Vyjayanthimala Bali (born 13 August 1936), also known by the mononym Vyjayanthimala, is an Indian film actress, Bharathanatyam dancer, Carnatic singer, dance choreographer and parliamentarian. She made her debut in the Tamil language film Vazhkai in 1949 and in the Telugu Film Jeevitham in 1950 later became one of the most prominent actresses of South India and the golden era in Bollywood;
Vyjayanthimala was one of the biggest Bollywood stars in a career lasting almost two decades. She was also the first south Indian actress to become a national star and "paved a way" for other south Indian actresses to foray into Bollywood. Vyjayanthimala is an accomplished dancer and was one of those who introduced semi-classical dance to Bollywood. Her subsequent dance numbers in her films had earned her the title of "twinkle toes". She was also referred to as one of the first female superstars of Hindi cinema and was known as "Numero Uno actress" for her "illustrious career in 1950s and 1960s".
Vyjayanthimala made her screen debut at the age of 13 through the Tamil film Vazhkai (1949) and Telugu Film Jeevitham in 1950 and acted in Bollywood films Bahar and Ladki. Following the success of Nagin, Vyjayanthimala established herself as one of Bollywood's leading actresses while making in-roads in successful Tamil and Telugu films. After successfully establishing herself as a commercial actress, Vyjayanthimala appeared in Devdas playing Chandramukhi the hooker with a heart of gold in 1955. In her first dramatic role, she received her first Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 4th Filmfare Awards where she refused to accept the award citing that her role was not a supporting role, being the first person to refuse a Filmfare Award. Following that, Vyjayanthimala appeared in series of blockbuster films such as New Delhi, Naya Daur and Aasha. She reached the pinnacle of her success in 1958, when two of her films; Sadhna and Madhumati became huge critical and commercial hits. She was nominated for two Filmfare Award for Best Actress Award for Sadhna and Madhumati and won the award for the former.
At this point of time, Vyjayanthimala made comeback to the Tamil films, where she tasted commercial success with Vanjikottai Valiban, Irumbu Thirai, Baghdad Thirudan and Then Nilavu. In 1961, the release of Dilip Kumar's Ganga Jumna saw her playing a rustic village belle Dhanno who speak Bhojpuri dialect, critics applauded her performance with some labeled it as her best performance till date. She won her second Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her role in Ganga Jumna. Beginning from 1962, most of her films performed either averagely or poorly at the box office. However in 1964 with the success of Sangam her career hits the peak again. She reinvented herself playing a modern Indian girl while appearing in revealing costumes and one-piece swimsuit. She went to receive her third Best Actress Award at the 12th Filmfare Awards for her role as Radha in Sangam. She later achieve critical acclaim for her performance in the historical drama Amrapali, which was based on the life of Nagarvadhu (royal courtesan) of Vaishali, Amrapali. Though the film received universal acclaim but it was a huge box office failure, which leave Vyjayanthimala, who had a huge expectation on the film, disenchanted to the point where she decided to quit films. In the end of her carer Vyjayanthimala was mostly seen in commercially successful films such as Suraj, Jewel Thief and Prince with few critically acclaimed films such as Hatey Bazarey and Sunghursh. Most of the films was released after Vyjayanthimala had leave the film industry.
Besides films, Vyjayanthimala's main concentration was in Bharata Natyam a form of Indian classical dance. After quitting movies Vyjayanthimala Bali continued with her dance career. In addition, Vyjayanthimala was conferred with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest Indian recognition given to practising artists. The award was presented to Vyjayanthimala in 1982 for her contribution in Bharata Natyam field. Moreover, Vyjayanthimala is also an avid golfer and is one of the oldest golfers in Chennai. She has also served as chairperson of 48th National Film Awards.
She was born in Triplicane situated near Parthasarathy Temple in an orthodox and religious Tamil Brahmin family to M. D. Raman and Vasundhara Devi. Her mother was a leading actress in Tamil Cinema in 1940s where her film Mangama Sabatham was the first ever Tamil film to be declared a "colossal" hit at the box office. She used to call her mother by her name as her mother was only 16 years older than her. Similarly, she also called her father "Anna", meaning elder brother, as her father happened to be the eldest in their family and everyone called him "Anna" which is common in a Hindu joint family. She was raised primarily by her maternal grandmother, Yadugiri Devi, and M.D. Raman. She was also known as "Papakutty", which means little child. Her ancestors were from Mysore (now in Karnataka). In 1938, her grandfather Gopalacharya, the late Mandayam Dhati, started a nursing home on Narayan Shastri Road, Mysore.
