Vyjayanthimala: Poise and Spunk amid Glitz and Glam-I
Renowned multi-lingual actress Vyjayanthimala Bali celebrates her birthday on the 13th August. She shares this birthday with another Bollywood legend Sridevi who was also a multi lingual actress with superior dancing prowess. Both the actresses married Punjabi men who left their first wives. Here is a brief look at Vyjayanthimala, the actress and Vyjayanthimala -- the woman. 
 
Since I live in Mysore, I have an emotional connect with Vyjayanthimala, veteran actress who too has her ancestral roots in the same city. There is enough dope on the actress available in public domain. She also got her autobiography published in 2007.  So, information about her personal life and professional battles is public knowledge.
 
Let me begin by talking about her superstardom in Hindi cinema at a time when many of her south Indian counterparts like Padmini, Ragini, Anjali Devi, B Saroja Devi, Savitri and Jamuna failed to weave their magic in Bollywood.
 
Vyjayanthimala’s first Hindi film Bahar was released when she was 16 years old.
Despite the fact that she had limited school education, Vyjayanthimala appears knowledgeable and erudite when you read her interviews. Cinema was only a means to demonstrate the passion that she had for dance. She became an actress with a star following pan India only because of her dancing competence.
 
 
From 1951 to 1960, Vyjayanthimala’s career was full of ups and downs. In the mid 60’s her films started flopping. But by the time she quit films in 1970, some of her movies had done well at the box office and the success of these films established her reckoning as an actress-cum-dancer of substance.
 
She wasn’t a classical beauty in the league of say Madhubala or Meena Kumari. But Vyjayanthimala had screen presence. She acted with many heroes like Balraj Sahni, Jawahar Kaul, Pradeep Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and Uttam Kumar. Vyjayanthi has on many occasions expressed her fondness for Hema Malini – like her, Hema is also an Iyengar girl from a conservative background steeped in tradition and culture.
 
 
Vyjayanthi had the guts to reject a Filmfare award for best supporting actress (Devdas, 1955). Her argument was that the role of Chandramukhi was of equal prominence as the role of Paro. She felt vindicated and chuffed when she received the Filmfare award for the best actress in Ganga Jamna (1961). Her superb dialog delivery in Ganga Jamna (in the Avadhi dialect) was a reflection of her hard work and commitment while preparing for a role.
 
Her equation with Dev Anand was amiable. Vijay Anand claimed that he had had a tough time making Waheeda Rehman emote in Guide.  As someone who was discerning enough about the dance sequences in his films, Vijay also had another challenge while shooting the song “Hoton Pe Aisi Baat” in the 1967 release Jewel Thief that featured Vyjayanthimala.
 
 
Insiders reported of a silent/ simmering feud between the danseuse and the director. But whether it was Jewel Thief or Duniya (later in 1968), Vyjayanthimala’s screen chemistry with Dev Anand sparkled. Years later, when a sequel of Jewel Thief was being made, Dev requested Vyjayanthi to be part of the team but Vyjayanthi politely declined. Kudos to the actress for refusing all the offers that came her way and steadfastly adhering to the resolution that she had made when she quit filmdom.
 
She refused Nirupa Roy’s role in the 1975 release Deewar insisting that she had quit films for good and there was no looking back. She had passed on her mantle to heroines who were younger than her. Not many actresses have the gumption and farsightedness to quit films when the going is good. 
 
 
Even when Telugu actor-producer Chiranjeevi offered her Rs2 crore for a role as Rajinikanth’s mother in law in Mapillai, Vyjayanthimala declined the offer. She had a brilliant excuse, “I can never bad mouth Rajinikanth – even if it is for a film,” she claimed later. 
 
Salutations to her ingenuity! 
 
Vyjayanthimala is also related to Rajinikanth’s wife Latha.
 
This is first part of a two part series.
 
(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.)
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    COMMENTS

    Ramesh Poapt

    2 months ago

    ye jawahar kaul... kaun hai, please?!!
    in senior roles like nirupa roy she would have been a failure.!
    only few high profile press exit button at the right time.

    REPLY

    Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam

    In Reply to Ramesh Poapt 2 months ago

    awahar Kaul was born on September 27, 1927 in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. He was an actor, known for Pehli Jhalak (1955), Adalat (1958) and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962). He died on April 15, 2019 in Mumbai, India. He also acted in Katputhli (1957).

    http://beetehuedin.blogspot.com/2012/10/kismet-hamare-saath-nahin-jawahar-kaul.html

    Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Ajnabi Ban Jayen:  Revisiting Gumraah (1963)
    As adultery and extra marital affairs continue to persist as beaten but popular themes in films and soap operas, here is a review of a film based on the same theme that became a huge draw at the box office. Under the deft direction of BR Chopra and brilliant editing by Pran Mehta, the film manages to engage you throughout.  It is commendable that Chopra handled a delicate subject almost 55 years ago with all the sensitivity that it deserved.
     
