The Secret Life and Death of Jayalalithaa


The Secret Life and Death of Jayalalithaa

Illustration: Akshita Monga/ Arré


here is a moment in Jayalalithaa’s early film career that provides an insight into the kind of political leader she would go on to become. It was 1973, when intra-state tensions between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka could rival the recent flare-ups over the Cauvery water dispute in intensity. As a young actor born to Tamil Brahmin parents in Mysore, Jayalalithaa asserted in an interview with Vikatan magazine that even though she was born in the state, she was still a Tamilian.

This left several people and political groups unhappy, who felt she ought to have stuck to her Kannada origins. Later, an angry mob from the Kannada Chalavali Vatal Paksha party, a pro-Kannada outfit, barged past guards at a Mysore studio where Jayalalithaa was shooting, screaming, “Where is the bitch?” The mob was demanding an apology from her. Jayalalithaa unperturbed and unafraid, stood her ground and addressed the crowd defiantly in eloquent Tamil, “I have done nothing wrong. Why should I apologise? I am a Tamilian and not a Kannadiga!”