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The Rediff Special


The Rediff Interview/Latha

'I thought she would be different from other politicians. But she turned out to be the worst'

Latha Until last month, Latha stayed far away from politics. She shared a successful film career with MGR and Jayalalitha and continued in films long after their departure from the screen.

After Jayalalitha threw S Thirunavukkarasu out of the AIADMK in May, the MGR loyalists saw her as a prime catch for thwarting Jayalalitha. Latha joined Thirunavakkarasu's party and has been on the covers of all the Tamil magazines since. After all, Tamil politicians and politics-watchers view Latha's entry into politics as an impending battle between MGR's two former heroines.

Though not very articulate, Latha spoke to Shobha Warrier at length about her entry into politics and her plans to rejuvenate the AIADMK, a party started by her celluloid mentor.

You had a dream debut, as the heroine in an MGR film. How did it happen? Latha with MGR

I was still in school. R S Manohar, who was a villain in Tamil movies, saw photographs of a dance performance of mine and showed them to MGR who was in search of a new heroine then. They called me, but my mother refused permission. Somehow she did not like the idea of her daughter acting in movies. But Mr Manohar persisted. He tried his best to persuade my mother. He even told her, 'An opportunity like this will never come.' Which was indeed true. When others were longing to be MGR's heroine, without any effort, the opportunity fell into my lap. I wanted my mother to agree because I was very interested in acting.

Was films an ambition since you were a child? Or, was it because the offer was for an MGR film?

I had always been interested. I started learning dance as a child and dancing kindled my interest in movies.

Were you not scared to have such an ambition, because as you said, your mother did not like you acting in films?

No, I had this desire to dance and act. My aunt, my mother's elder sister, was a heroine in Hindi movies, Kamala Kotnis. She had acted with people like Dev Anand and was the only person who encouraged me. With her support, I gathered courage and told my mother that I wanted to act.

Was there any resistance from her?

Yes, initially. She did not want me to join films at all. I tried until she agreed. Finally, she had no choice but agree.

Did you realise then that you were going to be MGR's heroine?

Everything happened like a dream, very fast. Even before I could realise that I was acting in a movie, that too opposite MGR, I was abroad shooting for it. I was very shy and very conscious of myself in those days. In the first two movies, I was extremely nervous to act with MGR.

But he was very helpful, teaching me and giving me the nuances of acting, dialogue delivery, etc. He even gave me tips on dancing. He is my mentor, philosopher and guide.

How did he appear to you when you first met him?

He was very, very normal like any other human being. Only I was scared of him. I was so scared of him that he used to ask me, 'Shall I change the hero so that you will be comfortable? Why are you so scared of me?'

How was your first day of shooting? Was it not Ulakam Sutrum Valiban? MGR with Latha

We first went to Singapore. Along with MGR, his wife Janaki also was there. She took good care of all of us, Chandrakala, Manjula, myself, etc. The shooting trip was more like an excursion to all of us. I was only fifteen years old then. Since myself and Manjula were of the same age, we had a lovely time and enjoyed ourselves. We became good friends too.

Till you entered the scene, was it not Jayalalitha who was MGR's heroine?

Yes, Jayalalitha was acting in a number of movies with him then.

Did it occur to you then why he changed his heroine?

Why should I think about it? He might have needed a change. How do I know?

You never thought about all that?

No.... I was too young to understand all that.

Did you meet her in those days?

Once or twice, I think. At some functions, that's all.

How was she then? Was she friendly with you? Latha

She was very cold. I also did not bother.

You were his heroine in his last movie, were you not?

I was his heroine in all his last movies. Even after he became the chief minister, he shot for a couple of movies and I was the heroine.

By then you also might have matured.

Yes, of course, I had grown up and also got many awards.

MGR was like a demi-god to many people. Do you remember how his fans used to behave in front of him?

He was not a demi-god. He was like a god to people. They used to really worship him. But he was extremely kind to all of them, very helpful too. He treated all alike, it did not make any difference to him whether they are stars or workers.

I still remember an incident. We were shooting in Ooty then and quite a few workers did not have sweaters and it was very cold. Immediately he bought sweaters for all of them, from his own money. He was very, very humane.

Were you interested in politics then? I have heard that you were also a member of the AIADMK.

I was interested in politics. That was why I joined the party. In fact I was one of the founder members of the AIADMK.

Did MGR ask you to join the party?

He asked whether I'd like to join the party. I agreed. I did work for the party during the first two elections before it came to power. I travelled all over, gave dance performances and collected funds for the party. Sometimes I even spoke on stage. But then he wanted me to take active part in politics. I couldn't do that because I was working in severalmovies.

Were you more interested in films than politics?

Jayalalitha Yes, I couldn't concentrate on both. There were two options before me, give up movies and become an active member, or continue acting. At that stage of my career, I couldn't give movies up because I loved acting and my heart was in movies. My ambition was to act in many more movies, give good performances. So, I declined then.

How did he respond? Was he angry or disappointed?

He took it in the right spirit and told me, 'Whenever you feel like taking active part in politics, you can come over.'

You continued being a member of the party.

Yes. But not an active member. I kept myself away from politics so that I could concentrate on movies.

Was MGR disappointed because you preferred an acting career to politics?

Of course, he was. He said, you are smart and intelligent, and such people should come into politics. In 1986, he asked me again. In the meantime I had married and was living in Singapore. I came back to India when my mother passed away. MGR came to our house when he came to know about her sad demise. He again asked me, 'Are you interested?' I was not free then because my children were very small. I didn't want to abandon them when they needed me most. I always feel whatever I do, I have to do it with sincerity. Now when people asked me...

How did it happen? All these years you were away not only from politics but also the limelight. Everyone was surprised to hear about your entry into politics. Did Thirunavukkarasu ask you?

Thirunavakkarasu Yes, he did speak to me. He told me in detail about the plight of the party. I also knew what was happening to the party as I was very much here. The way she (Jayalalitha) behaved was very bad. And think of the amount of faith people had in her! People really expected her to do something good for the state and the country. But she spoiled everything.

Did you also expect her to perform well?

Yes, I did. I thought she would be different from other politicians. But she turned out to be the worst. She spoiled the party, she ruled the party according to her whims and fancies. In fact, she destroyed the party. She kicked out all the MGR followers so that the party would be hers.

Did anyone approach you when she was the chief minister?

Latha Yes, they did. But I couldn't take those offers then. Now when they approached me, when I was free, I thought it is the right time to enter into active politics. I am not joining the party when it is in power. I am joining the party when it is in a bad shape. Nobody will accuse me of coming into politics for power.

For that matter, MGR would have given me any post or any portfolio if I had asked him. But I was not interested in any post or portfolio and I still am not interested. I just want to work for the party and build the party from its damaged position. The party is so disorganised now.

How will you be able to achieve that? You have no experience in active politics.

You learn. And, all of us have to sit and work out a strategy.

How long did it take you to come to a decision?

One week.... ten days. I wanted to think whether I would be able to do justice or not. I didn't want to take a decision in a hurry and then just fade away. I thought for several days and finally came to this decision.

Latha's photographs by Sriram Selvaraj.

'Everybody knows how she misused power. She was so self-centred and bothered only about those who were around her'

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The Rediff Special

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