Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman breathed her last in a Chennai hospital on Monday.
The news of her death was met with outpouring of grief, as thousands of her supporters gathered outside Apollo Hospital after it emerged that she had suffered a cardiac arrest earlier in the day.
She was admitted to the hospital on September 22 due to an acute lung infection and her health had been waxing and waning since then. She was put on life support after suffering the cardiac arrest.
Jayalalithaa was also the leader of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a regional political outfit founded by Jayalalithaa’s mentor MG Ramachandran in 1972.
‘Amma’, as she was fondly known to her supporters commanded a huge following in her home state. Before entering politics, she was the highest grossing actor in Tamil movies.
While her movie career definitely helped advance her political cause, it was the causes she championed while in politics that got her a cult of a following in her home state.
The life story of Jayalalithaa can be summed up in five phases, each of them pitting her as an outsider against life’s odds.
1. Jayalalithaa had a lonely childhood
Jayalalithaa exhibited early signs of brilliance, even though she didn’t have a smooth childhood losing her father at the age of two. Her mother, along with her three siblings, moved to her maternal grandfather’s house when Jayalalithaa was just two.
According to reports, Jayalalithaa’s father was an idler and didn’t have a regular job.
It was at her maternal grandmother’s home in Bangalore that Jayalalithaa the prodigy started emerging.
2. The child prodigy
Jayalaithaa’s story from rags-to-riches is straight out of a fairytale. After the death of her father and moving to Bengaluru, Jayalalithaa’s widow mother Vedavalli moved base to Chennai to try her hand at acting, leaving Jayalalithaa and her siblings to the care of their grandparents.
Growing up without either parent only seemed to have made young Jayalalithaa more determined, as she excelled at studies at one of the most prestigious local schools.
After a hiatus, Jayalalithaa was called to Chennai by her mother where she continued flourishing academically.
According to early accounts of her life, she topped the state board in Chennai in class 10 and was offered an academic scholarship.
3. She acted in over 100 blockbuster movies between 1961 and 1980
Jayalithaa was pushed into movies at an early age by her mother.
Vedavalli encouraged her daughter to take up performing arts. She is reportedly a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and gave her first performance in front of a high-profile crowd which included movie actors at the age of 12.
There was no looking back after that as one good thing led to other for Jayalalithaa. She starred in her first movie, which was in Kannada, and went on to act in over 125 movies in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada languages among others.
She could be said to have enjoyed a standing similar to that of Rajnikant today, delivering over a 100 blockbusters between 1961 and 1980 as female lead, according to some reports.
4. Left acting when her career was at its peak to enter politics
Jayalalithaa’s foray into politics began after she came in touch with MG Ramachandran, the actor-turned politician. She was first elected to Rajya Sabha in 1984, and her first speech themed on women empowerment was applauded by leaders across the political spectrum, including then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
However, her political journey wasn’t smooth as she had to tussle for leadership of MGR’s AIADMK party with his widow after his death in 1987. Her critics have accused her of running her outfit in an authoritarian manner.
She went on to serve as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, being elected to the position 5 times until her demise on Monday.
5. Darling of the masses
Jayalalithaa’s brand of politics was seen as pro-poor. Some of her initiatives like Amma Canteen, a chain of food joints serving food at as low as Re 1, among others endeared her to the people.
Jayalalithaa is said to have acquired a cult following in Tamil Nadu. Local authorities fear that mass grief may soon give way to violent disorder as her zealot supporters try to come to grips with Amma’s death.
Thousands were seen weeping on camera after she was sent to jail in a corruption case. Reports of deaths due to trauma in the wake of ‘Amma’ being sent to jail were not uncommon either, and some local organisations even threatened to take to streets because of what they saw as ‘miscarriage’ of justice.