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The Rediff Interview/Latha

'She was so self-centred and was bothered only about those who were around her'

Are you going to free the party from Jayalalitha?

Latha No, it is not that. I want all the MGR loyalists and followers to remain united. Unless they are united, they will not be able to enjoy success in any election.

Do you think you will be able to stand up against a person of Jayalalitha's stature?

Yes, I think so. People gave Jayalalitha a very good chance. But she spoiled it. See, I have got nothing personal against her. I am only talking about the trust people had in her. After the demise of MGR, there were two factions, the Jayalalitha faction and the Janaki faction. And, even though Jayalalitha fared very badly in the election Mrs Janaki very magnanimously said she was quitting politics and gave the party symbol etc. To Jayalalitha. So, with this kind of support from the people Jayalalitha could have performed well.

So Janaki had faith in Jayalalitha.

No, she did not have faith in Jayalalitha. She didn't want to destroy a party which her husband had founded. She gave the party symbol to Jayalalitha with a very good intention. And, what about people? They also gave her a chance, a very big chance. It is not that they are criticising her without giving her a chance.

She had a great mandate, full support from people but what did she do? Everybody knows how she misused power. She was so self-centred and was bothered only about those who were around her. Did she care about the people of the state at any time? That is why she lost so badly in the elections.

Did you expect her to change after the defeat?

Yes, I thought she would change, especially after this kind of a defeat. Unfortunately I don't see any change in her at all.

Did she distance herself from people when she was acting in movies too?

That is what I have heard. I don't know her personally. I have heard that she was very moody, etc.

Now that Jayalalitha has started attending functions once again, do you also have plans to meet people, attend functions? Her meeting at Salem was said to be a tremendous success.

I am planning to go to all the districts and meet people Only if I meet them, will I be able to know what they want from us, what their expectations are, etc.

What are you going to offer them?

You just wait and see. See, there are so many MGR loyalists who are extremely disheartened today and they expect such a lot from us. Now that I have joined the party, I get a lot of calls from all over Tamil Nadu. You just saw party workers requesting us to start campaigns earnestly. What I want from all the MGR loyalists is to remain united and work for the party's success. That is what I am going to ask them. I don't want anything personally. I want to see the party regaining its lost glory.

Will you be accessible to people?

How did you get to see me then?

But people do change. Will you be the same later on also?

I will always be accessible. I want to be different. I will not be a politician who sits inside a cabin.

Usually politicians are not inaccessible. Here film personalities act hard to get. So, those who have a filmy past are inaccessible. For example, Jayalalitha.

Jayalalitha with Sasikala She is a good example of what I shouldn't do. I look at it that way. How do you learn things in life? Looking at others. You try not to repeat their mistakes. That way, from her behaviour we can learn. That is, what one should do and what one should not. Only if you are in constant touch with people, you will know what they think of you, I mean even the party workers.

If you just close your doors and sit inside without meeting anybody, how will you know what they want from you, what their ideas are, etc? It was only because of her inaccessibility that she suffered so much. And the party also lost its image.

Were you here during the famous wedding?

I was here. I must say I have not seen such a vulgar display of wealth before. Not only the wedding, there were so many other things that people found difficult to accept. The way traffic was stopped in her time! There were barriers all over the city. The present chief minister was in power earlier also, but nobody knows anything about his movements. He moves around silently without disturbing anyone. That is how you should be.

One should be more humble as one goes up. People will appreciate you for your humble behaviour. Now nobody appreciates Jayalalitha. Why? Because of her arrogance.

Have you seen how MGR interacted with people?

Oh! Several times. What a difference in their behaviour! What a contrast!

What did you learn from him?

I told you he was my mentor. He used to tell me to be good to people, respect elders and everybody, irrespective of their social standing. We were together for fifteen years in and between shooting, he used to tell me many such things which helped me a lot and even now his advice helps me in my life. He was such a powerful character that nobody will be able to forget him.

Do you expect your party to get the two leaves symbol?

The matter is in court, so, I don't want to say anything about that.

Will it affect you badly if she gets the coveted symbol? Will it not be a disadvantage for a newly formed party?

She lost the elections when she had the two leaves symbol. People are more aware, intelligent and alert today. They just won't vote blindly for a symbol. I am sure it will not be a disadvantage to us even if we lose the symbol. It is not like early times when people only looked at the symbols. Things have changed now.

Will you be able to talk to people from platforms?

Latha Why not? I used to talk at film functions. During MGR's time, I used to talk at political meetings too. Nobody is born a politician. One learns. I think I will be able to. I am confident. Otherwise, I wouldn't have entered the scene.

You have become the star of your party. You are pitted against Jayalalitha. Do you enjoy all this?

I am not a star at all. More than enjoying, I am scared. People expect so much from me. I have to live up to that. I don't want to be, like you said, just a star and get photographed.

I have heard that your father was also in politics.

Yes, my father, Shanmugha Sethupathy, was the PWD minister in the Rajaji government. So you can say politics is nothing new to me. It is in my blood.

Latha's photographs by Sriram Selvaraj.

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