At the age of 5, Vyjayanthimala was chosen to perform a classical Indian dance for Pope Pius XII while her mother was an audience in 1940 at Vatican City. Vyjayanthi did her schooling from Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, Presentation Convent, Church Park, Chennai. She learned Bharata Natyam from Guru Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai and Carnatic music from Manakkal Sivaraja Iyer. She had her arangetram at the age of 13 and started performing in Tamil Nadu later.
Early career: Debut and breakthrough, (1949-1953):
When director M. V. Raman was looking for a new face to cast in AVM Productions's Vazhkai, he saw Vyjayanthimala performing Bharata Natyam in Chennai's Gokhale Hall. He tried to convince her grandmother, who was apprehensive about Vyjayanthimala joining films as she felt it would come in the way of her education and dance. Vyjayanthimala played a college girl named Mohana Shivashankaralingam and acted along with senior actors S. V. Sahasranamam, M. S. Draupadi, T. R. Ramachandran and K. Sankarapani. The movie was a big success and was remade in Telugu after one year as Jeevitham with a slightly different cast, namely C. H. Narayana Rao, S. Varalakshmi and C. S. R. Anjaneyulu. This film also enjoyed great success upon release. For the Telugu version, Vyjayanthimala did her own voice dubbing with a little assistance from her father who knew Telugu well and coached her during the filming process. Vyjayanthimala also did a guest appearance in the 1950 film Vijayakumari which had actress T. R. Rajakumari in dual role. She danced for the song "laalu...laalu...laalu" which was choreographed by Vedantam Raghavaiah. Though the film was not a commercial success but her western-style of dance became popular and was considered as one of the major highlights of the film.
The success of her Tamil film Vazhkai in South India inspired AVM Productions to remake it in Hindi as Bahar in 1951. In their first Hindi venture, they decided to cast Vyjayanthimala again in the lead role with Karan Dewan, Om Prakash and Pandari Bai (who was credited as Padmini in the film). She learned Hindi at the Hindi Prachar Sabha to dub her own voice for her character in the film.Upperstall.com in their review, wrote that "She does bring the film to life with her dances though, something which was new then for the North Indian audience". The film became sixth highest grossing film of 1951 with a verdict of box-office hit.
After the success of all her debut films in all three languages, Vyjayanthimala again acted in multilingual film which was produced by Avichi Meiyappa Chettiar of AVM Productions. The first version was in Tamil as Penn where she co-starred with actor Gemini Ganesan, S. Balachandran and Anjali Devi. The song "Kalyanam...venum" sung by J. P. Chandrababu for S. Balachandran became an instant hit. The second version was in Telugu titled Sangham which was released in the same year with N. T. Rama Rao, Vyjayanthimala, S. Balachandran and Anjali Devi in the lead. The Tamil and the Telugu films were big successes across South India. The film was once again remade in Hindi as Ladki starring Bharat Bhushan, Kishore Kumar while Vyjayanthimala along with Anjali Devi reprised her role from the original film. Her performance was described by Upperstall.com as, "Vyjayanthimala's dances are the film's saving grace although it is unintentionally funny now to see how deliberate and obviously tacky the sequences are which lead into her dances...Ladki too makes no real demands on 'feminist' tomboy Vyjayanthimala histrionically". The movie became second highest grossing film of 1953.
In 1954, Vyjayanthimala acted in magnum opus film Nagin with Pradeep Kumar. The film got favourable responses from the audience and became the highest grossing movie of 1954 where it was labelled as blockbuster. Her performance as the Nagi tribe's chief, Mala got her favourable reviews from the critics, where in 1955 a critic from Filmfare magazine had said that "Vyjayanthimala in the title role puts over a commendable performance besides looking ravishingly beautiful as the belle of the hills. Her dancing, too, is very graceful, specially in those eye-filling colour sequences and delightful ballets towards the finish" while in The Hindu review Vijay Lokapally similarly praised her portrayal "The ethereal Vyjayanthimala, barely 18, illuminates the screen with her stunning beauty, moving around daintily from one song to the other...The close-up shots of Vyjayanthimala highlight her ability to convey so much with so little effort...Nagin was a precursor to her rise in Hindi cinema as an iconic actor, who combined her talents, performing and dancing, to rule the screen on her terms...biggest recall values of Nagin are Vyjayanthimala". Post Nagin Vyjayanthimala had established herself as one of the leading actresses in Bollywood because of the film's nationwide success.Hemant Kumar's music and her dance on the song, Man Dole, Mera tan dole, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar was one of the highlights of the film. In the same year she also acted in Miss Mala with Kishore Kumar. Vyjayanthimala also debuted in Kannada cinema through a film called Asha Nirasha which was produced by G. D. Venkatram. The film also had Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi as the playback singers, but the movie was unreleased though the producer's son Srikant Venkatram claimed that the film was released and flopped miserably at box office which made the film obscure.
