From high-flying film career to a fearless political icon: An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

While the world prays for her recovery from illness, here is an insight into Jayalalithaa’s journey from a struggle-filled childhood to a political queen.
An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life...
India TV Politics Desk New Delhi December 06, 2016 17:33 IST

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who ruled the state for over 15 years, passed away on Monday at Chennai's Apollo Hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest on Sunday. 

She had been admitted to the Apollo Hospital in Chennai since September this year, where she was in the care of lung specialists and cardiologists. 

With an over three-decade undefeated reign in politics and an ambitious film career, 68-year-old Jayalalithaa has challenged the stereotypes, not only in Tamil Nadu but the entire nation. 

Here is an insight into Jayalalithaa’s journey from a struggle-filled childhood to a political queen. 

Early Life

Born on February 24, 1948, Jayalalithaa was first given her grandmother’s name Koamalavalli at the time of birth, as per Brahmin customs. At her first birthday, she was named Jayalalitha. The name was interestingly derived from the names of two houses - Jaya Vilas and Lalitha Vilas- where she lived in Mysore. 

At the age of two, her father Jayaram died which threw her family into a tumultuous world. Her mother Vedavalli then started working in Tamil cinema with screen name Sandhya. 

Meanwhile, Jayalalitha remained under care of her mother's sister Padmavalli and with maternal grandparents from 1950 to 1958 in Mysore.

After her aunt’s marriage in 1958, Jayalalithaa moved to Chennai to live with her mother and completed her childhood education there. 

Film career

Fond of classical dance and music, Jayalalithaa, during her education, trained in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Manipuri and Kathak. 

An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

While giving her debut dance performance at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Mylapore in 1960, she was spotted by Tamil actor Sivaji Ganesan, who expressed his wish that Jayalalithaa becomes a film star in future. 

She was only 15 when she did a Kannada film Chinnada Gombe at the pursuance of her mother. Luckily, the film became a hit and Jayalalithaa became a recognised face. 

Breaking the traditional Bollywood stereotypes, Jayalalithaa became the first Tamil actress to appear in skirts on screen. She was paired against Sivaji Ganesan and M G Ramachandran.

An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

She starred opposite Bollywood's He-man Dharmendra in ’Izzat’ with a raunchy song to her credit. She also acted in an English film titled Epistle that released in 1961. The film was produced by Shankar Giri, son of former president of India Dr. V.V. Giri.

Political Career

Sharing the screen with Tamil superstar MG Ramachandran in more than 28 films brought them together as partners in politics as well. So, when MGR formed AIADMK, he asked Jayalalithaa to join the party. 

An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

MGR was very close to his co-star Jayalalithaa and was seen as grooming her as his political heir. Impressed with Jayalalithaa's crowd pulling capabilities, MGR appointed Jayalalithaa as propaganda secretary of his party AIADMK .

An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

MGR's death in 1987 left Jayalithaa distraught. She was literally manhandled by the supporters of MGR's wife Janaki. An astute Jayalalithaa took advantage of her public humiliation and presented herself as a victim of high handedness of Janaki who became CM of Tamil Nadu after MGR's demise for a brief period.

Jayalalithaa succeeded in creating her own coterie in AIADMK and Janaki lost the vote of no-confidence motion brought against her by Jayalalithaa's supporters. Jayalalithaa was now the political heir of MGR.

Drawing on her massive popularity, in 1989, she won the elections to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly - becoming the first woman to be elected Leader of the Opposition.

In 1991, following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu, her alliance with the Congress party propelled the coalition to a massive victory. Jayalalithaa was re-elected to the Legislative Assembly and became the first elected woman chief minister of Tamil Nadu. 

An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

Since then, there has been no looking back for the 68-year-old AIADMK leader. She went on to create history by becoming the first person to return to power for a successive term in the last 30 years in the southern state.

Actually, she is the first leader after her mentor and the legendary MG Ramachandran to achieve this feat.

Controversies

During the years out of power, Jayalalithaa had to face a number of criminal lawsuits related to her first-term rule, mostly dealing with embezzlement and monetary fraud.

In 2001, a special court convicted her of criminal breach of trust and sentenced her to five years of imprisonment, following which she was prohibited from contesting elections. 

An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey An insight into Jayalalithaa’s incredible life journey

In 2003, however, the Supreme Court acquitted her in the specific case for lack of conclusive evidence to convict her.  

O Paneerselvam, allegedly a puppet of Jayalalitha, became the chief minister, vacating the chair for her in 2003. She again became the CM of the state in 2011.

In 2014, Jayalalithaa suffered another major blow as she was jailed in the disproportionate assets case. However, an acquittal in 2015 paved way for her to become the Chief Minister for the fifth time.

 
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