    Films such as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Who 7 Din and Bewafa handled similar themes successfully; yet Gumrah has managed to remain in the public memory mainly for the way the screenplay was handled and for the legendary music by the under-rated Ravi. The film was loosely inspired by the real-life love stories of a famous hero and heroine of the 50s. Their love story had a tragic ending as the actress in question had to marry her brother-in-law after her sister died all of a sudden, leaving young children to tend for. 
     
    Inspiration was also taken from the real-life love story between a renowned lyricist and a playback singer whom he loved and who was the inspiration behind his world-class compositions.  This love story too had a tragic ending as the lyricist drowned himself in alcohol and the singer’s career was nipped in the bud after she got married into a business family. The brilliant compositions of Gumraah have stood the test of time.
     
    Meena (Mala Sinha) and Rajendra (Sunil Dutt) are college sweethearts. Meena has an elder sister, Kamla (Nirupa Roy) who is married to a renowned barrister Ashok (Ashok Kumar) and lives in Mumbai. Meena lives in Nainital with her father (Nana Palshikar, who seems to be a Chopra favourite).  Palshikar has delivered a stunning performance as a father – very unlike Nasir Hussain whose dialog delivery and facial expressions in hundreds of Hindi films have often been mocked at.
     
    Palshikar demonstrates great restraint though there were opportunities for him to get overly dramatic.
     
     
    Kamla comes to visit Meena and her father and she tells Meena that she is in the family way again. Meena chides her sister for adding one more member to the population (mind you, this was in 1963); her sister already has a boy and a girl.
     
    Rajendra meets Meena’s sister and the latter realizes that Meena and Rajendra are in love. She agrees to fix their marriage. Then Kamla has a freak accident from which she never recovers and passes away; Meena’s father requests Meena to get married to Ashok at least for the sake of her sister’s kids. Meena ends up marrying Ashok and relocates to Mumbai. 
     
     
    A year later when she returns to Nainital during the summer vacation, she meets Rajendra again. Since Ashok and Meena seem to be sharing a platonic relationship, the old flame is ignited. Meena starts meeting Rajendra regularly until one day Ashok lands up in Nainital unexpectedly. He gets wind of the clandestine meetings between Meena and Rajendra but maintains a discreet silence. He becomes friends with Rajendra who is known as a painter and a radio singer.
     
    When he visits Rajendra’s home, he sees a portrait of a woman who looks deceptively similar to Meena. He gets the portrait packed to Meena as a gift.
     
     
    After Meena returns to Mumbai, Rajendra follows her. Clandestine meetings continue. “4pm” is a time that Rajendra fixes for his daily meetings with Meena.
     
    Soon enough a woman, who claims to be Rajendra’s wife (Shashikala) blackmails Meena that unless she is paid a ransom, she would spill the beans to Ashok. A petrified Meena keeps paying her the ransom until things reach a point of no return and Meena hands over to the blackmailer the diamond ring that Ashok had gifted her. The woman suddenly vanishes and Meena is under pressure to get the ring back at the earliest.
     
    Finally, when Meena realizes that she is at the risk of getting exposed, she decides to commit suicide but Ashok arrives in the nick of the time and saves her. Then he informs Meena that the woman who was blackmailing her was his secretary and she had been blackmailing Meena at his bidding. He also tells her point blank that it is up to her if she wants to divorce him and get married to her lover. What decision will Meena take now?
     
    There is also a subplot about a constantly bickering couple Suresh and Deepa (Karan Dewan and Shyama respectively). Shyama is loud as usual.
     
     Misunderstandings between the couple reach a state where Deepa expresses her wish to divorce her husband. But soon enough the misunderstandings are sorted out and the couple reconciles. There is also a minor subplot between the Christian nanny in Ashok’s house and her love story with the cook (a young and slim Deven Varma). Varma later married Ashok Kumar’s daughter Roopa much against the Bollywood thespian’s wishes.
     
    Mercifully, the child stars in this film are not precocious. Mala Sinha plays her role with panache. The cigar smoking Ashok Kumar is at his best (as always). Sunil Dutt delivers a brilliant performance as a lover who is unable to forget his ex-flame.
     
    The dialogues are noteworthy. Rajendra tells Meena, “I draw portraits of nature because nature doesn’t cheat you unlike human beings”.
     
    The last scene in the movie leaves a lasting impression.  The songs were a rage in the 60s and continued to be loved by audiences. “Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Ajnabi”, “In Hawaon Mein In Fizaon Mein Tujhko Mera Pyar Pukare”, “Aa Bhi Jha” and “Aap Aye To Baharein” are melodies that unwind you after a hard day’s work. Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosale are at their best! 
     