In 1955, Vyjayanthimala acted in around 4 films in Bollywood. The first one was by director Abdur Rashid Kardar's Yasmin alongside actor Suresh which won the Filmfare Best Cinematographer for Dwarka Divecha. Besides that, she also starred in three other films
namely Pehli Jhalak with Kishore Kumar, Sitara with Pradeep Kumar and Jashan with Karan Dewan. Eventually all the films failed at box office.
The same year, Bimal Roy cast her as Chandramukhi opposite Dilip Kumar in the critically acclaimed Devdas which was the adaptation of the novel with same title by Sharat Chandra Chatterji. The industry initially was not in favour of this choice when they heard about Vyjayanthimala being cast in Bimal Roy's film, the response being: "Why don't you take comedian Kishore Kumar as Devdas?". Initially Nargis was selected for Chandramukhi's role, but she refused to accept the role. The role was later offered to Bina Rai and Suraiya but they too turned it down as they wanted to essay the lead role of Paro, which was earlier offered to Meena Kumari. Subsequently, the film unit suffered with financial crisis and at this point Vyjayanthimala offered to do the role of Chandramukhi where she said to Bimal Roy, "I am ready if you think I can do it". On the other hand, Nabendu Ghosh, the script writer of Devdas, said that, "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...She was, of course, a very good actress, but she was too young for Chandramukhi, as envisioned by Saratbabu". On her performance, Rediff wrote, "Vyjayanthimala imbues Chandramukhi with true sympathy. Who better than Chandramukhi would know the pain of a hopeless love?...Vyjayanthimala, a star after the blockbuster Nagin, still had to establish her acting credentials when Roy went against the tide and cast her in the role of Chandramukhi". While Upperstall.com describes her performance as, "Vyjayantimala's Chandramukhi is embellished with her graceful dance style that evolves with the evolution in her character within the film from a popular dancing woman to a woman, who, in love with Devdas, has unconsciously mutated to reflect the mainstream woman. For Vyjayantimala, the character marked a turning point from glamour to pure histrionics, offering her scope to explore her potential as a dramatic actress without taking away from her, the most outstanding gift she brought to cinema - her dance". Subsequently, she won Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress but refused to accept it, stating that her role was a leading one and in equal importance to the role essayed by Suchitra Sen and not supporting. In 2006, a poll conducted by Rediff ranked her role of Chandramukhi as one of the best Tawaif character in Bollywood. Subsequently, the same role was listed in The Times of India's "10 Celluloid Hookers You Loved" at number six by Nikhat Kazmi. Though the film was critically successful but it did not garner much support at the box office and ended up as 10th highest grossing movie of 1955 with an average verdict .
After being recognised as a capable actress with Devdas, Vyjayanthimala acted in various movies in 1956, namely Taj, Patrani and Anjaan: Somewhere in Dehli with Pradeep Kumar and Kismet Ka Khel with Sunil Dutt. In the same year, she also acted in swashbuckler film Devta which was a remake of a hugely successful Tamil film Kanavaney Kankanda Deivam. Surprisingly though, she accepted a supporting role as a vamp which was originally done by Lalitha in the Tamil version. However according to Upperstall.com, her role was very crucial in the film and her portrayal as the Naag Rani accompanied by her dance is the main attraction of the film. Also starring in the movie, reprising their lead roles from the original, were Gemini Ganesan and Anjali Devi. Meanwhile, she was also signed by Sohrab Modi for his film Rajhath opposite Pradeep Kumar. However due to her schedule problem she was replaced by Madhubala. Vyjayanthimala then acted with Kishore Kumar again in the comedy film New Delhi which became the fifth highest grossing film of 1956 a box-office hit. The film showcases a love that sprouts between a Punjabi boy, played Kishore Kumar, and Tamil girl, played by Vyjayanthimala. Her performance was applauded by fans and critics alike; a review on Upperstall.com regarding her performance in this movie states that, "Vyjayanthimala proves to be the perfect foil for Kishore Kumar...has always had the mandatory dance sequence in practically every film of hers evoking 'classical art' associations. She excels in the two main dances in New Delhi -- the solo Bharatnatayam Aliruppu number and the Bhangra folk dance in her Punjabi avtaar and she is absolutely brilliant in the Bhangra folk dance...in her second avtar. Even Vyjayanthimala played a Punjabi girl and most successfully too". Subsequently, she also did a Tamil film called Marma Veeran along with Sriram, Rajasulochana, M. N. Rajam, J. P. Chandrababu and Chittor V. Nagaiah. The film had some of the South Indian established actors such as N. T. Rama Rao, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan in guest appearance.
