Despite her birthplace and love for the Kannada language, Jayalalithaa identified herself as a Tamil woman.

Proud Tamilian born in Karnataka Jayalalithaa had a long history with Kannadiga activistsJayalalithaa (left) in a still from "Ganga Gowri"
news Jayalalithaa Tuesday, December 06, 2016 - 01:53

In September 2012, Jayalalithaa was in Delhi for a Cauvery River Authority (CRA) meeting. The then Karnataka chief minister, Jagadish Shettar, and water resources minister, Basavaraj Bommai, were present too.

The mood in the room was frosty, with the two states at loggerheads as usual about the issue of water sharing. Bommai tried to break the ice and introduced himself to Jayalalithaa in Kannada.

Soon, the two of them were chatting comfortably in Kannada and Jayalalithaa reportedly said, “I speak in Kannada with film actress B Saroja Devi often. I’m forgetting the words and the language.”

But when it came to business, Jayalalithaa would not budge from her position although Bommai tried to convince her not to insist on the release of water.

Despite her birthplace and love for the Kannada language, Jayalalithaa identified herself as a Tamil woman. Her Tamil identity has been called to question by her political opponents but even before she entered politics, Jayalalithaa was clear about who she was. 

Jayalalithaa was born in Mandya, Mysuru, which is now in Karnataka, to a Tamil Vaishnavite Brahmin Iyengar family belonging to Srirangam, Trichy, in the year 1948. 

As an accomplished dancer who was part of dance troupes from a young age, she was invited to be a part of a grand performance in Mysuru for the Dussehra exhibition. This was in the 1970s when intra-state tensions were rife over prolonged talks on the conversion of the state’s name from Mysore to Karnataka. 

A number of well-wishers advised Jayalalithaa not to participate in the Dussehra exhibition and the latter backed out citing health reasons. 

Jayalalithaa had earlier said in an interview to Vikatan magazine that though she had been born in Karnataka and was fluent in Kannada, she was very much a Tamilian.

Proud Tamilian born in Karnataka, Jayalalithaa had a long history with Kannadiga activists.

This did not go down well with the Kannada activists. The statement came on the heels of Vatal Nagaraj’s Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha party condemning her for cancelling her dance performance in spite of being a Kannadiga girl.

It was a little after this that the famous Kannada director, BR Panthulu, approached Jayalalithaa to be a part of the Tamil remake of his Kannada movie “Ganga Gowri”.

Back then, Tamil movies were shot only in Chennai but Panthulu decided to shoot the movie in Mysuru, considering the reduced costs. However, what Jayalalithaa did not realise was that both the dates of the dance exhibition and that of the movie’s shooting were around the same time.

Film historian, Anandan, who was then a PRO, gathered together ten journalists to cover the shooting of “Ganga Gowri” and headed to Mysuru from Chennai. A day after they reached, a group of Kannada activists barged into the Premier Studio in order to confront Jayalalithaa when shooting was going on. 

Around 100 members of Vatal Nagaraj's Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha tried entering the studio to demand an apology from her.

Since the 12 feet high gates were locked, they climbed over the gates and entered the premises of Premier Studio.

"They were yelling all kinds of abusive chants and every one of them carried a weapon of some sort," Anandan recalled. The producer, BR Panthulu, Jayalalithaa, and the ten journalists from Chennai were all inside a locked room on the second floor of the studio.

“We (all journalists) surrounded her in one corner of the room when the protestors entered,” Anandan said. When they started demanding that she apologise for her earlier statements on Kannadigas, Panthulu came forward and asked Jayalalithaa to do so to end the tense situation.

“I am a Tamil girl, not a Kannada girl,” Jayalalithaa said loudly, refusing to apologise even as protestors gathered around her.

The only reason nothing happened was because she responded in Tamil and the protestors did not realise what was happening, Anandan said, in admiration of Jayalalithaa’s brave demeanour that day.

It was only when Director Swamy, who was from Karnataka, explained the shame that such an attack on a Tamilian in their state would bring forth, did the protesters finally decide to leave.

Jayalalithaa then left Mysuru, returned to Chennai and thanked the journalists who had helped her that day.

With inputs from Sowmya Rajendran.

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