A picture of pluck, perseverance

50 years ago, in an interview with The Hindu, a 17-year-old Jayalalithaa showed plenty of signs of becoming a legend

Updated - May 23, 2016 06:52 pm IST

Published - February 25, 2015 08:03 am IST

Jayalalitha in Hari Haran films "Ama Evaru".

Jayalalitha in Hari Haran films "Ama Evaru".

As posters wishing former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on her 67th birthday compete for space on the streets of Chennai, a look at the actress-turned-politician’s earliest interview with The Hindu reveals a side to her that is visible even today.

It is the pluck of a wide-eyed 17-year-old that shines through in the profile written by T.M. Ramachandran for the Sports and Pastime feature on October 23, 1965.

Merely a few years into the film business, Jayalalithaa, who had completed 10 films in two years — a feat only a few of her contemporaries could boast of — had been proclaimed the ‘bright new star of the South Indian film industry.’ Cruising on the success of Vennira Aadai , Aayirathil Oruvan , and Nee , it was her ‘youth, beauty, and brains’ that were identified as her unique appeal.

Her mother, the actress Sandhya, thought her accomplishments to be almost predestined. She said in the published interview, “…her [Jayalalithaa’s] horoscope is so good that she is bound to enjoy a prosperous career with her fame spreading far and wide.”

However, the teenage artiste did not have time for these platitudes. She quipped defiantly, “I am not depending on my horoscope to perform miracles. I want to work hard and win international acclaim as a movie actress. Till that is done, I will not rest content.”

Interestingly, her mother had envisioned a different career for Jayalalithaa. The interview traces how the teenager, eager to pursue medicine, found her way into showbiz.  With the search for a suitable young actress to play the role of a young widow in the Kannada film Nanna Karthavya having failed, the director Vedantam Raghaviah is said to have approached Sandhya (already a part of the film) to allow her daughter to fill in.

Sandhya, however, categorically refused. She said, “I want my daughter to become a doctor. I am not interested in making her an actress like me.” Moreover, she added that even if she were to permit her daughter to act, she would never let her play a young widow at the start of her career.

After much persuasion, Sandhya finally consented, on the condition that her daughter who was in 6th grade at the time be called to shoot only on weekends and holidays. On her experience of facing the camera for the first time, Jayalaithaa said, “The studio atmosphere did not appear strange to me. I was never conscious of the camera...the whole thing looks like a dream, a pleasant dream, to me.”

50 years on, the schoolgirl who moonlit as an actress on weekends, stands as one of the most formidable politicians of our time. As she turns 67, it seems only fitting to rewind to the beginning of her journey in winning the hearts of the masses.

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