1957-58: Success and Stardom in Bollywood:
In 1957, director B. R. Chopra planned to make Naya Daur with Ashok Kumar in the lead. However, the actor refused to accept this role and it later went to Dilip Kumar. For the female lead, the first choice of the director was the star-actress of those days, Madhubala. But, as fate would have it, after 15 days of initial shooting at Mumbai, the director wanted the unit to travel to Bhopal for an extended outdoor shooting. However, Ataullah Khan, the father of Madhubala, objected to this and the role went to Vyjayanthimala. Chopra later sued Madhubala for the cash advance she received from him for the film, saying that she accepted the sum and now had no intention of completing it. Vyjyanthimala had previously acted with Dilip Kumar in Devdas and the duo shared an easy chemistry on-screen. The new film, Naya Daur, had a theme of "man vs. machine" and Vyjanthi's portrayal of a village belle Rajni received positive reviews from critics. A review from Rediff says that, "Vyjayanthimala too is not your average petulant gaon ki gori. She ably projects a hands-on worker who comes up with ideas on how to ford a stream and risks her life to save the bridge...wonderful scene between two stars whose chemistry is undeniable" while reviewer Taran Adarsh from Bollywood Hungama mentions that, "Commendable performances come in from Vyjayantimala natural...The relationships Dilip Kumar-Vyjayantimala are so human and believable". At the end of its theatrical run, the film had collected around 54,000,000, thus becoming the second highest grossing film of 1957, second only to the critically acclaimed Mother India which became the highest grossing Bollywood film ever at the time. Following that, Vyjayanthimala almost signed for the lead role in Filmistan's Tumsa Nahin Dekha opposite Dev Anand in 1957, but due to the producer Sashadhar Mukherjee's promise to actor Shammi Kapoor, he replaced Dev Anand with Shammi Kapoor. However the director, Nasir Hussain was in a quandary as he had already read the script to Dev Anand and Vyjayanthimala but Mukerji prevailed and he also replaced Vyjayanthimala with Ameeta, who was the protégée of Filmistan Studios owner Tolaram Jalan. Vyjayanthimala's next release was Kathputli in which she co-starred with actor Balraj Sahni for the first time. This film was about a young girl named Pushpa who, on account of being a good dancer and singer, assists puppeteer Shivraj in his puppet show. This film was director Amiya Chakravarty's last film. He died during the filming of Kathputli and the remaining project was completed by director Nitin Bose.Kathputli remains as one of the memorable film of Vyjayanthimala which has an offbeat theme with a Pygmalion touch. Vyjayanthimala then acted in Ek Jhalak with Rajendra Kumar and Pradeep Kumar which was produced by the latter with his home production company Deep & Pradeep Productions. She returned to the screen again with Kishore Kumar in the 1957 partially colour-made film Aasha which became a hit at the box office. The story revolves around the central character Kishore, played by Kishore Kumar, who, despite being a Zamindaar, believes in helping the needy. Vyjayanthimala, as Nirmala, plays the lover of Kishore. The story suddenly goes from being light-hearted and humorous to a court-drama when Kishore is falsely accused for murder. The rest of the movie sees both the protagonists trying to prove Kishore's innocence. The movie is best known for its song Eena Meena Dekha sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle, in two different versionsAasha also introduced actress Asha Parekh, to the silver screen, in a song alongside Vyjayanthimala, whom Parekh described as her matinee idol.
