Jayalalithaa

Born in 1948, Jayalalithaa Jayaram’s pre-political life as a film actor is no secret.

We came across two rare photographs of Jayalalithaa from the extensive collection of 88 year-old film historian and chronicler, Film News Anandan based in Chennai and another that was circulating on social media.

Here are the stories behind them.

1. Epistle

The only English movie in Jayalalithaa’s entire career, it was also the first film that she began shooting for. Called Epistle, the movie was produced by former Indian President VV Giri’s son Shankar Giri.

Though the movie released officially in 1966, it never really did well amongst the masses. The movie was then re-released by Giri after Jayalalithaa became popular for some of the movies she had got a name for in that span – “Chinnada Gombe” in Kannada and “Vennira Aadai” in Tamil.

"Ramana Reddy was her co-actor. I never really saw the film. But it didn’t do well even after Jayalalithaa became popular unlike her other movies", says Anandan.

2. Ganga Gowri

This picture of Jayalalithaa acting in the Tamil version of the Kannada movie “Ganga Gowri” released in 1973 has a long story behind it.

She was born in the Mandya district of Mysore ( now Karnataka) in 1948 to a Tamil Vaishavite Brahmin Iyengar family belonging to Srirangam, Trichy. Participating in dance troupes from a young age, in the 1970s she was invited to be a part of a grand performance in Mysore as a part of the Dussehra exhibition. However, that year amidst intra-state tensions over prolonged talks on conversion of the state’s name from Mysore to Karnataka, a number of well-wishers communicated to her that it would be better if she didn’t participate.

She 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.

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

Listening to the advice from well-wishers, Jayalalithaa then backed out of the dance citing health reasons. It was a little while after this that 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 Madras, Panthulu decided to shoot the movie in Mysore 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 was around the same time, says Anandan.

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

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

Even though the 12 feet high gates were locked, they climbed over and entered the premises of Premier Studio, says Anandan, an eye-witness.

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

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

“I am a Tamil girl, not a Kannada girl,” she then 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, he says in admiration of Jayalalithaa’s brave demeanour that day.

It was only when Director Swamy, also a man 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 Mysore, returned to Madras and thanked the journalists who had helped her that day. 

3. Jayalalithaa with Karunanidhi

This is a picture of Jayalalithaa and Karuanidhi that started doing the rounds on social media on the day Jayalalithaa was acquitted by the Karnataka High Court.

Where was this picture taken?

There have not been too many occasions when the arch rivals have posed for a picture, even at a time that they were not political enemies.

We asked quite a few people about the picture.

The picture it seems was taken after Jayalalithaa first presented her dance-drama 'Kaveri Thantha Kalaichelvi' (The Artistic Daughter Bequeathed by the Cauvery). The show was in 1965 or 1967. 

It was a government function for which Jayalalithaa was renumerated to perform. The dance-drama was a great success and she performed it again in 1981.