J. Jayalalithaa has had a remarkable journey. Though like most prominent women politicians in India, she had a godfather in the person of M G Ramachandran, another film icon turned chief minister in a state that idolises its film stars no less than its politicians, she has managed to hold her own in the turbulent world of TN politics with tenacity, battling corruption charges and court cases, a prison sentence and attacks from a powerful Opposition.
She entered the film industry in 1964 (in the Kannada film Chinnada Gombe). She acted in 25 successful Telugu films with top stars N T Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Jaggiah and Krishna. She was an excellent dancer, an essential pre-requisite for a film star. But she was also well-educated, could speak seven languages and was an avid reader.
Those who knew her in those far off days said that she never came to the sets late, was dedicated to her work, and never interfered in the work of others.
Some of those who worked with her recall their days with Jayalalithaa as an actress and as Chief Minister.
It’s not easy for a lone woman to come up in life and lead from the front: Vanisri
She was an avid book reader. Whenever she had time before shots, she would be reading a book. If she was not reading, she would sit idle and never talk to anyone. She was a strong woman and always like a queen.
She is highly knowledgeable and intelligent. She never threw tantrums on the sets. She would read her lines only once and had them by heart. As co-artistes we were surprised and curious about how she could sit idle for hours.
I don’t know the exact year (it was nearly 40 years ago), when some artistes that included me, Nageswara Rao, Jayalalitha, Chandra Kala and others, had come to Hyderabad. After the event, we reached Begumpet airport and came to know that the flight was delayed for two hours.
The rest of us wandered around, ate something and talked to each other to pass the time, but Jayalalithaa sat alone in a chair and did not move for those two hours. I was curious to know how it was possible to sit alone, and they told me that some people have that kind of personality from their childhood.
She always maintained her dignity and decorum and behaved like a queen. She gave no trouble to the producer or the director. I have never seen such an actress in the film industry and I don’t think anyone can be like her in the near future.
Initially, Jayalalithaa used to be accompanied to the sets by her mother and actress Sandhya, but then she used to come alone. She respected all her personal staff. I think she was the first actress to create a beauty parlour in her home. Her hair stylist, make-up persons, everyone was treated well. But she never allowed them to stand in front of her or beside her; she would ask them to sit behind her.
She was always reading books, mostly in English. She spoke seven languages authentically and she was a highly intelligent person.
A few years ago my daughter Anupama became a doctor and received seven medals from the Tamil Nadu government. Her photo and articles were featured in all the papers. On the same day my husband got a call from the Chief Minister’s office saying the CM wanted to see me. I was in Hyderabad at the time, and was a bit scared, wondering why the CM wanted to see me.
We had to wait for half-an-hour as she was visiting someone in hospital. The office staff treated us like we were very important persons and close to the CM. When we entered her room, the camera flashed continuously for about half an hour and after that the room emptied except for my family and Jayalalithaa. She looked at me for a few minutes and then said, “How are you Vanisri garu? Please introduce your family members to me.”
It was an unforgettable moment for me and my family as she spent a good amount of time with us. She spoke to my daughter in English and asked about her future plans. She told her that she is just a phone call away if she wants anything. She asked my son what he wanted to do in the future. She told me that it’s rare that an actor’s children are highly educated and settled in a good position. She always gave importance to education and respected people who were highly educated.
She was a strong woman and showed her emotions openly. I met her another time when she gave away the Kalaimamani award. She spoke to me very well then too.
She was a good dancer, which is very rare in the film industry. After L Vijayalakshmi and, Kamala Lakshman, Jayalalithaa was the best dancer. It’s not easy for a lone woman to come up in life and lead from the front. We will not see a woman like Jayalalithaa in the near future.
She is a reserved person: Jamuna
Jamuna is senior to Jayalalithaa and acted with her in a mythological film. She was very reserved and never talked to anyone on the sets. She would read books and was highly intellectual and knowledgeable.
She was a strong woman, well-educated and never behaved badly on the sets or off. She would come onto the sets, complete her scene, read a book or sit alone. Four or five years ago, I went to Chennai for the Jaya TV function. She had personally called me for the event and invited me to her house.
She remembered all the old actors like me and called us for functions and selected us for awards. She was a rare person with a strong mind and personality who was dedicated to the people.
She is very devotional: Sarada
Sarada acted with Jayalalithaa in a film titled Premalu Pellillu. Jayalalithaa created her own style as an actress. I have known many actresses, but no one matched Jayalalithaa. She was a wonderful actor and dancer.
Jayalalithaa was always interested in her work and never bothered about others. But that’s not a complaint. She did not mingle with others because that was her style of working. If you went and met her, she would talk.
I met her twice after she became Chief Minister when she gave away awards. I asked her if she remembered me and she said, “How can I forgot you?” The South Indian film industry celebrated 100 years of Indian Cinema in Chennai. At that time she personally enquired about me and gave the award to me.
She was a modern Rani of Jhansi, capable of fighting alone for the development of society and the people. She was a Vaishnavaite and a strong devotee of Vishnu temple in Srirangam in Trichy district.
She was a super politician too: Suresh Babu
I was young when Jayalalithaa became a successful actress. I still remember that my father produced her 100th film - Thirumangalyam - a remake of the Telugu film Jeevana Tharangalu.
I was a kid then. When I went onto the sets, I was surprised to see her reading a book. It was a rare sight at that time! She acted in Premalu Pellillu, which was co-produced by Rama Naidu. My family has always had a courteous relationship with Jayalalithaa. I met her on a few occasions after she became Chief Minister. She just smiled and said ‘hello’
She was a super politician, a single woman who conducted herself well and rose to such a high level, an extraordinary person who saw so many ups and down in her life. She became an actress and then Chief Minister, was thrown out of the party and again came into the party, went to jail, came back to power and took control of the party. Nobody has been as powerful or compassionate, giving away so much to people.
Jayalalithaa is a Peoples Leader: Sowkar Janaki
Veteran actress Sowkar Janaki says that Jayalalithaa is one more daughter to her. "She is one year elder to my elder daughter Yagnaprabha and they studied in the same school at Church Park convent. I always remember as a beautiful cherubic doll when she was 5 years old when her mom Sandhya used to drop her at my house every day. She would go along with my daughters to school. My kids would come and say as how Ammu used to excel in studies, sports and in every extra curricular activities in school. That's the numero uno attitude which later made her the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu".
She adds, "I was more closer to her mother Sandhya as we worked together in many Tamil, Telugu and more in Kannada alongside of Dr Rajkumar. Sandhya used to be always proud of her daughter. Jaya is a self-made woman. Though she had the great support of late MGR, she has her own originality and highly independent. Her integrity is unquestionable be it films or politics".
When she assumed charges as the CM first time, she called me at about 9.30 pm and said, ' I don't have time to send the invite. Please accept this as my personal invitation and do attend the swearing in ceremony'.
Yet another thing which we veterans would not forget was the lunch she hosted for us to celebrate 100 years of cinema recently. "It was a memorable event and Jaya spent time with each and every artiste. She seemed very excited and contended"
I have the habit of sending letters and notes to her regularly as an admirer of her administration and other things. During the lunch she was saying that she preserves all my letters and complimented me that i write beautifully".
"We had mutual admiration for each other and in the eventuality, we will lose unparalleld and dynamic woman and leader and no one can replace her".