The original female superstar: How Vyjanthimala danced into Bollywood, and made the industry dance around her
Happy birthday, Vyjayanthimala!
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She reigned over Hindi cinema during its golden era. Yes, Vyjayanthimala was the queen of the 1950s and 1960s — especially of the ‘golden 1960s’.
From black and white classics to coloured films, she saw it all and brought with her the unique dimension of classical dancing to cinema. A trained Bharatnatyam dancer, Vyjayanthimala decided that she would learn Hindi and ensure that she dubbed films in her own voice when she came into Hindi films in 1951 after acting in Tamil films.
Perfect Steps: Vyjayanthimala came to be called 'Twinkle Toes' for her dancing prowess. (Source: Facebook)
And she did a perfect job at it.
There was no trace of a south Indian accent. In fact, Vyjayanthimala went on to do the Hindi film industry’s first Bhojpuri film Gunga Jumna in which she delivered her dialogues in chaste Bhojpuri. She could also speak Urdu well. She had classical Indian features and her big, limpid, kohl-lined eyes gave her a great advantage when it came to acting, as did her training as a dancer.
The original Bhojpuri movie! A still from Gunga Jumna in which Vyjayanthimala starred opposite Dilip Kumar.
Today, August 13, is the 83rd birthday of this grand lady of Indian cinema and on this occasion, it would be wonderful to look back at her illustrious acting career that spanned two decades. She was the first heroine from the south who made it big in Hindi films, paving the way for many others to make the same journey.
Hema Malini, who entered the industry just a year before Vyjayanthimala retired from it, once said that Vyjayanthimala ji had been lucky to have performed purely classical dances in films. She said that by the time she joined the industry, there was more of Bollywood dancing.
No doubt Vyjayanthimala — known as Vaiju by those close to her — was indeed lucky.
She worked with the grand trinity (Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar) and essayed many memorable roles like those in Naya Daur (1957), Ganga Jumna (1961), Amrapali (1966), Jewel Thief (1967) and Devdas (1955). Her most significant and excellent role, by consensus, is that of Radha in Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus Sangam (1964).
Her grace and sophistication came strongly to the fore in this beautiful romantic film. When Raj Kapoor decided to cast her as Radha, Vyjayanthimala was shooting for a film in Madras. Kapoor sent her a telegram which read, “Bol Radha Bol, Sangam hoga ke nahin?”
This line was then used in one of the film’s many popular songs "Mere Mann Ki Ganga Aur Tere Man Ki Jamuna Ka, Bol Radha Bol Sangam Hoga ki Nahi".
Sensual and graceeful: Vyjayanthimala in Sangam. (Photo: YouTube)
In this film, she reached her full potential of acting and dancing. While she performed a classical dance in the song “O Mere Sanam, O mere Sanam”, she also performed a crazy number in “Main Kaa Karoon Raam, Mujhe Buddha Mil Gaya” which is one of the highlights of the film.
As a bubbly, naughty and sensuous Radha, she teases her husband Sunder (Raj Kapoor). With this dance — that Vyjayanthimala improvised on the spot — she proved she was a true rockstar.
Another dance number, "Rock n Roll", she did with the legendary Uttam Kumar in the 1967 film Chhoti Si Mulaqat. They rocked so well to the title song "Chhoti Si Mulaqat Pyar Ban Gayi, Pyar Ban Ke Gale Ka Haar Ban Gayi", that it proved beyond doubt that Vyjayanthimala was a versatile dancer who had command over many forms of dance.
No wonder she earned the name ‘Twinkle Toes’. Also, she was as prominent as some of the heroes of the 1960s — and was seen as the first female superstar. It is indeed admirable that when she was chosen for the Filmfare award for best supporting actress for her role as Chandramukhi in Devdas, she refused the award as she believed that Chandramukhi was as important in the life of Devdas as Paro and the award should be for the best actress.
A fair stand indeed!
Vyjayanthi’s films with the great Dilip Kumar were extremely impactful. Naya Daur, Madhumati (1958), Ganga Jumna, Sunghursh (1968) and Leader (1964) were among these. They made a spectacular pair despite the difference of 14 years between them. They had a special chemistry. With Rajendra Kumar too, Vyjayanthimala did some memorable films like Sangam, Suraj (1966) and Saathi (1968).
“Yeh Mera Prem Patra Padhkar Ke Tum Naaraaz Na Hona,” filmed on the duo in Sangam is one of the most romantic and picturesque songs our cinema has.
'Yeh Mera Prem Patra Padhkar', filmed on Vyjayanthimala and Rajendra Kumar, is one of the most romantic songs of all time. (Photo: YouTube)
Her regal look made her a good choice for filmmakers for roles of a princess. She played a princess in Suraj, Leader and Prince (1969). In Amrapali (1966), a period film, she plays a royal courtesan who dances to songs like “Tadap Yeh Din Raat Ki” and “Tumhe Yaad Karte Karte Jayegi Rain Saree”. She added a surreal effect to the songs picturised on her.
Vyjayanthi’s films with Dev Anand were special too. Duniya (1968) and Jewel Thief (1967) had wonderful songs and dances. She worked with Shammi Kapoor in Prince, with Dharmendra in Pyar Hi Pyar (1969).
Her last film was Ganwaar (1970) opposite Rajendra Kumar. Later, she was offered character roles which she refused. We will always remember her as the breathtakingly beautiful actress and dancer who gave her heart and soul to the film industry for 20 years of her life. She could portray a rural belle just as well as an urban young lady.
Her face made her a perfect choice for period films and films about royalty. Her fans have been missing her ever since she left the industry almost 50 years ago even as they watch her work repeatedly and admire it.
Happy birthday, Twinkle Toes!