She was tall, taller than many of her classmates. She was not slim, as girls are expected to be today. She had the kind of figure that was a hit those days—the hourglass figure. And she was the fairest in terms of skin tone, with a face without a blemish.
That was Jayalalithaa, head girl of Church Park Convent in Madras, now Chennai. She was also the captain of Roses, one of the five houses, all named after flowers. She was well known in the school because her mother was the yesteryear film star, Sandhya.
Church Park Convent was where most film stars sent their girls to. Kadhal Mannan (The hero of romance) Gemini Ganesh's daughters too studied there. One of them, Bhanurekha, then a dark and sweaty teenager who played hop scotch and hide and seek in the huge grounds of the school, went on to become the proverbial beautiful swan as Rekha, in her own right the queen of romance in Bollywood.
Jayalalithaa was a heroine well before she actually hit the silver screen. Girls hero-worshipped her for her looks, and the fact that she was the all-rounder in her batch besides being the class topper . She won the 200 metres race at the annual sports, and her team won the 400 metres relay race. She went on the dais to collect the trophy for her Roses.
One shudders to think of the waves she would have created in a co-ed school!
Her friends of those days believed that she wanted to be a doctor as she joined the pre-university class in Stella Maris College, which like Church Park, was where girls of a certain class went for higher studies. And a few months into college, Jaya was the heroine of an English film. Yes, an English film titled Epistle. But it was the hit film director Sridhar and his Chitralaya banner that launched her in a huge way. In the film Vennira Aadai, she played a woman who is widowed while still in her bridal clothes. And then came her films with MGR, and the politics, and the rest is history.
Many of her school alumni believe she was not in films or politics by choice. Her mother was struggling financially, and Jaya had no choice but to abandon her studies and take up a career. And while she took to films like ducks to water, even as MGR's heroine in the early years, she did not nurse political ambitions. It came out of the blue, at the persuasion of MGR , who was both a friend and a mentor.
Some in her class of 1961 in school say she did not stay in touch with them. Yet, few of them expected Jayalalithaa to become the kind of power centre she was. Certainly none imagined she would become the Amma of Tamil Nadu.