The following year proved to be very successful for Vyjayanthimala where she signed opposite Dilip Kumar in Bimal Roy's Madhumati in the title role. Originally supposed to essay four roles, the director finally scaled it down to three, Madhumati, Madhavi and Radha. The film was launched in front of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Theatre in Czechoslovakia. During the filming at the hills of Nainital, Vyjayanthimala was required to dance with barefoot where she tripped on a stone and fell while hurting herself badly causing damage to her fibre tissues in the sole of her foot. Roy who was terrified and in a quandary over the incident as the shooting could not be stopped insisted on her wearing sandals which made it difficult for her during running sequences. Even after the completion of Madhumati, she still encountered the pain from the injury which always reminded her of Madhumati's shooting experience. Written by Ritwik Ghatak, the film is about Devendra, played by Dilip Kumar, who takes shelter during a storm in an abandoned house. Here he discovers a painting of the owner of the house Raja Ugranarayan painted by him in his previous life when was Anand, also played by Dilip Kumar, and worked as a foreman on a plantation of Raja Ugranarayan. Devendra had been in love with Madhumati, played by Vyjayanthimala. She had committed suicide while trying to save herself from Ugranarayan's advances. Madhumati's ghost finally takes revenge on Ugranarayan. The film was well received by critics and audience where it became highest grossing Bollywood film of 1958 and was labelled as blockbuster at box office and ended up as fifth highest grossing film of the decade with its adjusted inflation net gross to about 586.4 million. Her performance as Madhavi, Radha and the ghost Madhumati earned her accoladates from critics. Shahid Khan from Planetbollywood.com said "Vyjayantimala has never been one of my most favourite actresses but this is one of the few performances where I am completely bowled over by her. Her expressions while playing both the main characters are perfect. With Madhumati, she brings the wonder, surprise and innocence needed in the person. With Madhavi, she brings the poise, the curiosity and pity for the grief that Anand is going through" and Karan Bali from Upperstall.com wrote that "For Vyjayanthimala, the film showcases both her acting as well as dancing abilities and the dizzying success of Madhumati took Vyjayanthimala to the highest rungs of stardom...to cap off an extremely successful year for her. Both, as an actress of considerable dramatic merit and as a star".Madhumati came to be known as the first film which dealt with the theme of reincarnation and had a gothic noir feel to it. The film later inspired films such as Milan (1967), The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), Mehbooba (1976), Kudrat (1980), Karz (1980), Karan Arjun (1995) and particularly Om Shanti Om (2007) which had also lifted the films climax which led to Rinki Bhattacharya, the late Roy's daughter accusing the film of plagiarism and threatening legal action against its producers.
The same month she had another release, B. R. Chopra's Sadhna alongside Sunil Dutt. Vyjayanthimala was the second choice for the role of Champabai, the prostitute, after actress Nimmi who hesitated to play the role of a prostitute which arguably led to her career decline. The Filmfare award winning story by Mukhram Sharma revolves around Rajini, enacted by Vyjayanthimala, a prostitute's love affair with a professor, played by Sunil Dutt. Chopra who previously directed Vyjayanthimala in Naya Daur, had adapted the theme on the rehabilitation of prostitutes which was then a controversial topic in India. Along with the film her performance received universal acclaim, as told by Vijay Lokapally from The Hindu, "Among the great movies made on the subject of helpless women versus society, Sadhna holds its own for its realistic portrayal and treatment of a subject, so aesthetically documented by Chopra and Vyjayanthimala" and praised the latter "gorgeous when she entertains the clients at her kotha...stunningly restrained when she assumes the character of a prospective wife". Similarly, the Rediff's critic Dinesh Raheja has commented that "But finally, the show belongs to Vyjayanthimala. Fetchingly frivolous in the first half, she is suitably serious in the second. She makes her need for acceptance palpable; her eyes emit twin lasers of anger and condemnation at those that exploit women".Sadhna also performed well at the box office where it became fifth highest grossing film of 1958 with trade pundits declaring the film a box-office hit. Subsequently, Vyjayanthimala received two Filmfare nominations in Best actress category for Madhumati and Sadhna, where she won her first ever Filmfare trophy for the latter after refusing to accept the Best Supporting Actress Award trophy for Devdas (1955) earlier. Her next release was Amar Deep where she was paired against Dev Anand for the first time. A production of Sivaji Ganesan's Sivaji Productions, the film was a remake of 1956 Tamil film Amara Deepam which had Ganesan himself in the lead. Along with Padmini who reprised her role from the original, Vyjayanthimala plays the role of Aruna which was originally performed by actress Savitri in Tamil.
