Vyjayanthimala ushered in a Naya Daur

As the first female superstar of Hindi cinema turns 81 this week, let’s celebrate the irresistible charm of Vyjayanthimala

Updated - August 22, 2017 04:36 pm IST

Published - August 18, 2017 01:30 am IST



It almost seems the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten had actress Vyjayanthimala in his mind when he observed that “when virtue and modesty enlighten her charms, the lustre of a beautiful woman is brighter than stars”. Endowed with an immaculate combination of beauty, brains and talent, Vyjayanthimala sparkled on screen with such exemplary grace that audiences yielded to her overwhelming appeal without a murmur.

In an era dominated by the likes of Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Suchitra Sen, Waheeda Rehman, Mala Sinha and Nutan, she gave many outstanding performances that are still spoken and dissected. Her chutzpah, hour glass figure, fascinating eyes and arresting simplicity made Vyjayanthimala a heady combination of alluring charm with pious dignity! She could carry metropolitan sophistication as well as rustic innocence with equal ease while radiating a wide range of emotions to give substance to her numerous characters. Her impeccable dialogue delivery, next only to the inimitable Meena Kumari, meant her class act could provide penetrative glimpses into a character’s personality and she could hold attention with her magnetic skills rather than lean on crutches of glamour.

Director’s delight

Her roles in “Nagin”, “Devdas”, “Naya Daur”, “Paigham”, “Sadhana”. “Madhumati”, “Gunga Jamuna”, “Leader”, “Sangam”, “Amrapali”, “Sangharsh”, “Jewel Thief” and several other films compel ovation for her guts and conviction. Despite her south Indian lineage, her modulation of Hindi and Urdu dialogues were near flawless thus lending her portrayals a remarkable credibility on screen. Director Lekh Tandon asserts, “Vyjayanthimala’s forte was becoming a character rather than acting out a character.” Tandon, who directed her in “Amrapali” and “Prince”, confides Vyjayanthimala was a director’s delight who would never quit till the director’s vision had been achieved. He admits, “If ‘Amrapali’ is a cult film, it is thanks largely to Vyjayanthimala who brought the courtesan alive with her phenomenal talent.”

This unremitting attitude for perfection is visible in most of her performances. Would you believe that Chandramukhi in “Devdas” was enacted by her at the age of 19 and that she subsequently refused the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress award because she considered herself as the parallel heroine! It is obvious why Bimal Roy took her help again to carve “Madhumati” as an unforgettable cinematic saga of suspense and super natural. Similarly, if “Gunga Jumna” is deemed an all time classic entertainer, it is in large measure due to Vyjayanthimala’s histrionics as well as Bhojpuri diction that are as good as Dilip Kumar’s and which help provide viewers with immortal moments of pastoral romance, revelry, humour and anguish. Matching Dilip Kumar's prowess is a significant pointer to her mettle since Bhojpuri was an alien dialect for her and she had to take lessons to learn the same for the movie.

That is why it isn’t too difficult to understand why, despite entry of many regional actresses in to Hindi cinema, till date Vyjayanthimala is considered the best of the southern queens and why she alone had the distinction of ruling the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi cinema concurrently for over a decade and why she was hailed as the first “female superstar” of Indian screen!

Dancing diva

Moreover, Vyjayanthimala was probably the only heroine of that era, except Waheeda Rehman, who could dance and dance extremely well. However, it is doubtful if anyone else could have provided the saucy and impish nuances of “Main Kaa Karun Raam Mujhe Buddha Mil Gaya” (“Sangam”) with such aplomb and oomph as Vyjayanthimala. Using her classical grounding to the hilt, she provided the appropriate “postures and gestures” without being loud, thus conveying the tiff, tease and ire of a miffed wife to perfection. There are scenes galore from various films where Vyjayanthimala brought forth gaiety, misery, happiness, rage or desperation with remarkable ease, making you wonder if there was anything which she could not emote?

Rewind just a few scenes and you’d agree that Vyjayanthimala was amongst the best the world has seen on silver screen anywhere. Remember her mid street duel with Gunga (Dilip Kumar) in “Gunga Jamuna” for throwing off her bundle or her teary-eyed entreaties to Jamuna (Nasir Khan) that blow your guts apart? Even her silent reactions, which experts say are most difficult to enact, are amazing spectacles of dexterity. Relive her expressions and eye movements in tandem with each word of Hasrat Jaipuri’s poetry “Ye Mera Prem Patra” from “Sangam”. It is her favourite song as per her confession but observe minutely how the poem is brought alive by her sensitivity on screen. Of course, Rafi Sahab, Shankar Jaikishan, Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar have together created an outstanding melody but Vyjayanthimala’s fragrant impressions make it an unforgettable scene of tender romance for all times to come.

Graceful exit

The solemn dignity that marked Vyjayanthimala’s screen journey continued to mark her personal domain also. Making a graceful exit from reel life after marriage, she never re-entered the arena much to the chagrin of her admirers. But in later years, after her husband’s demise, she did take up a Parliamentarian’s role for nearly fifteen years and apart from her social and political work, her dedicated services to Bharatanatyam earned her laurels as well as the revered Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. A mentor to several practitioners of dance in Chennai, Vyjayanthimala still remains a beautiful person whose cinematic contributions will provide generations of viewers with tons of joy and happiness forever.

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