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Why women in patriarchal Tamil Nadu worshipped Jayalalithaa


One of the visuals that has defined the reaction to Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman’s hospitalisation, before she passed away late on Dec. 05, is the throng of distraught women keeping vigil. Some have been there from the start, over a month-and-a-half ago. She is their champion. A wronged woman who has overcome the odds, sacrificed and provided for them, earning the honorific Amma—mother.

Jayalalithaa wanted to become a lawyer but instead went on to be described as the “Golden Girl of Tamil Cinema.” She acted in over 140 movies, many of whose titles or plots revolved around the female protagonist played by her, a marked divergence from the otherwise hero-led industry. It was a theme that played out in her very successful maiden speech titled Pennin Perumai (a woman’s greatness) as propaganda secretary for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The then chief minister Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, recognised that unlike many actors, Jayalalithaa’s charisma translated unbelievably well in the real world. Jayalalithaa wanted to become a lawyer but instead went on to be described as the “Golden Girl of Tamil Cinema” Her ability to speak in multiple languages and an inherently cultured image also helped. Her induction as the propaganda secretary was intended to foil the opposition leader and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo M Karunanidhi’s inroads into the electorate with his fiery speeches. It was a rivalry that ended late last night. Full Story

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