In 2011, in conjunction with actor Dev Anand's death, Vyjayanthimala recollected her memories during the filming in Madras where she remembers the actor calling her "Papa", the Tamil termed that was used by her family and friends, and he would search for her throughout the sets while yelling "where is Papa, where is my heroine". According to Subhash Chheda, when Amar Deep was released, the long-awaited airing of Vyjayanthimala and Dev Anand was compared to the Madhubala and Dev Anand pair, where the public verdicted that ""If Madhubala brooks no equality, Vyjayanthimala admits no superiority". Unfortunately, the film failed to turn Vyjayanthimala and Dev Anand team into a hit pair. The same year Vyjayanthimala was booked by M. G. Ramachandran for his second directorial venture Ponniyin Selvan. One of the first screen adaptation of Kalki Krishnamurthy's Ponniyin Selvan the film had a huge ensemble cast consisting of Gemini Ganesan, Padmini, Savitri, Saroja Devi, M. N. Rajam and Nagesh along with Ramachandran and Vyjayanthimala. In the film, she was given the role of Kundavai, the elder sister of Raja Raja Chola I, played by Ganesan and the wife of Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan, played by Ramachandran. However, in the mid of 1958 the film was shelved for unknown reasons. The same year she did another Tamil film Gemini Pictures's Magnum opus Vanjikottai Valiban along with Gemini Ganesan and Padmini. Written by Gemini Story Department which was headed by Kothamangalam Subbu, the Black-and-white epic film was produced and directed by S. S. Vasan. She played the role of Princess Mandakini, the beautiful princess of Ratna Island Kingdom. As a stubborn princess, she always wanted to achieve her ambition in any deed which led to her ultimate death and formed the climax. The film had a great theatrical run where the film completed 100 days run at cinemas and was labelled as blockbuster at box office. The film is still remembered for the dance of Vyjayanthimala and Padmini in the "Kannum Kannum Kalanthu" song which was choreographed by Hiralal and was well received by critics and audience alike wherein the popularity of the song surpassed the popularity garnered by the film. The song is still regarded as one of the best dance sequences in Indian cinema.Vanjikottai Valiban was followed by its Hindi version titled Raj Tilak. Screenplay of the film was by Ramanand Sagar. The film was directed by S. S. Vasan with Ganesan, Vyjayanthimala and Padmini in the lead. Within a week, the film sank at box office and was unable to achieve the same box office success made by the Tamil version. By the end of the year, The Indian Express named Vyjayanthimala as the most successful female star of 1958. Similarly, Boxofficeindia.com also ranked Vyjayanthimala at the top spot in their list of "Top Three Successful Box Office Actress of 1958".
1959-60: Return to Tamil films:
In 1959, Vyjayanthimala reunited with Dilip Kumar for the fourth time in bilingual Paigham. Produced and directed by S. S. Vasan, the film featured the lead actors along with Raaj Kumar, B. Saroja Devi, Pandari Bai and Motilal. Besides them, Vyjayanthimala's real life mother Vasunthara Devi also acted in a small role where she played the role of mother to her own daughter who died in vain. Upon release Paigham became second highest grossing film of 1959 with a verdict of a box-office hit. The same year she also did a Tamil film, Athisaya Penn where she co-starred with Telugu actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao for the first time. Athisaya Penn was a remake of Aasha which again was directed by M. V. Raman.
In 1960, Vyjayanthimala mostly concentrated on Tamil films to keep in touch with the industry. Her first release in 1960 was S. S. Vasan's Irumbu Thirai, the Tamil version of Paigham. She starred opposite Sivaji Ganesan for the second time after the latter's cameo appearance in Marma Veeran (1956). Along with Vyjayanthimala, all the female cast including B. Saroja Devi, Pandari Bai and Vasunthara Devi reprised their role from the original with S. V. Ranga Rao in Motilal's role and K. A. Thangavelu in Raaj Kumar's character. The film was followed by Raja Bakthi again with Sivaji Ganesan. Raja Bakthi had huge ensemble cast featuring P. Bhanumathi, Padmini, T. S. Balaiah and E. V. Saroja. Her subsequent release was D. Yoganand's magnum opus Parthiban Kanavu. Co-starring Gemini Ganesan for the third time and B. Saroja Devi for the second time, the film was based on Kalki Krishnamurthy's 1942 novel with the same name. Apart from Tamil, the film was produced in Telugu and Sinhala languages. Upon release the film met with positive response from the critics and was awarded the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 8th National Film Awards. However the film did not fare well at box office but Vyjayanthimala's performance was appreciated by critics. She also acted opposite M. G. Ramachandran for the first time in Baghdad Thirudan. Meanwhile, she also did a Hindi film titled College Girl opposite Shammi Kapoor which fared average at box office and was declared as eighteenth highest grossing film of the year.
