The vamp is an endangered species. There is neither a role nor respect for her in the Telugu film industry now

The vamp has vanished from the film screen, after passing on her act to the heroines and has sought refuge in the small tube. There she appears as a daughter-in-law or a mother-in-law mixing poison in the payasam or playing havoc with the lives of brothers and sisters in her husband’s family.

Cine artistes draw a comparison between the old and new-age vamps and pay tributes to the woman who scorched the screen as a moll, club dancer or a character who precipitated the dramatic tension but remained an integral part of the film, for decades. Giri Babu, villain and ex- producer remarks, “Earlier vamps were related to the story, now their presence is forced. Their role too is being snatched by heroines. I made Jayamalini a heroine in Devatalara Deevinchandi; even her Jaganmohini was a super hit.”

Earlier in Hindi films, it was Nadira, Bindu, Helen and down south, Vijaya Lalitha Jayamalini and Jyothilakshmi dominated the scene. In the Eighties, Silk Smitha, Anuradha and Disco Shanti carried forward the ‘dance concept’ but also proved to be good actors. Recalling the conditions in which they portrayed their roles, Vijaya Lalitha says, “There were times we had to wear costumes, which we would feel very embarrassed in but there were no vulgar movements in our dances. The heroes would also stay within their limits. We also had fan clubs.”

Vankayala Satyanarayana, an acclaimed villain and a character artiste based in Vishakapatnam, had worked with almost all the ‘vamps’. He recollects, “A woman had a prominent role then; now her intelligence and sensitivity has been replaced by her body purely for commercial reasons. A vamp is always associated with a club dance. All of them were all so beautiful and so respected. No one has the guts to create a role for a vamp now because they know they can’t get that sort of impressive work out of them.”

He adds, “In Choomantra Kali which was our first 3D picture, Jayamalini apparently wore a transparent dress but we had our focus only on her eyes. There was sringaram, not vulgarity. By the time Silk Smitha stepped in we clearly noticed some changes. These days it’s disgusting to watch the item songs on television.”

Vijaya Lalitha made her debut when L. Vijayalakshmi left to the US after her wedding; They booked Vijaya Lalitha for Bheemanjeneya Yuddham but the film ran only for two days. Surprisingly, the industry which was normally ridden with sentiments continued with her and gave her tiny roles. From thereon she grew in stature and worked in 850 films over ten years.

She says, “We had no time to even brush and would wake up very early to be on the sets. Make up took us 3 hours. We derived inspiration from NTR. We would sit in Vauhini studios and Vittalacharya would tell us tales of NTR’s punctuality.” Speaking of her present life, she says “I had a late marriage, and my son feels shy, so we don’t watch my films at home.”