Jayalalithaa was born on 24 February 1948, at Melukote, in Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district, Mysore State (now Karnataka). Her mother called her Komalavalli. She excelled at school and was offered a government scholarship to pursue further education. She is fluent in several languages, including English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
Her mother persuaded her to work in films when Jayalalithaa was 15 years old.She was a popular film star in Indian cinema before her entry into politics, having appeared as the lead heroine in over 140 films which includes films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and worked in one Hindi film. She acted in one Hindi film called Izzat, with Dharmendra as her male costar in 1968.
Although there have been claims that Ramachandran, who had been chief minister for the state since 1977, was instrumental in introducing Jayalalithaa to politics, she has denied it. In 1982, she joined the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which was founded by Ramachandran. Jayalalithaa was nominated and elected to that body as a Member of Parliament in 1984 and retained her seat until 1989.
Ramachandran died in 1987 and following this the AIADMK split into two factions, with one section supporting his widow, Janaki Ramachandran, and the other favouring Jayalalithaa. 1989 election saw the Jayalalithaa-led faction of the AIADMK win 27 seats and Jayalalithaa became the first woman to be elected Leader of the Opposition. In 1991, following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi days before the elections, her alliance with the Indian National Congress enabled her to ride the wave of sympathy that gave the coalition victory. The ADMK alliance with the Congress won 225 out of the 234 seats contested and won all 40 constituencies in the centre. she became the first elected female chief minister and the youngest ever chief minister of Tamil Nadu, serving the full tenure from 24 June 1991 to 12 May 1996.
Jayalalithaa was barred from standing as a candidate in the 2001 elections because she had been found guilty of criminal offences, including allegedly obtaining property belonging to a state-operated agency called TANSI.Despite this, the AIADMK won a majority and she was installed as Chief Minister as a non-elected member of the state assembly on 14 May 2001.Her appointment was legally voided in September 2001 when the Supreme Court ruled that she could not hold it whilst convicted of criminal acts.Subsequently, in March 2002, Jayalalithaa assumed the position of Chief Minister once more, having been acquitted of some charges by the Madras High Court.
In April 2011 the AIADMK was part of a 13-party alliance that won the 14th state assembly elections. Jayalalithaa was sworn in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the third time on 16 May 2011, having been elected unanimously as the leader of the AIADMK party subsequent to those elections.
She is called ‘Amma’ (‘Mother’) and sometimes ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ (‘Revolutionary Leader’) by her followers.