1961-63: Reigns Supreme in Hindi:
Following successful re-entry in Tamil cinema, Vyjayanthimala then signed Dilip Kumar's home production film Gunga Jumna. Having inspired by 1934 Manhattan Melodrama, the film was one of the first Bollywood films to deal with the theme based on two brothers on the opposite sides of law. Directed by Nitin Bose, she co-starred Kumar for the fifth time after Devdas, Naya Daur, Madhumati, Paigham. In this dacoit drama, she enacted the role of Dhanno, a washerwoman who falls for childhood friend Gunga, played by Kumar and eventually killed during a gun fight. To prepare herself for that role, Vyjayanthimala had to learn the Bhojpuri, a Hindi language dialect spoken by people in East India region. She was assisted by Kumar who also chose the shade of saree that Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene. Upon release the film opened to widespread critical acclaim from the critics. Her performance earned her rave reviews. Dinesh Raheja from Rediff said that "Ganga Jamuna deployed several crowd-pleasing elements...most of all, an enchanting relationship between Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala... Their characterisation ran so deep, which helped Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala give magnetic performances. Dilip is of course a thespian but Vyjayanthimala is a revelation" while K. K. Rai from Stardust applauded her performance by adding "Vyjayanthimala played the village woman with such simplicity and grace; you'd forget she was one of the most glamorous stars of her time. She also spoke the Bhojpuri dialect like a native". Critics also praised Vyjayanthimala for her ability to master the Bhojpuri dialect despite her South Indian upbringing. Subsequently, the film also enjoyed huge success at box office across India. At the end of its theatrical run, the film grossed around 70,000,000 with net gross of 35,000,000 and a verdict of a blockbuster. The film was the Highest grossing film of 1961 and was third highest grossing Hindi film of the decade behind Mughal-e-Azam and Sangam, another Kumar and Vyjayanthimala starer respectively. The film was also ranked second by Boxofficeindia.co.in behind Mughal-e-Azam in their list of "Top 50 Film of Last 50 Years" which features all-time highest grossing Bollywood films by using the relative price of gold in different years to arrive at a hypothetical current value of box-office collections of past films with its adjustment to inflation rate. 7.36 billion (US$120 million). For her performance Vyjayanthimala was awarded with the Filmfare Award for Best Actress trophy at the 9th Filmfare Awards. In addition to that, she also bagged her first ever Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards in the Best Actress category. In the same year, she starred in C. V. Sridhar's Nazrana. Remake of highly successful 1959 Tamil film Kalyana Parisu, again directed by Sridhar, she acted alongside Raj Kapoor for the first time. She played the role of Vasanthi wherein she replaced actress B. Saroja Devi who did not reprise her role from Kadhal Parisu and its Telugu remake Pelli Kanuka. The triangular love story received average run at the cinemas and ended as twelfth highest grossing film of that year. The same year she did another film with Sridhar. Being the first Tamil film to be shot in Jammu and Kashmir, she acted alongside Gemini Ganesan after a long gap in Then Nilavu. The film and the soundtrack was widely appreciated by the audience where it was a huge success. The film was followed by J. Om Prakash's Aas Ka Panchhi with Rajendra Kumar. For her portrayal Vyjayanthimala got some negative feedback from the critics, The Hindu review said that "Even the otherwise powerhouse of talent, Vyjayantimala, with many a sterling performance under her belt, barely passes muster, despite the usual dance and song sequence to showcase her formidable prowess as an accomplished dancer thrown in". Despite some mixed reviews, the film was labelled as hit at box office and was declared as the fourth highest grossing film of 1961 where it had a silver jubilee run at the theatres.
