Much before she won over people in her political avatar, J Jayalalithaa was the uncrowned queen and a very popular pin-up star of Tamil cinema during 1960s and 1970s. For all her reluctance to be an actor, her journey as one of the leading luminaries of south Indian cinema is more dramatic than any film script.
Jayalalithaa, 68, breathed her last on Monday after a bitter 74-day battle for life.
Though born in the lap of luxury, bad times fell upon the family when Jayalalithaa was very young, forcing her to follow her mother’s footsteps into acting in order to support the family.
As an individual, Jayalalithaa hated limelight. In an interview to Simi Garewal, she had said, “I have been propelled by fate into two high-profiled careers (second being her stint as chief minister of Tamil Nadu).”
In 1961, when she was barely 12, her first association with celluloid came in the form of English film, Epistle, directed by Shankar Giri.
Ace director BR Panthulu introduced her in a leading role in 1964 Kannada film, Chinnada Gombe, and her performance in the film garnered a lot of attention.
In 1965, she made her acting debut in Tamil and Telugu industries with films Vennira Adaia and Manshulu Mamathalu respectively.
Her role as a girl with a mental disorder falling for her psychiatrist in Sridhar-directed Vennira Adai was well received.
In 1965, when Panthulu cast her opposite the charismatic MG Ramachandran (MGR) in Ayirathil Oruvan, little did he predict that the pair would go on create history. They worked together in 28 films.
Many of her movies with MGR - Adimai Penn, Kavalkaran, Raman Thediya Seethai and Thedi Vanda Mappillai - are timeless and memorable even today.
A little less known fact is that Jayalalithaa replaced Saroja Devi in Adimai Penn as the latter was married by then. MGR reshot the whole movie with her.
The song Amma Endral Anbu from Adimai Penn also marked her singing debut.
Jayalalithaa was known to reinvent on screen and she didn’t hesitate to take up glamorous roles, even if it required her to wear sleeveless blouse and tight-fitting salwar kameezes. She was reportedly the first leading lady of Tamil filmdom to wear Western clothes.
She had also paired with Sivaji Ganeshan on several occasions, and they’re popular for working together in Tamil films such as Motor Sundaram Pillai, the full-length comedy Galatta Kalyanam and Engirundho Vandhal among others.
Her performance as a prostitute turned wife in Engirundho Vandhal propelled her to the forefront of filmdom.
The 1972 Tamil film Pattikada Pattanama, Jayalalithaa won the best actress Filmfare award. The film also won a National award.
She’s also known for her collaboration with actors such as Muthuraman, Jaishankar, Nagesh and Ravichandran.
Opposite Jaishankar, she starred in hit films Muthuchippi, Yaar Nee, Nee and Vairam among others.
The Jaishankar-Jayalalithaa combination resulted in memorable films such as Naan, Bhagdad Perazhagi and Magarasi.
In 1973, she won her second Filmfare award for the Tamil film Suryakanthi, in which she also crooned two songs Oh Meri Diruba and Naan Andral Adhua.
She also thrived in mythological roles, in movies such as Kandan Karunai, Annai Velangani, Sri Krishna Vijayam and Saraswathi Sabadham.
In Telugu, Jayalalithaa had starred in a total of 28 films.
Undeterred by the presence of thespians such as Savitri and Jamuna, she proved her mettle in Telugu filmdom.
Opposite veteran actor Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR), she had starred in well-known films such as ace Chikkadu Dorakkadu, Thikka Shankaraiya, Baghdad Gajadonga and Katha Nayakudu.
Her two films with Akkineni Nageswara Rao, another doyen of Telugu cinema, include Adrushta Vanthalu and Aadarsa Kutumbam.
In Krishna-starrer 1967 Telugu actioner Goodachari 116, she had no qualms of playing a role with a vampish slant.
In her solo Hindi film, Izzat, she played a tribal belle while her association with Malayalam industry ended with just two films, Jesus and Uppu.
In about a decade during 1960s and mid 1970s, Jayalalithaa had starred in over 100 Tamil films and at one point was tipped to be the highest paid actor of the industry. She also worked in few Kannada movies.
She made her last on screen appearance in Tamil film, Nadhiyal Thedi Vanda Kadhala (1980), and by then was nursing her political ambitions.
In 1982, she became an AIADMK party member. In the political circuit, she was popularly known as Puratchi Thalaivi, meaning a revolutionary leader for her aggressive brand of politics.
In 1991, Jayalalithaa was sworn in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time. From then on, her journey as Amma started.