By Jyothi Venkatesh
Vyjayanthimala Bali of Tamil origin (born August 13, 1933) is best known for her work in Bollywood and Kollywood movies. Born in Madras, now known as Chennai, but then in the Madras Presidency of British India, she is a trained Bharatnatyam danseuse At the age of 15, she got a break with AVM’s Tamil film, Vazhkkai made by M V Raman, a family friend. The film was a hit and was remade in Hindi as BAHAAR (1951). She acted in some Tamil movies initially, including Vanjikkottai Valiban, in which her dance competition with Padmini is still talked about.
Initially, after her success in Tamil films, she got roles in Hindi films like Ladki and Nagin (1954). Nagin was a huge hit and helped her break out of B grade movies. Bimal Roy noticed her and cast her opposite Dilip Kumar in DEVDAS. Vyjayanthimala also made it to Bimal Roy’s Madhumati again with Dilip Kumar, with whom she also acted in Ganga Jamuna and Leader. She also worked with Raj Kapoor in Sangam and Dev Anand in Jewel Thief ,Rajendra Kumar in Suraj ,Shammi Kapoor in Prince and Kishore Kumar in his comedies. After getting married to Raj Kapoor’s personal physician Dr Bali, she decided to quit films, moved to Chennai and brought up her son Suchindra. She joined politics later and won an election to become a Lok Sabha M.P. She later got nominated to Rajya Sabha as an M.P.
The actor cum danseuse turned 90 on August 13 this year. To commemorate her 90th birthday, we at Cine Blitz reproduce her nostalgic interview taken in Pune by Senior Journalist JYOTHI VENKATESH where she bagged the Life Time Achievement Award from Dr Jabbar Patel who is the Festival Director. Read excerpts:
How do you feel having been bestowed with the Life Time Achievement Award at the Pune International Film Festival?
I feel elated that people still remember me eventhough I had stopped acting almost 55 years ago. I am overwhelmed by the response of the audience at the Pune International Film festival. This award has added to my joy, more so because it is for the third time that I had bagged this along with Yashji who is one of my favorite directors.
Why do you think most of your films clicked at the box office?
The main reason is that most of the characters which I had played were very close to my heart. In my time it was really hard work all the time because there was no resorting to technological gimmicks or computer graphics. Today technique has developed beyond one’s imagination.
What difference do you find between filmmaking then and now?
The main difference between then and now is that a bound script was always given to all the artistes before the shooting of a film began and there was no provision at all for on- the -spot writing like they do today. I used to make a lot of effort in getting the right costumes and also the correct looks. In my time the dancer had to move fast. I had to take fast steps during most of my dance numbers, especially Hothon Pe Aisi Baat in Guide. I still remember Goldie Anand, who was then a rank newcomer even forgot to say Cut after I had completed the portions of my dance number and there was pin drop silence on the sets.
Why have you stopped acting since 1968?
I did receive a lot of tempting offers to act but I turned them down because I just do not want to accept films in which I have to perform the roles of the bhabhi or the mother in law or the ubiquitous mother. I feel that it is just not at all my cup of tea. Though I am not ready to face the arc lights now in films, my son Suchindran is raring to act and is working in Tamil films now.
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Is it true that you are going to come up with your own autobiography?
I have decided to come up with my own autobiography, though it did stir a hornet’s nest with my statement that I did not have an affair with Raj Kapoor, with Rishi Kapoor retaliating and telling that his father did have a relationship with me, which resulted in his mother shifting to Hotel Natraj with the kids for some time, because I wanted to share the lovely and sweet moments that I spent in the industry with all my fans and I thought if I pen my thoughts down, it would be a wonderful idea.
How do you look back at your stint with politics?
I also enjoyed my stint with politics. Politics has its own good, bad points, more good than bad. My people in Chennai knew that I was dependable and honest. I already had money thanks to my arts and hence they knew I wouldn’t sacrifice their interests for the sake of money. The people of my constituency in South Chennai, which is a very -difficult –to- please constituency were happy with whatever I did for the constituency. Of course, I’d be lying if I were to say that there were no lapses. There were lapses due to bureaucracy.
Is it true that you had staged a dance drama in Marathi too?
Not many are aware of the fact that I had actually staged a Marathi dance drama called Sant Saku, which had the late Vasant Desai as the composer, and Vani Jairam lending her voice for me. Though Vasantji refused to take me seriously when I approached him with the request to compose music for my dance drama, he relented after I performed the steps in front of him and threatened to shelve the dance drama if he was not ready to compose the music. Once he saw me doing the steps he was totally focused on the dance drama. It was one of my best dance dramas. It was my contribution to the people of Maharashtra.
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Is it true that your husband Dr Bali had also produced a Marathi film?
I have one more Marathi film to my credit as a producer. My late husband Dr Bali had produced a Marathi film called Jhep way back in the 60’s. My husband used to speak Marathi very fluently since he was practicing in Kurla. I have seen several Marathi plays including that of writer Kashinath Ghanekar.
How was the experience of working with directors like Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor and Amiya Chakraborty?
Bimalda was a very gentlemanly director, who never used to raise his voice on the artistes on the sets and used to patiently teach us the nuances of acting and extract work from us, unlike Amiya Chakraborty and Raj Kapoor, who used to insist on making us enact a particular scene in a particular way.
How do you rate the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Devdas?
You wouldn’t believe it but the fact is that I have still not watched the latest version of DEVDAS in which Madhuri Dixit had essayed the role, which I had played in the Bimal Roy version. I have only watched the promos.
Are you in touch with the latest films?
In recent times, I have managed to watch films like Lagaan, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge etc. I make it a point to see most of the films directed by Yashji.
Also read: “Shooting with Ayushmann and Ananya was an experience filled with joy and inspiration,” mentions Kundali Bhagya’s Sana Sayyad
Are there plans to start a dance school once again?
I do not want to start any dance school as of now to impart training to budding dance talent since my travels, performance on the stage in my dance dramas, research work on dancing etc keep me busy on my toes and I just cannot sit at one place and get tied down even now.
Which was difficult to achieve- recognition as an actress or as a dancer?
I should confess that the recognition that I got as a dancer was a more difficult one to achieve than the recognition I got as an actress. I was asked to dance at prestigious dance festivals in Berlin, Sydney etc.
How was the experience of working with Dilip Kumar?
It was wonderful acting with Dilip Kumar. I have acted in six or seven films with him including Madhumati, Sunghursh, Naya Daur etc. We vibed well and almost all our films together clicked at the box office in a big way. My fighting scenes with Dilip Kumar were also a part of my acting. I had a very cordial relationship with him and we used to vie with one another to be one up as a performer.