An accomplished actress, a Bharatanatyam danseuse par excellence, a Carnatic classical singer and a parliamentarian, Vyjayantimala has several feathers to her cap. Her influence on Hindi cinema has been far-reaching. It is because of her, primarily, that training in classical/ semi-classical dance has become a necessary part of a heroine’s resume in Hindi cinema. The original “twinkle toes”, she has numerous dance numbers to her credit, most of which are remembered to-date. She was extremely popular and was the first South Indian actress to click in Hindi cinema (Waheeda Rehman soon followed and then there was Hema Malini later in the 60s.)
Born on August 13, 1932 in a house facing the famous Parthasarathy temple in Madras, Vyjayantimala belonged to an orthodox Iyengar family from Mysore. Her mother, Vasundhara Devi was a renowned classical singer who had acted in some well-known movies in the 1940s.
(Wikipedia and other accounts usually mention her date of birth to be August 13, 1936; However in her memoir titled Bonding published in 2007, she does mention that she would have been around 13 when her Bhararatnatyam arangetram took place in 1945 and that she was 36 when she got married in 1968. This would mean that she was born in 1931 or 1932. I am going with the 1932 date, as she also mentions that she was 6 and a half when she accompanied her mother to Europe in the summer of 1939.)
Vyjayantimala made her debut in the Tamil film Vazhkai in 1948. It was subsequently made in Telugu as Jeevitham (1950) and in Hindi as Bahar (1951). In a career spanning two decades, Vyjayantimala acted in many memorable films primarily in Hindi and Tamil. Though she also acted in a couple of Telugu movies, a Bengali movie (the National Award winning Hatey Bazarey (1967)) and a Kannada film.
Vyjayantimala has three Filmfare Best Actress awards to her credit; She was awarded the Padmashri in 1968 (the year she quit films, while still at the top) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1982 for her contribution to Bharatanatyam.
So, on her 83rd birthday, here are 10 of my favourite solo songs picturised on this dancer and actress par excellence in no particular order.
1) Saiyan dil mein aana re (Bahar, 1951, Shamshad Begum, S.D. Burman): This song is from her debut multi-lingual film, which was a super hit in all the three languages. She was the heroine in all the three movies.
The movie had some wonderful songs sung by Shamshad Begum like Duniya ka maza le lo and O Pardesiya. This particular song is popular till date, with its remixes still doing the round. One of Shamshad Begum’s best known numbers, Vyjayantimala looks so very innocent and vivacious.
2) Jadugar Saiyan Chhodo mori baiyan (Nagin, 1954, Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar): When AVM had signed Vyjayantimala for Vazhkai, they insisted on an exclusive contract with them, which forbade her from signing any Tamil films outside their banner. They had not anticipated that she would click in the North as well. But after Bahar released, she got a flurry of proposals from Bombay. The first one she took up (based on the advice of her shrewd grandmother and father), was this movie. The reason for her signing this movie was the number of dance numbers. Nagin, released in 1954, clicked and how! It was the highest grossing movie of the year and all the eight solo songs (sung by Lata Mangeshkar) were super-duper hits. The ‘southern sensation’ was here to stay. In her memoir, she does mention that she was often irked and would be in tears during the entire shoot. The director would call her ‘idli’ and Pradeep Kumar ‘rasgulla”, much to the actors’ dislike.
I was torn between Mera dil yeh pukare aaja and this one – the two songs I really like. But decided to go with the happier of the two songs.
3) Jise tu qubool kar le (Devdas, 1955, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D. Burman): When Bimal Roy wanted to sign Vyjayantimala for the role of Chandramukhi in his version of the Sarat Chandra classic, he was dissuaded by many in the industry, including his script writer Nabendu Ghosh. He says, “I did not approve of Vyjayanthimala [as Chandramukhi], but we had no option — no one wanted to play Chandramukhi, and we were committed to our distributors.” Others taunted Roy and were of the opinion that if he was to have Vyjayantimala play Chandramukhi, why doesn’t he sign Kishore Kumar as Devdas?
For whatever reason, financial compulsions or just plain conviction, Bimal Roy persisted with Vyjayantimala as Chandramukhi and his decision paid off. She won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress award for her role – an award she refused to accept simply because she didn’t think hers was a supporting role, in any way of lesser importance than Suchitra Sen’s!
This song is one of the two songs I like from this movie – the other being Aan milo aan milo shyam sanware, a lovely bhajan (in the Baul tradition) that has not been picturised on her.
4) Jao Jao nand ke lala (Rangoli, 1962, Lata Mangeshkar, Shankar-Jaikishen): Kishore Kumar and Vyjayantimala starred in a number of films together like Ladki (1953), Miss Mala (1954), New Delhi (1956), Aasha (1957) and Rangoli (1962). This song from Rangoli (1962) is one of my favourites, for a personal reason. It was a song I had danced to, in some semi-classical dance show, way back during my school days. Of course the choreography was slightly different – my dance teacher had made it even less filmy and more classical!
