Not many people know that Vyjayanthimala, at the age of five, danced Bharatnatyam for Pope Pius XII when her mother, Vasundhara Devi, was at the Vatican
She is known to be the first female super star of Indian Cinema, biggest stars like Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand waited for months to get her dates so that she could be their co star. She is the original Chandramukhi of Bollywood, who mesmerised us for over two decades with her fabulous acting and astonishing dancing skills. Yes I am talking about the Nagin herself, Vyjayanthimala.
You all know her as the charming actress but to me Vjayanthimala is family, she is my Mami (my mother’s cousin brother Dr Chamala Bali’s wife) who we each time meet with stars in our eyes. And recently it was the same when the 82 years young diva performed Bharatanatyam at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi, for the Pandit Chaturlal Memorial Society in celebration of the 90th birth anniversary of the tabla wizard.
She was the first female star to completely change the standard and style of dancing in Indian cinema. It was because of her that Indian film actresses later on were expected to know classical dance, she was the first Indian actress from South of India to become a hindi film star and carved the way for other south Indian actresses to foray into Bollywood. Also known as the Madhumati of Bollwyood Vjayanthimala who is an accomplished dancer who introduced semi-classical dance to Bollywood. She danced with so much gusto, energy and charm that her dedication won her the title of "twinkle toes".
‘Hoto Pe Aaise Baat mein daba ke chali aaye’ The classic and legendary dance number of her in the film Jewel Thief with Dev Anand is a lesson for not just choreographers and dancers but also for cinematographers and dress designers. She exude innocence when she danced to the song “Saiya dil mein aana re, aake phir na jaana re’ from the film Bahar, and showed her sensual side in the song ‘Bol Radha Bol sangam hoga ke nahi’ from the film Sangam. Her puppet like dance on the song ‘Bol re Kathputli dori kaun sang bandhe’ from the film Kathputli to her most hypnotizing moves in film Amrapali still rules our minds and hearts.
Not many people know that Vyjayanthimala at the age of five danced Bharatnatyam for the Pope Pius XII when her mother, Vasundhara Devi was at the Vatican. Whenever she was or is praised for her dance and her dancing skills, she always says one dialogue , ‘I never dance it is that goddess of mine who makes me dance and it is this other me, who attempts the movements.’
Though she gave up acting after her marriage, Vyjayanthimala Bali continues performing Bharatanatyam and researching old texts on the traditional dance form and that what keep her still close and alive in our hearts. Recently dressed in her classic Kanjivaram when Vyjayanthimala Bali, was asked to look straight at the camera for a paparazzi picture, Her ever so speaking kohl-rimmed eyes widened, she looked at the cameraman, smiled and said ‘Mein dancer hu, Meri aakhe bolti hai, agar tum budhu na samjho toh mein kya karu.’ (I am a dancer, My eyes speak, now if you don’t understand, then what can I do) Oh that sensual charm indeed was the one that held Devdas’s attention when Chandramukhi lifted her eyes, or captivate Devendra when the ghost of Madhumati beckoned him.
She announced her arrival in tinseltown when she danced down the hill on the song ‘Mera Maan Dole, Mera Taan Dole’ from the film Naagin to composer Hemant Kumar’s famous piece on a snakecharmer’s been and then there was no looking back for this charmer. She always spoke her mind and expressed her heart without mincing words and yes it did create controversy. Here are some anecdotes from my recent interaction with my Mami ji
As a new comer in the industry you refused Filmfare Award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in Bimal Roy’s Film Devdas (1955) opposite Dilip Kumar. And it became the biggest new ever isn’t it?
I gave it all I had to my character of Chandramukhi, It was the role of a lifetime, I still believe that Devdas had two main lead actresses, Suchitra Sen (Paro) and me and Chandramukhi was not a supporting role.
We all want to see you on screen but you refused some iconic role in films like Deewar, Aandhi, Sapno Ka Saudagar, Kranti and many more, Why are you depriving your fans?
It is not about depriving my fans, I did not want to play Indira Gandhi inspired role in Aandhi nor wanted to be a mother to Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar, I am a Heroine and I want to be known as a Heroine.
Bharatnatyam is your first love, what does it really mean to you?
To me Bharatnatyam is the dance of the Devdasis and when I present my dance I like to present it in its purest form, without any frills and flounces.
What are your views on today’s newage dancers?
I am sorry, I cannot stand the concepts of fusion, to me fusion is total confusion.’
Vyjayanthimala learnt dance under some of the finest gurus including KP Kittappa Pillai and Mylapore Gowri Amma. And I wonder if you all know but she never went back to school after her first film and that first film happened at the age of 16. But today she is an accomplished actress, a Bharatnatyam dance, a Carnatic singer, a researcher, a scholar, a choreographer and a parliamentarian, who explored politics, joining the Congress in 1984, served two terms in the Lok Sabha and one in the Rajya Sabha, but parted ways with the party in 1999 to join the Bharatiya Janata Party. Currently, she spends her day in libraries, researching old texts on Bharatanatyam, besides doing her riyaaz in her Chennai home.
Sandip Soparrkar is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with two National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org