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Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Dead At 68 After Long Illness

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Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, died at 11:30PM today. She was 68. The former actress and 6 time chief minister of Tamil Nadu had been admitted to a private hospital in Chennai in September and was being treated for kidney, liver and lung related ailments.

Over the past few days, reports of her improving health condition had led her fans and loyal party cadre to believe that she was on the path to recovery, but Jayalalithaa became gravely ill when she suffered a massive cardiac arrest on December 4th. She was on ECMO support, and was monitored by a team of specialist doctors.

At 11:30 PM last night, she was pronounced dead by the hospital.

Her last public appearance was in September 21, when she inaugurated the metro rail service from Chennai Airport to Little Mount through video conference.

jayalalitha-rare-photos-2Born at Melukote in Mandya district to Jayaram and Vedavalli, Jayalalithaa was a bright child, who was forced to live apart from her mother at an early age due to their family’s financial difficulties. Her father, a lawyer by training, was a ‘gentleman of leisure’ and squandered away much of the family fortune. He died when Jayalalitha was 2 years old.

In an interview, Jayalalitha has acknowledged that this forced separation had a deep impact on her and shaped much of her attitude towards life.

Jayalalithaa passed out of the Sacred Heart Matriculation School in Chennai with flying colours. “I was bullied by my schoolmates because my mother was an actress. Those days I was very shy and did not know how to react to this. So, the only way I got back at them was through my education. I was always top of my class.”

In her final year, she topped the school and was chosen unanimously as the best scholar of her batch. She also won the Gold State Award for securing the highest marks in 1oth STD examinations in Tamil Nadu. “Till this day, I feel that this is the best achievement of my life,” she told Simi Garewal in an interview.

Her economic circumstances forced her to turn her back on an government aided offer to study at Ethiraj College. Instead, the then 15 year old entered the world of films. “Till then, my brother and I had never spared a thought for our living conditions. Everything we wanted was given to us. We thought we were the children of billionaires.”

She made her film debut with the Kannada film Chinnada Gombe, and followed it up with Manushulu Mamathalu. At the insistence of her mother, both films were shot during Jayalalitha’s school holidays so as to not interrupt her education.

They went on to become blockbusters. It wasn’t long before Kollywood came calling.

Director CV Sreedhar cast her in Vennirai Aadai, as a young widow. Her (then) daring outfits of sleeveless blouses and skirts earned the film an Adult rating. Interestingly, the underage Jayalalitha did not get to watch her very first film in theatres.

Right after the success of Vennira Aadai, Jayalalithaa was cast in MG Ramachandran’s big-budget Aayirathil Oruvan, and rapidly rose to become an A-list actress in Tamil.  The film also marked the beginning of a long association with MG Ramachandran. In 1980, she acted in her last film – Nayakudu Vinayakudu, opposite NT Rama Rao. In a career spanning decades, Jayalalitha had been a part of over 140 films. Along with actress Saroja Devi, she was one of Kollywood’s earliest Superstars.

Her stellar acting career served as a springboard for her political launch. At the insistence of her mentor MGR, Jayalalitha joined his nascent political party in 1982. The very next year, she was made the party’s propaganda secretary, an elevation that left the more experienced hands in the party fuming.

By her own admission, Jayalalitha was the target of much derision from the party’s mostly male members, who often threw vile insults at her.

Undeterred, Jayalalitha soldiered on. When MGR was hospitalised for a Kidney ailment in 84, it was Jayalalitha who campaigned hard for him, and was a major contributor to the party’s electoral victories that year.

After MGR’s death, Jayalalitha successfully wrested control of the party from her her rival Janaki Ramachandran, wife of MGR. Since then, she has taken the party from strength-to-strength, and won 6 terms as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

A brilliant acting talent, a charismatic onscreen presence and a canny politician – Jayalalitha was all these things, but it was her courage in the face of adversity, and her political succcess in a male-dominated society that will be talked about for a long time.

Feature Image Courtesy: Indian Express

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