When veteran actor and director Vijaya Nirmala passed away on Wednesday night, following a cardiac arrest at Continental Hospital, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, she left scores of fans, film industry fraternity and littérateurs in shock.
Her son and actor Naresh tweeted that his mother’s body will be kept at their residence in Nanakramguda and the last rites will be performed on Friday, June 28. She was 73.
The Telugu film industry, in particular, remembers her as a warm and loving personality who entered the Guinness Book Of World Records in 2002 as the only woman director to have wielded the megaphone for 44 films. It’s no mean feat, considering the fair share of struggles of women directors in a male-dominated scenario.
Nirmala made her debut as a child artiste in the Tamil film Machcha Rekhai (1950) and her Telugu debut was Panduranga Mahatyam (1964). She went to act as a leading lady beginning with Enga Veetu Penn (1965, Tamil), and Rangula Ratnam (1966, Telugu).
Her first directorial venture was the Malayalam film Kavitha which was later remade in Telugu. She also turned producer and established Vijaya Krishna banner, which produced 15 films.
She added Vijaya to her name as a mark of gratitude to the production house that gave her a break as an artiste. She was married to Krishna Murthy and had a son, Naresh. Later, she married actor Krishna with whom she worked in her second Telugu film Saakshi (1967). Krishna and Vijaya Nirmala worked together in more than 40 films.
Film critics and photo journalists remember Vijaya Nirmala receiving them with a smile and being a very hospitable person. Every other day there would be someone or the other waiting in her living room, seeking financial help or extending an invitation to her to attend a wedding, a bonalu festival or some association meeting. She never disappointed anybody.
I remember her attending a celebratory function held by Movie Artiste Association recently. The amiable couple attended the function despite her not being in the best of health. Industry circles state that she underwent a knee surgery at the same hospital where she breathed her last.
When she was active as a director, she loved discussing novels and characters referred by journalists or friends for long hours. A voracious reader, she adapted several stories into movies. One of her most memorable films as an actor and director is Meena (1973), adapted from a novel by Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani.
Despite her busy schedule, working in various capacities, she never neglected her personal life and that of her family and extended family. Senior colleagues and film media in Chennai rave about her culinary skills. They humorously would remark that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and it was perhaps one of the reasons why Krishna took a liking to her. Industry people remember her getting tall tiffin carriages for Krishna and other colleagues. Those days Sowcar Janaki, Suryakantam and a few other artistes were fond of cooking and serving meals during lunch break. An expert at whipping up Gongura mutton which was a rarity in the then Madras, Vijaya Nirmala would cook a few non-vegetarian dishes and send it to the press meets held at the hotel she established, called Nawin International; her grandson is also named Nawin. She lived very close to the hotel and she would send food across.
Vijaya Nirmala once took this writer to her garden and proudly showed the assorted organic vegetables and fruit trees growing there. “I hand pick vegetables and cook them for Krishna garu. Every time I make ladies finger fry, it is a big hit with the family,” she had mentioned with pride.
She had made wise investments in her heydays as an artiste and that paid huge dividends. She cared for her entire family and that includes her three brothers who lived in the premises. “ Aame Aadhaaram ”, commented a senior journalist and said even now the staff, PR, of this couple are at their beck and call, and there are zillion fans who are ready to assemble if Krishna beckons them. That is the kind of love and support they have earned for themselves. None of them nurse a grudge against Krishna for having married Vijaya Nirmala, as she had taken care of him and never left his side.
When I asked if she ever had any differences with Krishna’s first wife, Vijaya Nirmala said, “No, not at all. In fact, akka would say mee aayina ni nuvve chusukovali (you should only look after your husband).” It was a lasting friendship and a lifetime association for her. Her last wish was to direct her grandson but that remains an unfulfilled dream.
But in retrospect, she lived a complete life and couldn’t have asked for more.