    BR Chopra won a certificate of merit for the film. Shashikala won the Filmfare award for the best supporting actress while Kapoor, deservedly, won the Filmfare award for the best male playback singer. Pran Mehta won the Filmfare award for best editing.
     
    The climax scenes were shot near Flora Fountain and one can witness how Bombay looked then! The shots involving Rajabai Tower, Churchgate station, Kamdar furniture remind you of the glorious days of Bombay in the 50s and 60s.
     
    Watch Gumraah to simply walk down memory lane and cherish those wonderful memories.
     
    (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.)
     
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    COMMENTS

    kiran

    2 months ago

    Apart from other marvelous performances, Mahendra kapoor was ay his best in all his songs in the film and one never felt the absence of venerable Rafi. But unfortunately, Kapoor never came back with the same finesse and melody again in any other movie.

    Abhijit Gosavi

    2 months ago

    A brilliant movie. One of those rare Bollywood movies that weren't overly dramatic in terms of acting. Shashikala stole the show. I've seen it only once and that too years ago, but remember much of it. That probably means it was very good.

    PS: Reading Moneylife after a long time :)

    Sandeep P

    2 months ago

    Don't know if this is true, but I heard that 'Chalo Ek Baar' was supposed to be sung by Rafi but went to Mahendra Kapoor.How I wish that would have been the case !

    ashi kumar mohanty

    2 months ago

    Great movie forever.

    Remembering the tragedy queen… Meena Kumari
    1 August 1932 was the day Mahjabeen Bano was born into an impoverished family. Here we take a peek into her tragic life. She was later named Meena Kumari when she stepped into filmdom and blossomed as an actress of substance.
     
    What would have happened if Meena Kumari had met Robin Sharma, the author of “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari”? Or if she had had a chance interaction with Eckhart Tolle who wrote the book The Power of Now.
     
    As a masochist, Meena Kumari easily succumbed to negativity all around her. She withdrew into a cocoon that she herself had created and got subsumed by pessimism towards life. Wish she had realized that – “Howsoever large negativity is – it often gets dwarfed by positivity.”
     
    I had a chance glance at Vinod Mehta’s biography on the late actress that was released in 1972 soon after her death at the age of 40 years. Even though she was only 40, Meena Kumari looked as though she was 60 plus. Meena was his favourite actress and the founder editor of Outlook magazine calls her “my heroine”. He even had access to her bedroom that was elegant and aesthetically furnished.
     
    Critics have pooh-poohed the actress’s ability to write ghazals – nonetheless, the few nazms that she wrote were exemplary.
     
    The Bollywood grist-mill insisted that she was a nympho – character actors like Janki Daas even openly spoke about her fascination for younger men. No one knows the real truth though. However, Meena Kumari spent the last day of the year 1971 in the company of the man whom she truly loved but could never think of marrying – Dharmendra. The latter was an upcoming hero but he was a married man. 
     
    Ironically, while Meena had less than four months to live in the new year 1972, Dharmendra had already started getting offers with a new heroine Hema Malini with whom he did Tum Haseen Main Jawan and Sharafat to begin with. Later the actor would relentlessly pursue this girl to get married to her. For Dharmendra, the relationship with Meena Kumari was more like a quid-pro-quo. She sought his companionship and he sought her mileage in sky rocketing his career. 
     
    Dharmendra’s biggest hit in his career was Phool aur Patthar (1966) which could not have become the classic that it is now without Meena Kumari’s histrionics that fired the silver screen. It was also a movie way ahead of its time, portraying the theme that a woman and a man could stay under the same roof and still have a platonic relationship.
     
    As a woman, Meena Kumari loved kids. There are mixed reports about her desire to have a child and her desire to put her career above motherhood. She got married to film maker Kamal Amrohi on an impulse only to regret the decision all her life.
     
    Amrohi had met her as a kid when she was having a banana and the fruit was all over her face. Later she portrayed a memorable role in his Daeera (1953) along with Dilip Kumar's brother Nasir Khan.
     
    Meena Kumari’s parents fought like hell and that had made her paranoid about marriage as an institution. Yet she allowed infatuation to overtake her senses and got married to Amrohi. She had better features than her sisters and was more eligible to become an actress in Hindi cinema. So she became the sacrificial lamb for her family and everyone else around her became a parasite sucking on her wealth and riches without any qualms.
     
     So used to Meena was eating stale rotis during her childhood that stale rotis and raw onion was something that she preferred to have even when she became a big star with a huge draw at the box office.
     
    Apparently, Meena started revelling in her own tragic circumstances often wallowing in self-pity. People die not because of injury or sickness – they die because they lose the will to live. There are reports on the net about how she pined for Rajkumar (her hero in many films) and how he made her wait interminably.
     
    After Dharmendra moved away from her, Meena Kumari almost got married to a young Punjabi man and somehow this got averted when industry elders intervened and termed it a blasphemy. It appears that everyone else took the decision on her behalf.
     
