Vyjanthimala At 81: “Cinema Was One Phase In My Life”

Dancing diva the super-iconic Vyjanthimala turned a sprightly 78 this month  .

Speaking from Chennai with that special glow that makes even cynical Bollwyood divas like Raakhee Gulzar and Hema Malini her diehard fans, Vyjanthimala said, “ like to be on the move. It’s a very special day because family and well-wishers like you make it special.Otherwise I don’t sit and count my achievements on my birthday.Come to think of it, I’ve never looked back.”

   Vyjanthimala retired from films in 1971 .Her last Hindi film was Ganwaar with Rajendra Kumar. And yes, she has never looked back although there have been offers galore from filmmakers like Yash Chopra and Manoj Kumar. The latest and most insistent offer was from Kamal Haasanfor the pivotal role of his mother in Vishwaroopam 2.

“Oh,you know about that?” Vyjanthiji laughs her throaty laughter. “Yes, Kamal was very insistent. He came all the way home to meet me. I am very fond of him. But when he spoke of the role I said, ‘Kamal, you know I gave up acting long ago. Once I make up my mind I don’t go back.So sorry.’  I was sad to turn him down. Rajnikanth is a very dear friend and someone I truly admire . He has asked me many times to do films. I was so happy when at a public gathering Rajni said, ‘Look at this lady. No amount of money can tempt her back to the arclights.’ I somewhere feel people respect you if you stick to your principles.”

 Hindi filmmakers have also been keen to see this timeless diva from NaginMadhumatiDevdas, SadhanaSangam, Jewel Thief  and Amrapaliback to acting.

“Yes ,Mr Yash Chopra wanted me for Deewaar.And Manoj Kumar ...he wanted me to do Kranti. I remember recently at a film festival I suddenly heard a voice say, ‘You didn’t do my film.’ It was Manoj. So sweet of people to think of me.If I am missed by fans like you, it’s because I did selected work and quit permanently at my peak instead of clinging on,” says the daring doyenne who changed many rules of conventional acting by being natural and progressive on screen at a time when exaggerated emoting and simpering submissiveness were seen to be feminine.

Says Vyjanthiji, “I chose my roles very carefully. Even when I worked with the same filmmaker twice you won’t find any similarity in the characters I played. Look at my work in Bimal Roy’s Devdas and Madhumati. The two characters were completely different. I was in B R Chopra Saab’s Sadhana  and Naya Daur. The characters I played in the two films were very different. When I look back, I see a selected body of work. But I am proud of almost every film  I did in my short career.”

She speaks fondly of all her heroes. “Dilip Kumar Saab with whom I did some of my best films like Madhumati(which is one of my favourite roles), Ganga JumnaDevdas,Leader and Sangharsh, was a very inspiring co-star. Dev Anand and I did some films but Jewel Thief was the stand-out one. His enthusiasm was so infectious. Likewise Kishore  Kumar. With Raj Kapoor I did one of my most popular films Sangam. Since he was a filmmaker and an actor he could visualize every scene down to the minutest detail.Sangam had many ‘firsts’ to its credit. It was the first Hindi film in Technicolour, the first film to be shot abroad and the first 4-hour long film with two intervals.”

    Among her most memorable songs and dances Vyjanthiji recalls the naughty Buddha mil gaya in Sangam.“When it was conceived I was a little apprehensive. But once I decided to go ahead with it I gave it my best shot. I borrowed the look and the accessories from the cabaret performances I had seen abroad. Though it was a naughty number I can proudly say there not a jot of vulgarity in Buddha mil gaya.”

 So is Sangam her favourite film from her own repertoire?

Without a thought the sharp-tongued but polite diva says, “No,I’d say Ganga Jumna is my favourite.The role was a big challenge for me.I had to play a girl from rural Uttar Pradesh and speak in Bhojpuri. Can you imagine, how far away that role took me away from my Tamilian roots?! I spoke the Bhojpuri dialect without a trace of accent, walked talked and behaved like a village girl.No one could tell I was not an Awadhi girl.”

  Now Vyjanthiji has moved on to other things. “Acting was one  phase in my life. But a very important phase. I gave it my best shot.Then moved on. Politics was another phase.And I enjoyed it. I don’t regret anything I’ve done. Because everything I do is done after great thought.Dancing has always been  my first love. That remains unchanged. I am what I am because of my dancing. That apart I am very fond of several outdoor sports. I’ve recently returned to golf. I was a very good golf player. Then I gave it up because of my various other commitments. But now my husband Dr Bali has coaxed me back to golf after nine years.It’s like starting the game all over again from scratch.”

 The fiery outspoken actress who once refused a popular award for Best Supporting Actress in Bimal Roy’s Devdas simply because she didn’t see herself as supporting actress, has lost none of her spirit .

“I look forward to every day, every experience. I am the happiest when I am with my husband , son , daughter-in-law and grandchild.Otherwise I am happy dancing. In fact I am now preparing for my big dance performance this winter.You must come.”

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