Whether it is Man dole mera tan dole (Nagin) or Chadh gayo paapi bichhua (Madhumati) or Buddha mil gaya (Sangam) or Hothon pe aisi baat (Jewel Thief), Vyjayanthimala performed some superhit song and dance numbers in Hindi films.
These songs predated the concept of the 'item number' but were massive crowd pleasers.
Vyjayanthimala's influence on films has been far-reaching. With her, semiclassical dance became an integral part of almost every Hindi film heroine's resume.
Immensely popular and a perceptive actress to boot (especially in her 1960s films after she had forsaken her earlier studied artificiality), Vyjayanthimala won the Best Actress Filmfare Award three times and also opened the floodgates for agile and beauteous South Indian actresses (from Hema Malini to Aishwarya Rai) to conquer the Hindi film world.
Chennai-born Vyjaynthimala was just a graceful, dance-obsessed 15-year-old doing her matriculation when she was launched by M V Raman, a family friend, in AVM's Tamil film, Vazhkai. The film was a huge hit and continued its success story when remade in Hindi as Bahaar (1951).
With a no-nonsense grandmother Yadugiri Devi guiding her career and fluent in Hindi, Vyjayanthi achieved middle-level stardom. Bahar brought her roles showcasing her dancing talents in films like Ladki and Nagin (1954). But it was the through-the-roof success of the latter that made her a full-fledged star.
Nagin's story seemed more like a flimsy excuse to string along a series of melodiously-composed Hemant Kumar by a sinuous Vyjayanthimala. She had eight scintillating Lata solos to put across on screen --- each was a hit.
Eagle-eyed film maker Bimal Roy noticed the bhavas that flitted on Vyjayanthimala's face when she struck myriad mudras during her dances. Despite advice to the contrary, he cast Vyjayanthimala in a role that demanded histrionics opposite Dilip Kumar in his Devdas (1955).
When industrywallahs heard he had cast the dancing star as the courtesan Chandramukhi, they were snide, "Why don't you take comedian Kishore Kumar as Devdas?"
Vyjayanthimala vindicated Roy's faith in her and was able to bring to fore Chandramukhi's selflessness. She won the Best Supporting Actress Award. But the strong-headed actress refused to accept the award --- she felt she was as much the heroine of the film as Suchitra Sen who played Paro.
The din that followed was drowned by the stir created (both before and after release) by B R Chopra's labour-versus-the rich saga, Naya Daur (1957). The film's original heroine Madhubala got entangled in a court imbroglio with B R Chopra over her refusal to shoot outdoors and Vyjayanthimala replaced Madhubala in the film.
Vyjayanthi now formed a pair with both the popular Kumars --- the intense Dilip and the jocular Kishore (in hits like New Delhi and Asha).
Skirting the Devdas award fracas, Bimal Roy rewarded Vyjayanthimala with an author-backed role in his Madhumati (1958). Vyjayanthimala made a spirited mountain maid as she raced through picturesque valleys to Aaja re pardesi. Lore has it that she bathed in milk in those days --- which explains her sparkling complexion.
But another 1958 film Sadhana won Vyjayanthimala her first Best Actress Award. B R Chopra cast her in the film when Nimmi hesitated to play a prostitute. Vyjayanthimala played the mercenary prostitute with a no-holds-barred derring do and yet managed to evoke tears with the soul-stirring Sahir Ludhianvi number, Aurat ne janam deeya mardon ko, mardon ne usse bazaar deeya.
At her peak, Vyjayanthimala took off to do a series of much appreciated dance shows in Paris in 1959 besides working for top rungers like Dilip Kumar in Paigham (1959) and Raj Kapoor in Nazrana (1961).
The megahit Ganga Jamuna (1961) had Vyjayanthimala sharing honours with Dilip Kumar as his wife, Dhanno. Her fluent bantering in Bhojpuri, her fluid dancing and the awesome death scene --- one of the best in Hindi films --- sent her stock soaring.
Hitherto seen as a traditional girl with plaited hair, Vyjayanthimala reinvented herself in Raj Kapoor's blockbuster Sangam (1964). In one of her best films, Vyjayanthimala made waves in a swimsuit and in the tantalising Buddha mil gaya; but she also made Radha's dilemma of living under the shadow of her jealous husband's suspicions seem real.
Vyjayanthimala deservedly won the Best Actress Awards for both Ganga Jamuna and Sangam.
In defiance of her intimidating grandmother, Vyjayanthimala's name was associated with Raj Kapoor's. They stopped working with each other after she fell in love with Raj Kapoor's personal physician Dr Bali. While waiting for the married Bali's divorce from his first wife to come through, Vyjayanthimala rather desultorily worked in a few films with new costars like Shammi Kapoor (Prince) and Dharmendra (Pyar Hi Pyar). She fought with Dilip Kumar (they completed Sangharsh without speaking to each other) and surprised Vijay Anand with the scant interest she evinced in his ambitious whodunit Jewel Thief (1967).
The failure of the lavishly-scaled period film, Amrapali (1966), is said to have affected Vyjayanthimala greatly. She gave her all to the role of the courtesan Amrapali. A disenchanted Vyjayanthimala conferred with Bali and decided to leave films though B R Chopra felt she could have easily continued for another decade.
Subsequently, she immersed herself in raising her son Suchindra (now making his debut in Hindi films with Nana Patekar in Aanch), opening a dance academy, even dabbling in active politics. Offers to play Amitabh's mother in Deewar and Dilip Kumar's wife in Kranti --- good money and pivotal roles notwithstanding --- did not seem alluring enough.
Vyjayanthimala now lives in Chennai, and rarely comes to Mumbai.
At the age of four, Vyjayanthi had the rare distinction of dancing before the Pope. Today, even as she approaches 70, her unstinting devotion to her art and passion --- Bharata Natyam --- continues.
|Vyjayanthimala's Landmark Films
||Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar
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