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The history of Indian cinema cannot be complete without a chapter being written in golden letters about Vyjayanthimala, the well-known film actress, Bharat Natyam dancer, Carnatic singer, choreographer and parliamentarian –  ALI PETER JOHN

She is in her eighties now and lives a peaceful life in Chennai where she still is very active as a Bharat Natyam exponent and has her own dancing school where she continues to inculcate the love for dancing even among toddlers which include her own two grand children.

As she enters her eighties and is still as active, agile and alive, it is time to go down memory lane with one of the most legendary actresses of this century…

She made her debut as an actress in the Tamil film “Vazhkai” in 1949 and in the Telugu film “Jeevitham” in 1950 and that marked the beginning of one of the most colourful, successful and even controversial careers in cinema.

Vyjayanthimala was one of the biggest Hindi film stars with a career lasting almost two decades.

She was the first south Indian actress to become a national star and “paved a way” for other south Indian actresses like Padmini, Ragini, Hema Malini, Rekha, Sridevi, Jayaprada and the list was on.

Vyjayanthimala is an accomplished dancer and was responsible for introducing semi-classical dance in Hindi films.

She was referred to as one of the first female superstars of Hindi cinema and was known as the “Numero Uno actress” for her illustrious career in 1950s and 1960s.

Vyjayanthimala’s political career was initiated in 1984 when she contested the 1984 elections to the Lok Sabha from the South Chennai constituency as the nominee of the Indian National Congress opposite Era Sezhiyan, the leader of Janata Party and seasoned parliamentarian.

Vyjayanthimala won the election with margin of about 48,000 votes. Subsequently, she debuted in the Lok Sabha, with Sunil Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan.

In 1989, Vyjayanthimala again had to face the 1989 Tamil Nadu general election, this time she was opposed by Aladi Aruna of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

She again beats her opposition by nearly 12584 votes. Later in 1993, she was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India for a six-year term.

In 1999, she resigned from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress party.

In her letter to the party’s president Sonia Gandhi, she included the reason for her resignation where she said that, “painfully watching the party drifting from its avowed principles after the death of Rajiv Gandhi.

The party has lost touch with its grassroots and one can see day in and day out that sincere party workers are being steadily ignored”, she adds more, “increasingly difficult to justify ourselves to the public and my conscience does not allow me to stay in the party any longer”. Later she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on 6 September 1999.

In her hey-days, Vyjayanthimala was the subject of many controversies, particularly for her relationship with her co-stars. In the early 1960s, Vyjayanthimala was linked with Dilip Kumar, who has acted with her the most compared to any other actress which resulted in great on-screen chemistry between them.

While working for his home production “Gunga Jamuna”, it is said that Kumar handpicked the shade of sari that Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene.

In the early 1960s, Raj Kapoor had started the filming of “Sangam” with Vyjayanthimala playing the female lead along with Rajendra Kumar and Kapoor himself as the male lead.

The filming took four years to finish. During this time Vyjayanthimala is said to have been romantically involved with Kapoor and almost married him.

Initially, she was vexed with him and kept him at a distance. However Kapoor did not give up.

This incident had made Kapoor’s wife Krishna move out of her husband’s house with their children.

They checked into Natraj Hotel in Mumbai and stayed there for four and a half months as Krishna was disgusted with the affair.

Vyjayanthimala married Dr. Chamanlal Bali in Bombay. After marriage, she gave up her acting career and moved to Chennai.

They have a son, Suchindra Bali who tried to make it in films with the help of his mother but still failed and is now married and the father of two children.

In 2007, she published her autobiography, titled “Bonding” which received a very luke warm response especially after Rishi Kapoor who read the chapter in which she denied having an affair with his father strongly came out with a statement that his father did have an affair with Vyjayanthimala for which the family had to suffer. The sales of the book crashed after Rishi’s outburst.

Vyjayanthimala made her screen debut at the age of 13 in the south but it was after Hindi films like “Bahaar” and “Ladki” followed by the grand success of “Naagin” that established herself as one of Hindi film’s leading actresses while making in-roads in successful Tamil and Telugu films.