5) Zulmi sang aankh ladi (Madhumati, 1958, Lata Mangeshkar, Salil Choudhary): The years 1957 and 1958 were big years for Vyjayantimala. She replaced Madhubala in B.R. Chopra’s Naya Daur after the messy controversy. The film was a huge success and the Dilip Kumar-Vyjayantimala pairing became a hit pairing. In 1958, Bimal Roy signed her for his reincarnation saga Madhumati again opposite Dilip Kumar. Madhumati was a super duper blockbuster, becoming the highest grossing film of that year. This movie was a good showcase of both her dancing skills and her acting abilities, as she played three roles in it – Madhavi, Radha and the ghost Madhumati. Madhumati is considered to be the first reincarnation saga in Hindi cinema, inspiring movies such as Milan (1967), Kudrat (1980), Karz (1982), and more recently Om Shanti Om (2007). Vyjayantimala was nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress award that year for this movie, but did not win. She won instead for her role in the B.R Chopra film Sadhna.
The music of Madhumati remains as popular now as before. All the songs are delightful, so I was not sure which one to pick. I decided to stick to the first song I heard from this movie.
6) Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko (Sadhna, 1958, Lata Mangeshkar, N.Dutta): The B.R Chopra classic made in 1958 was Vyjayantimala’s show all the way. Playing a prostitute who turns into a defiant woman, she got ample scope to showcase her talents – both dancing and acting. Sunil Dutt (who else!) was the hero in this progressive woman-centric film. One of the big draws of this movie was Sahir Ludhianvi’s sublime poetry. Take for instance, this soul-stirring song on oppression of women (maybe a bit hackneyed). But Sahir’s lyrics are harsh and rather brutal, painting an unforgettable imagery. I chose this song, not only for the lyrics, but also for Vyjayantimala’s subdued dramatic acting.
7) Dhoondho dhoondho re saajna (Ganga Jamuna, 1961, Lata Mangeshkar, Naushad): This lovely song is from the film, Ganga Jamuna, in which she starred once again opposite Dilip Kumar and is said to have learnt Bhojpuri for this movie. She won her second Filmfare Best Actress Award and this movie is considered one of her best performances. This song is a lilting melody, exuberant and lively, it is about her lost ‘baala’ (earring), symbolising her innocence and even maidenhood. Vyjayantimala looks lovely in red.
8) Jaani tum toh dole (Dr. Vidya, 1962, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D. Burman): Another movie with some lovely songs such as Pawan diwani and Aye Hai dilruba. My favourite is this teasing, playful song, sung very melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar. Interestingly S.D. Burman uses the same folk tune that plays after the mukhda before the 1st and 3rd antara for O Panchchi Pyare (Bandini).
9) Mat ja mat ja mere bachpan (Chhoti si mulaqat, 1967, Asha Bhosle, Shankar-Jaikishen): This song is from a movie that Vyjayantimala made towards the end of her glorious film career. While I loved the Uttam Kumar -Vyjayantimala pairing – they both look gorgeous, I hated the glorification of child marriage and the whole ‘patni ka dharm‘ in this movie. The music by Shankar-Jaikishen is good, with some lovely songs like Jeevan ke do rahe pe and Tujhe dekha tujhe chaha. This peppy song sung melodiously by Asha Bhosle is one of my favourites.
10) Neel gagan ki chhaon mein (Amrapali, 1966, Lata Mangeshkar, Shankar-Jaikishen): Ending the list with a song from one of her best films. She put her heart and mind into this role. This film, however, was a huge flop and the failure of this movie is supposed to have disheartened Vyjayantimala so much that she soon called it a day.
One of my favourite films – a historical period drama set in the Magadha empire, this has Vyjayantimala playing the famous courtesan from Vaishali, Amrapali. When I watched it way back in the eighties/ nineties on DD, I did not like it much due to a historical inaccuracy that bothered me quite a bit. The version that I knew, thanks to my Amar Chitra Katha reading, was that Bimbisara, the mighty king of Magadha lands up in Amrapali’s house (after being wounded in battle) and becomes Amrapali’s lover. She even has Bimbisara’s child. However in this movie, they show Ajatashatru, Bimbisara’s son played by Sunil Dutt as her lover. I remember being irritated about this when I watched it.
This minor complaint aside, Amrapali is a well-made movie, a through and through Vyjayantimala show. Sunil Dutt and Premnath are also very effective in their roles. The movie, surprisingly, had only 4 songs, but each one of these are classics. Also I seem to have a vague memory of watching Jao re jogi tum jao re when the movie aired on DD. I am now unable to find the song since – it is not on Youtube and not in the DVD I have. (Has it been cut? Or was it never picturised? Am I confusing it with some other song?)
Here is this song that Vyjayantimala herself lists in her memoirs as being her favourite.
Here is wishing Vyjayantimala ji many more happy and healthy years to come! Happy Birthday.