Together in life and death

MGR was a highly popular film star of the South. She acted in 136 films during 1936 to 1977 before joining politics. Leveraged by her immense popularity with the masses like her mentor, Jayalalithaa also mounted on her successful political career in 1982 as driven by his failing health.

Bimal Saigal –
bimalsaigal@hotmail.com –

Passing away of J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu last week brought back memories of the events unfolding in the southern state after death of MG Ramachandran, the then Chief Minister, in 1987. Losing long-drawn battles with death on hospital beds in Chennai, both were charismatic leaders with such mass following that they left hundreds of thousands of their fans and admirers mourning and many going hysterical- weeping incessantly, beating their chests and banging their heads in expression of their burgeoning grief for the revered leaders.
Thousands of well-wishers had stood on vigil for days outside the hospitals. While the death of MGR triggered riots wherein emotionally charged crowds went on rampage damaging public properties forcing police to issue shoot-at-sight orders, apprehending similar mob frenzy in the case of Jayalalithaa, authorities delayed the announcement of her death by several hours during which they had time to beef up the security bundobust to meet any law and order problem. However, 280 people reportedly died in the state of shock and grief over her death. MGR’s death had also left around a hundred people dead, 30 among whom had committed suicide- most through self-immolation. An overwhelming number of ten lakh people had attended MGR’s funeral. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the funeral procession for Jayalalithaa.
Both were film actors turned politicians having admirers and ardent followers from the two fields of mass following. MGR, as the icon was known commonly, was a successful actor of Tamil films. MGR acted in 136 films during his long career of 41 years from 1936 to 1977 after which he joined politics and became Chief Minister of the state. He was saddled in the top post for three terms spanning 10 years till his death in 1987.
J Jayalalithaa, daughter of a small time actress of Tamil films, Sandhya was a bright student who had topped in the entire state in her tenth grade exam. Apart from having good command over her mother tongue Tamil, she was fluent in several other languages like Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and English, and even in Hindi which was something rare in the region in that period of time. She grew up to be not only an avid reader who read with interest classics and other popular works of literature from around the world, she was trained in classical music, western classical piano and was also a trained dancer in classical forms of dance like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Mohiniattam and Manipuri.
She had joined the film industry reluctantly to support the family, making her debut as the lead actress in Kannada film Chinnada Gombe in 1964, at the age of 15. Soon thereafter she became the highest paid actress. She acted in 142 films from 1961 to 1980, primarily in Telugu, Telugu and Kannada. She was co-star of her mentor MGR in 28 films. The only Hindi film she did for Bollywood was Izzat (1968) with Dharmendra.
MGR was a highly popular film star of the South. She acted in 136 films during 1936 to 1977 before joining the politics. Leveraged by her immense popularity with the masses like her mentor, Jayalalithaa also mounted on her successful political career in 1982 as driven by his failing health, MGR had appointed her as propaganda secretary of the party. Like him, she also rose to become Chief Minister of the state three times for 14 years during 1991 till her death in 2016.
Though there was a wide age difference of 31 years between them, stemming from their long association as co-stars in the film industry, speculation was rife that they were in intimate relationship and there were stories in circulation. But the two icons who had parted their ways in 1973 were brought together again in death. Towards the end, both suffered from asthmatic problems and underwent dialysis. Both were hospitalized in the same Apollo Hospital in Chennai for treatment of severe health complications. Both died while being at the helm of the affairs of the Tamil Nadu government as leaders of the same political party. Their bodies were kept at the same heritage venue Rajaji Hall in Chennai for public view, and Jayalalithaa too, despite being a Hindu, was buried on the Marina Beach barely 100 meters away from the grave of MGR, who had wished for a burial instead of cremation as per Hindu religious rites.
Memorial for Jayalalithaa with her statue costing a high Rupee 15 crore would come up next to that of MGR and help the people retain the memories of their two most popular leaders fused together in their minds. Jayalalithaa’s party has further demanded conferring on her also India’s highest national civilian award Bharat Ratna, which was given to MGR posthumously in 1988.