The following word picture of Jayalalithaa (to use the spellings she adopted in later years for better luck) is based on pieces of information , including from her distant relatives, that have come my way during the past four decades of my stay in, and association with, South India. (I am not reading anything being written on Jayalalithaa nor do I intend to. )
First of all a delicious irony should be noted. Tamils and Telugus are crazy about their films, but in the real life they do not follow the script. In Andhra NTR’s political inheritance went not to his son but sno-in-law. Similarly, MGR’s mantle fell upon not his wife but Jayalalithaa. Though of Malayali heritage, MGR had the solid support of the Thevar community. Jayalalithaa’s durability in politics arises from the fact that the Thevar vote bank remained loyal to her.
Jayalalithaa comes from the high-ranking Ayyangar Brahmin caste. Her Mysore-based mother’s father was a learned Sanskrit scholar, but her mother went wayward. She moved to Madras to try her luck in Tamil films without any notable success. Not much is known about Jayaraman whose name is prefixed to Jayalalithaa’s own personal name.
Jayalaithaa was a very bright girl who left to herself would have become a medical doctor. As it happens with many unsuccessful mothers, Jayalalithaa’s wanted her to succeed where she herself had not. Jayalalithaa teamed up with MGR in many films and moved into politics following him. (It has been rumoured that they were secretly married.)
It is said that she has a (probably disabled) daughter from the Telugu actor Sobhan Babu.
She even ventured into Hindi films. She had a small, rather jarring, side role in the 1968 Dharmendra-Tanuja starrer Izzat. She sang a dance number Jaagi badan mein jwala/ Sainya tooney kya kar daala. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WDk6_YMq8w
Later, an ever-innocent Dharmendra wondered why her picture was being seen in the newspapers so often.
It is noteworthy that while Indians like their male political leaders ( Nehru, Bajpai) to be benevolent and rather indecisive, they admire focused ruthless women ( Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa.) A trait that contributed to their success was the ability to tell a lie to the face without batting an eyelid.