There were rumours that Vyjayanthimala had an affair with Dilip Kumar that came to an abrupt end after she signed Raj Kapoor’s Sangam (1964). Despite the fact that both Dilip and Vyjayanthimala appeared in several successful films together, it is disheartening to note the way their relationship became strained in later years.
Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala weren’t on talking terms even when they had chance meetings during Bollywood shindigs in Mumbai. Several years later it was Dilip Kumar’s wife Saira Banu who engineered a truce. Yet, the credit has to go to both the actors for delivering a scintillating performance in HS Rawail’s Sangharsh that released in 1968. Even though the film was a damp squib at the box office, it got some mileage because it was Dilip’s last outing with Vyjayanthimala. When the film was being shot, Dilip and Vyjayanthi were not on talking terms with each other but the animosity is conspicuous by its absence in the film.
Earlier, Dilip Kumar had used his star power to oust Vyjayanthimala from Ram Aur Shyam. When the actress describes her unceremonious removal from the film in her autobiography, we experience a sense of anguish and a feeling of solidarity with the actress. No wonder, Vyjayanthimala has maintained a stoic distance from Waheeda Rehman, who replaced her in Ram Aur Shyam.
Since she had concentrated on her Bollywood career, she lost career opportunities in Tamil Nadu. Tamil audiences are fickle. They had forgotten all about her. So after her marriage there were no offers for Vyjayanthi from Tamil cinema. Her contemporary Saroja Devi who got married in 1967 – a year earlier to Vyjayanthi’s marriage to Dr Bali- continued to receive plum roles even after her marriage to Harsha.
Vyjayanthimala’s tryst with Raj Kapoor’s masculine charm and womanizing ways is now part of Bollywood folklore. Her grandmother had opposed her fraternizing with Raj Kapoor and later with Dr Bali. But unlike Suraiya who sacrificed her love for Dev Anand under stiff resistance from her grandmother Badshah Begum, Vyjayanthimala was defiant and stood her ground. She was naïve enough to believe that Kapoor would marry her.
Sources even said that Kapoor had drugged her during the shooting of Sangam and had seduced her. Rumors were rife that her grandmother was furious when she learnt about the affair and was even more devastated to know about her granddaughter’s premarital pregnancy. Now – how much of this is fact and how much fiction – no one knows. But when the affair fizzled out, the woman in Vyjayanthi refused to give up on life and rose to power. She married Raj Kapoor’s family physician Dr Bali who knew about her affair with Raj Kapoor.
Nazrana was the only other movie in which Raj Kapoor and Vyjayanthi appeared together. The movie was a remake of the Tamil superhit Kalyana Parisu (1959).
Despite the fact that Dr Bali was a much married man, reports say that the actress sponsored Dr Bali’s hefty alimony that he had to pay to his first wife Ruby with whom he had three sons. How and why she got attracted to Dr Bali remains a mystery though. Love is obviously blind!
As the actress has pointed out in her autobiography, Vyjayanthimala who was always dominated by her grandmother Yadugiri Devi, started feeling the absence of a man in her life and Dr Bali apparently filled the void. He was smitten by her right from the day he set his eyes on her. On her part, Vyjayanthi was gullible and meekly accepted Dr Bali’s assertion about her ditsy character. Despite having a curmudgeon of a grandmother, Vyjayanthi was resolute about getting married to her lover.
Vyjayanthi’s marriage with Dr Bali lasted a mere 18 years and after his death, she got locked in an acrimonious legal dispute with his sons. There were many properties in Dr Bali’s name in Tamil Nadu (in Ooty) as well as a palatial flat in Bombay. It is strange that Dr Bali’s sons fought the legal battle after knowing fully well that their father couldn’t afford the alimony that their mother had demanded. Vyjayanthimala is emotionally intelligent. This is the reason she was able to overcome all the legal hurdles.
Any other actress would have been shattered in the wake of all the controversies that surrounded her. Raj Kapoor’s PR machinery let out a rumour that she was Mysore Maharaja’s illegitimate child and that the Maharaja had a soft corner for her actress mother Vasundhara Devi. Vasundhara Devi was born in 1917 and died two years after Dr Bali’s untimely death due to cardiac arrest. Vyjayanthimala looks like a carbon copy of her mother. She was paid a pittance for Sangam though the film raked in crores. Though she denies that there was an affair with Raj Kapoor, the latter’s sons went to town proclaiming that Vyjayanthi was lying through her teeth.
Vyjayanthi put her heart and soul into Amrapali (1966) a film about the doomed courtesan who turned to Buddhism for spiritual solace. Her dances in the film were spoken about as were the revealing dresses that she wore in the film. But the film bombed at the box office.
Vyjayanthi expected a national award for her performance in Amrapali but she lost it to Nargis for Raat aur Din. Nargis’ equation with the Gandhis skewed the reward in her favour. Nargis’ grandmother Dilipa Bai was related to Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru’s father.
Later when Saroj Khan was choreographing for Pyar Hi Pyar, Vyjayanthimala would get flustered saying, “Would I get an award if I twisted my body the other way?” Her disillusionment with Bollywood paved the path for her premature exit from the industry. She realized that she was getting a little long in the tooth to play the leading lady (she was only 34 years old when she quit!).
As offers slowly started drying up, Vyjayanthi realised that she was reaching the end of her rope. But I am still perplexed – both Mala Sinha and Sharmila Tagore got married in the same year as Vyjayanthi (1968) and both of them had long innings in Bollywood many years after their marriage. Then why did Vyjayanthi have to quit so early? Was it because she was disenchanted with everything that was happening around her? May be her experiences had made her believe that continuing to be active in Bollywood would be like attempting to catch a tiger by its tail.
For an actress who had such an unceremonious exit from Bollywood, it was dance that seemed to have rejuvenated her and given her a global identity as a world class Bharata Natyam dancer. For the uninitiated it would appear as if Vyjayanthimala’s later success as a dancer was a pyrrhic victory – but the actress doesn’t think so. Dance has remained the weather glass of her identity as an Indian woman of substance.
When Uttam Kumar became dour on learning of the dance sequences in Choti Si Mulaqat, it was the dancer in Vyjayanthimala that comforted and reassured him. Uttam Kumar’s lugubrious dance moves weren’t a match for Vyjayanthimala’s spunky dance movements in the film.
She gave the impression of being indolent when she acted with Shammi Kapoor in Prince but when Shammi made snarky comments about her, she demonstrated a rare intrepidness to cold shoulder him.
Time and again, the actress has demonstrated her resilience even when she was a victim of pummeling by her co actors. She remained great friends with BR Chopra and Yash Chopra. Until Raj Kapoor’s death in 1988, she maintained a distance from him urging Dr Bali to also do the same.
She pooh-poohed Shatrughan Sinha’s pot-shots at her and remarked, “Who is he?” forcing the loud mouthed Bihari babu to remain “Khamosh”. Later she became a politician; then she quit politics citing ideological differences with the Congress party with whom she was associated.
Vyjayanthi became a mother only when she was 38 years old. Her only son Suchindra Bali studied in Bombay before the family shifted base to their palatial mansion in Chennai. Suchindra tried his hand at acting (Aanch, 2003) but quit films when he realised that he wasn’t cut out for it. Today he runs resorts and owns a chain of restaurants in South India.
Age hasn’t withered Vyjayanthimala passion for dance. She occasionally makes an appearance on stage and doesn’t disappoint her audiences who are awestruck with her nimble dance moves. She believes that there is nothing wrong if an actress looks glamorous even when she grows old.
Happy birthday Vyjayanthimala!
This is last part of a two part series.
Read the first part:
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)