    Since she wasn’t educated she had no idea of what she earned. She never kept track of what she earned and so lost her wealth in no time. When Mumtaz’s remuneration wasn’t paid for a film called Gomti Ke Kinare in which Meena Kumari had acted along with her, Meena actually wrote a house that she had in Juhu in Mumtaz’s name. The house still exists!
     
    Her marital life with Amrohi was turbulent beyond imagination. He forever suspected that she was sleeping around with all her leading men. He had spies all around to feed him stories about his actress-wife’s on-the-set behaviour. After she ran away from his home, Amrohi had his first wife to bank upon and Meena Kumari had to return to the wolves in her family. She said in a radio interview, “I couldn’t believe that my father could get married to this girl who was younger than me”. Meena Kumari’s mother had passed away and her father chose to marry a young girl who had joined their household as a maid-servant.
     
    Meena Kumari shot for Pinjre Ke Panchhi (1965) and never returned home. Her husband’s secretary Baqar Ali had slapped her on the sets and that was the tipping point. Meena started living in the house of comedian Mahmood who was married to her sister Madhuri. The comedian had a palatial bungalow near Amboli in Andheri and a special room was assigned to her. But for Meena Kumari, it was like moving from one hell to another. No visitors were allowed to meet her. All her letters were screened by Mahmood’s family known to be vicious and wily. In fact Madhuri left Mahmood and got married to a man who unofficially became Meena Kumari’s personal assistant in her last days.
     
    The medical advice given by her doctor to have a dose of brandy was taken so seriously by Meena that it became an addiction – something so similar to the character of the chhoti bahu that Meena Kumari portrayed in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962). Ironically, Geeta Dutt and Meena Kumari passed away in the same year (1972) within a gap of few months. While Meena passed away at Elizabeth Hospital in March 1972, Geeta passed away on 20th July 1972. Both had cirrhosis of the liver due to excessive abuse of alcohol.
     
     
    Amrohi’s classic Pakeezah was stuck in the cans for a long time due to the feud between Meena and her husband. Nargis played the mediator and Meena agreed to complete the film despite the misgivings that she had about the way she would look on the screen. Actress Padma Khanna did the dances in Pakeezah and the sultry siren who had learned Kathak has fond memories of the time she shot for Pakeezah. Today, Khanna is in the US running a dance academy.
     
     
    When Pakeezah had a special screening, Meena attended the event with Nargis and Sunil Dutt. After the screening, Meena told her husband, “Chandan, please do not make another film. Let the audiences remember you with this film”. Amrohi did not oblige her and later made Razia Sultan (1983), a magnum opus, that starred Dharmendra and Hema Malini.
     
    Meena had become close to Nargis and had even jokingly told her friend, “I am going to steal your husband.” Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari acted in Main Chup Rahungi and a Muslim social Ghazal. Dutt was a thorough gentleman and was chivalrous with the actress during their interactions. Suraiya was another actress who had deep connections with Nargis, her childhood friend. When Meena Kumari died, Nargis wrote an obituary saying how happy she was to know that Meena Kumari had finally found the peace that she had wanted all along. In fact, it was Nargis who had arranged for the funeral and bore the expenses. Amrohi and Dharmendra were allegedly missing in action when Meena Kumari’s hospital expenditure started hitting the roof.
     
    Sawan Kumar Tak and Gulzar were other friends of Meena Kumari who had become close to her in her last years. When Gulzar wanted to remake a renowned Bengali film Apanjan that was directed by Tapan Sinha, he could not think of anyone else other than Meena Kumari in the title role. Bengali actress Sumita Sanyal and our own Yogeeta Bali had brief fleeting appearances in Mera Apne a film that proved to be a goldmine at the box office. Earlier, Meena Kumari played Jeetendra’s sister in a forgettable film called Jawab (1970).
     
    She also acted alongside Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz in Dushman (1971) that was directed by Dalal Guha. But Pakeezah was her swan song. Meena Kumari seemed to have had premonitions about her death. She told her producers to complete the shots that involved her as she did not have much time on this earth.
     
    Veteran actor Ramesh Deo recalled watching Meena Kumari struggling to climb down the stairs all alone after the screening of Mere Apne. Fame is ephemeral and no one can be immune to it. Despite the fact that she got the best treatment in England where she stayed for many months during her convalescence, it is not clear why Meena Kumari’s health deteriorated. May be she had the lost the will to live – Chalo Dildaar Chalo, Chand Ke Par Chalo….
     
    (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.)
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    Ramesh Poapt

    2 months ago

    poor mina! there are few others like her. limelight blinds many.
    but there are many who survived well in distress, without losing
    many 'valuables'! she was ideal indian lady of charectrer/good culture
    'on screen'..but reverse inside.

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