Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa passed away at the age of 68, after suffering a cardiac arrest, Apollo Hospital in Chennai confirmed her death.
Before she became Puratchi Thalaivi Amma (revolutionary leader),Dr J Jayalalithaa was known as Kavarchi Kanni, a title she earned for her glamorous on-screen roles. With more than 120 films to her credit, she was the most successful leading lady of her time and has worked in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada and even in a English movie.
Jayalalithaa was a reluctant actor by her own admission. As a teenager, she aspired to become a lawyer. But fate and her mother had different plans in store for her.
Before Jayalalithaa became a household name in Tamil Nadu through her films, she was part of dance and drama troupes. And she accidentally landed an opportunity to perform on a song in Kannada superstar Rajkumar’s film Shri Shaila Mahathme as a child artist.
A few years later, she was offered the female lead role in Epistle (1961), the only English movie in her career, which was bankrolled by former Indian President VV Giri’s son Shankar Giri. And it was officially released in 1966 to a poor response in the theatres.
At the age 15, Jayalalithaa made her Kannada debut with blockbuster movie Chinnada Gombe, which was produced and directed by B. R. Panthulu. Following the success of her first film, more work came her way, prompting her mother, Vedavalli aka Sandhya, who was also a film actor, to persuade her to take up the acting as a full-time job to help the family with its financial problems.
She was born in Mandya district in Karnataka in 1948 to a Tamil Brahmin Iyengar family and did her early schooling in Bangalore before she permanently moved to Chennai to live with her mother when she was 10.
A Tamilian born in Karnataka and working in films based out of Tamil Nadu made her a good target for right wing groups. Amid growing popularity, she was embroiled in a controversy after she refused to wear “Kannadiga girl” identity on her sleeve as demanded by a few Kannada activists.
The trigger was her interview to a Tamil magazine, where she said that she was born in Karnataka and fluent in Kannada but she was always a Tamilian. The comment did not go down well with Kannada activists. In 1970s, when she was shooting for Tamil remake of Kannada movie Ganga Gowri at Premier Studio in Mysuru, she came under the attack.
The members of Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha led by Vatal Nagaraj stalled the shooting as they tried to enter the studio. They wanted her to apologise for what she said. Jayalalithaa wouldn’t budge. The protesters were eventually persuaded to leave the place by Kannada filmmakers. That was her first run-in with a political party.
She soon became a popular name in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu industries. She was just not eye candy and played some substantial roles, equivalent to her male counterparts. One of her memorable roles was in Suryagandhi (1973) in which she shared screen space with R Muthuraman. She portrayed the role of a matured and a well-earning woman wedded to an egoistic man with ease and confidence in this family drama. Besides supporting the family financially, she also graciously deals with the tantrums of her husband, who feels inferior to his wife due to his low wage paying job.
The film was way ahead of its times as it rooted for empowering women at a time when men strongly believed that women belonged in the kitchen.
She showed her talent in doing comedy with Galatta Kalyanam (1968) with actor Sivaji Ganesan, another stalwart who ruled the Tamil cinema parallel to M G Ramachandran. Her other standout role with Sivaji would be Engirundho Vandhal (1970), in which she had played a feisty and empowering woman.
She played some of the best roles in her acting career, starring opposite Sivaji, in films like Savaale Samali (1971), Deiva Magan (1969), Sumathi En Sundari (1971) among others.
However, her career and stardom grew by leaps and bounds when she landed her first movie with MRG in B.R.Panthalu’s Aayirathil Oruvan in 1965. And she never looked back.
It is said that MGR was reluctant to cast Jayalalithaa because he thought she looked too young to be romantically paired with him. However, he was convinced by the filmmakers to give the young talent a shot. And Aayirathil Oruvan became one of the major hits of all time in Tamil.
After its success, MGR and Jayalalithaa starred in about 28 films together and became the most successful onscreen couple of all time with the masses. Besides Aayirathil Oruvan, some of their evergreen list of films, include, Adimaippenn (1969), Neerum Neruppum (1971), En Annan (1970), Raman Thediya Seethai (1972), Nam Naadu (1969) among others.
From a reluctant co-actor, MGR became very fond of Jayalalithaa over the period of time. It is also said that he was very possessive about her. He even launched her political career.
Jayalalithaa joined the AIADMK in 1982 and the rest is history.