presence? Also your promised Mumbai trip is still pending Jayaji! I wish you can somehow make it happen now.”
Simi very well knew the vagaries of a political career would not permit Jaya the time to travel and he gracious lady wrote back to Simi explaining the same. “Jayaji and I did not meet again. But I carried with me a great deal of affection and respect for her innate dignity and for the truly remarkable person that she is. Like the Phoenix she rose again. Jayaji was a thinker and her intelligence set her apart from the milieu which sadly is replete with inept and lesser educated politicians. With a cooperative political climate, surrounded by learned and brilliant minds like her own, Jayaji would have been able to achieve even more for the state and the country,” says Simi.
Bereaved at the passing away of someone she once had the opportunity of knowing up, close and personal, Simi says, “I cannot express the sadness I feel today at her passing away. Women like her are rare. There will never be another Jayalalithaa. I knew her struggle and dedication and I knew how deserving she was of success and fulfillment. She fought and won many battles. This last one proved insurmountable even for a braveheart like Jayaji.”