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Vijayashanti: “I Never Thought I’d Come Back To Cinema”
The astonishing Vijayashanti who at one point in her long illustrious career was known as ‘Lady Amitabh’ is back on screen after a gap of 13 years in the Telugu film Sarileru Neekevvaru . The film’s success has brought a glow to the iconic actress’ face.
Speaking in a warm humble amiable tone Vijayashanti expresses delight and surprise at the warm welcome back . “I am back after 13 years of absence from the screen.I am gratified to know audiences have not forgotten me and my roles.Even now they call me out by the names of the popular characters I played. The response to my return after so many years is overwhelming.”
After delivering hit after hit in the 1980s and 90s in Tamil , Telugu and Hindi in author-backed female-oriented roles, why was she missing from the screen since 2006?
“Politics, Sir, politics,” she says with pleasurable laughter. “I decided to plunge myself into the creation of Telangana. And I didn’t to do it half-heartedly, didn’t want people to point a finger at me and say, ‘Look, another actor is using politics to get noticed.’ It didn’t even occur to me that I could use my strong image in cinema to propagate my political ideas. To me, cinema was cinema and politics was politics.”
When she plunged into politics she had no intention of ever returning to cinema. “I had been acting for 40 years when politics beckoned. I didn’t want to continue with a film career. It had to be politics wholeheartedly.”
So what made Vijayashantiji change her mind? “Mahesh Babu and director Anil Ravipudi. Anil Ravipudi had offered me a role just a year before Sarileru Neekevvaru . I had turned it down . I had no intention of returning to cinema. But then again he came back to me with Sarileru Neekevvaru . This time I couldn’t say no to him. When I heard the role and got to know I’d be sharing screen space with Mahesh Babu, it seemed just right to take on the role.Do you know I started my career as a heroine with Mahesh Babu’s father (Krishna) in Telugu cinema in Kilaadi Krishnudu in 1980. I also acted with Mahesh Babu when he was a child.And now I’m sharing the screen with Mahesh Babu again.It is quite amazing!”
Vijayashanti is astounded by the reaction to her role in Sarileru Neekevvaru. “The response is unbelievable. They all want me to do more roles. And I’m open to it, provided it’s worth my while.At the moment I haven’t accepted any other role.I don’t need to do a film unless I’m convinced it’s worth my while.”
She recalls her brief association with Hindi cinema with fondness. “The first Hindi film I did was Eeshwar with Anil Kapoorji. It was a lovely film.And I had a lovely role in it. I did some more Hindi films, including Tejaswani where I played a cop and did my owm stunts. I also did a film with the great Amitabh Bachchan called Zamanat which , for reasons unknown to me, never got released.That remains a regret. Amitji is such a great star. Do you know, they used to call me ‘Lady Amitabh’ in Telugu cinema because of the author-backed strong characters I played.”
Vijayashanti has always been associated with films and roles that empower the female hero. Sarileru Neekevvaru is no exception. “I’m lucky to get such a part so late in my career. It’s very rare for a leading lady to return after so long with such a powerful character. Now that the Telangana dream has been realized I hope to do selected roles from now on. Even one film a year is enough. But the role has to justify my presence, like Sarileru Neekevvaru did.”
She is full of praise for Mahesh Babu and his wife Namrata. “They looked after me like their own family. Until this week we were together, shooting, promoting the film. Now that it’s over I will miss them.”