After successfully establishing herself as a commercial actress, Vyjayanthimala appeared in “Devdas” playing Chandramukhi, the courtesan with a heart of gold, in 1955.

In her first dramatic role, she received her first Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 4th Filmfare Awards where she refused to accept the award citing that hers was not a supporting role, being the first person to refuse a Filmfare Award.

Following that, Vyjayanthimala appeared in a series of blockbuster films such as “New Delhi, “Naya Daur” and “Asha”.

She reached the pinnacle of her success in 1958, when two of her films, “Sadhna” and “Madhumati”, became huge critical and commercial hits.

She was nominated for two Filmfare Awards for Best Actress for “Sadhna” and “Madhumati” and won the award for the former.

The release of Dilip Kumar’s “Ganga Jamuna” saw her playing a rustic village called Dhanno who speaks the Bhojpuri dialect like Dilip Kumar too does in the film. Critics applauded her performance and some labelled it as her best.

She won her second Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her role in “Ganga Jamuna”. From 1962, most of her films performed either averagely or poorly at the box office.

However, in 1964, with the success of “Sangam” her career hit the peak again. She reinvented herself playing a modern Indian girls appearing in revealing costumes and one-piece swimsuits.

She went to receive her third Best Actress Award at the for her role as Radha in “Sangam”.

She later achieved critical acclaim for her performance in the historical drama “Amrapali”, which was based on the life of Nagarvadhu(royal courtesan) of Vaishali, Amrapali.

The film received universal acclaim, but it was a huge box office failure, which left Vyjayanthimala, who had high expectation from the film, disenchanted to the point where she decided to quit films.

Towards the end of her career Vyjayanthimala was mostly seen in commercially successful films such as “Suraj”, “Jewel Thief” and Prince with few critically acclaimed films such as “Hatey Bazarey” and “Sunghursh”. Most of them were released after Vyjayanthimala had left the film industry.

Besides films, Vyjayanthimala’s concentration was in Bharat Natyam a form of Indian classical dance.

After quitting movies Vyjayanthimala Bali continued with her dance career. In addition, she was conferred with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest Indian recognition given to practising artists.

The award was presented to Vyjayanthimala in 1982 for her contribution to Bharat Natyam field. Vyjayanthimala is also an avid golfer. She has also served as chairperson of 48th National Film Awards…

As I come back from down memory lane, I wonder why filmmakers who are in a hurry to make biopics on any legendary character are not thinking of making a biopic on one of the greatest superstars of Indian cinema…


Vyjayanthimala and Dilip Kumar were the first two big stars the young Yash Chopra could get very close to.

He was assisting his elder brother B.R Chopra during the making of “Naya Daur” which was entirely shot on locations in Poona (now Pune).

Yash later became one of the most outstanding directors of Hindi films after he had made films like “Dharamputra”, “Dhool Ka Phool”, “Waqt”, “Aadmi Aur Insaan” and “Ittefaaq”.

He then made films with Amitabh Bachchan in his avatar as “the angry young man” and the “highly romantic hero”.

It was during the time that he could not think of making films without Amitabh that the writers Salim-Javed gave him a script roughly based on Haji Mastan, one of the greatest smugglers of not only Bombay but all over India.

The writers and Yash could think of no one else but Amitabh to play the lead role. Shashi Kapoor who was several years older than Amitabh was cast as Amitabh’s younger brother.

Yash had to have a very powerful actress to play the mother of Amitabh and Shashi. He thought of several actresses and finally thought of having a casting coup.

He knew that Vyjayanthimala had quit films more than twenty years ago, but he still approached her.

She asked him for time to consider his offer but finally turned it down because she was not interested in being typecast as the mother in films.

What she gave up was gladly accepted by Nirupa Roy who was best known for her playing all kinds of roles in mythologicals and devotionals.

Her role in “Deewar” was in no way less significant than the roles of Amitabh and Shashi and she continued playing the mother till the end of her life.


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