Her career then struggled again with some box office duds in the following year. In 1962 she co-starred Manoj Kumar in Dr. Vidya which performed average at box office.Dr. Vidya was followed by two more box office disappointments, Rungoli with Kishore Kumar and Jhoola with Sunil Dutt.
1963 also saw a steady decline in her film career where she co-starred Sivaji Ganesan in Historical fiction Chittoor Rani Padmini. Written by C. V. Sridhar and directed by Chitrapu Narayana Rao, the film also proved to be a box office failure and marked the end of Vyjayanthimala's career in Tamil cinema. The same year Bimal Roy who earlier worked with her in Devdas and Madhumati offered her the lead role in Bandini opposite Ashok Kumar and Dharmendra. However Vyjayanthimala could not accept the role due to her busy schedule. The Boxofficeindia.com ranked Vyjayanthimala at Top spot in their list of "Top Three Successful Box Office Actress" of 1962 and 1963 respectively despite her box office failures.
1964-66: Commercial successes and critical acclaim:
Following two years sabbatical, Vyjayanthimala re-attained her success in Bollywood through Raj Kapoor's first technicolor film Sangam. Termed as Kapoor's magnum opus, the film was produced at lavish budget by his production company R. K. Films. Earlier in 1940s, Kapoor planned to launch Sangam in the title of Gharonda with Dilip Kumar and Nargis and himself in the lead, however the film was delayed for several times until 1962. Following Kumar and Dev Anand's refusal to be a part of the film, Kapoor then fixed Rajendra Kumar and himself as the male leads.Sangam was the first Indian film shot in Europe and outside of Asia. It was also the longest running film in India when it was released at 238 minutes. The film also created a record by being the first film to have two cinema intervals. Cinematography by Radhu Kamarkar, the European filming locations include Venice, Paris, Switzerland and London while the Indian locations include Ooty and Kashmir Valley. Upon release the film was well received by critics and was considered as Bollywood's greatest love triangle. Vyjayanthimala's performance too was praised by critics. Dinesh Raheja of Rediff said that "to put it simply, radiant...the maturity with which she tackles her character, the insouciance as well as the agony" and call it as "one of commercial cinema's most unforgettable performances". Similarly, the film was commercially successful throughout India and other country as well. On its overall theatrical run, Boxofficeindia.com reported that the film had grossed 8,00,00,000 and netted around 40,000,000 with its adjusted to inflation nett gross is about 843900000 (US$14 million). Subsequently, the film was labelled as blockbuster where it was ranked as highest grossing film of 1964 and second highest grossing film of the decade. The film was also ranked at fourth by Boxofficeindia.co.in in their list of "Top 50 Film of Last 50 Years" which feature all-time highest grossing Bollywood film with its adjust to inflation gross is about 7173154362 (US$120 million).Sangam also had great box office run outside of India where it was well received in countries such as China, Malaysia and Russia. For her role Radha, who caught between her husband and her former lover, Vyjayanthimala was awarded with Filmfare Best Actress trophy. She then co-starred Dilip Kumar for the sixth time in Ram Mukherjee's Leader. The film was comeback film for Kumar whose last film was Gunga Jumna also with Vyjayanthimala. Like most of Vyjayanthimala and Kumar's film, their screen chemistry receives praises from the critics, where Deepak Mahan from The Hindu said "What made the film even more enjoyable was the equally spirited response of doe-eyed Vyjayantimala, oozing oodles of impish charm in every frame. The pair carried the film on their shoulders, giving abundant joy and mirth to audiences with their outstanding histrionics. Their interactions make the film worth going miles to watch and it is certain that without their resolute shoulders". However the film did not fare well at the box office where it was labelled as below average. During the making of Leader, Rediff describe Vyjayanthimala as "recalcitrant" which annoyed Kumar. The film was followed by Gemini Film's Zindagi directed by Ramanand Sagar. A female centric film, it features Vyjayanthimala alongside Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor.Zindagi becomes success at box office where it celebrated silver jubilee theatrical run and was fourth highest grossing film of that year with verdict hit. Soon she signed for Anjali Pictures' Phoolon Ki Sej with Ashok Kumar and Manoj Kumar. Her last release in 1964 was Ishaara, in which she co-starred actor Joy Mukherjee for the first time.
In 1965, Vyjayanthimala starred in two box office disappointing films Naya Kanoon with Ashok Kumar and Bharat Bhushan, Nam Iruvar with T. R. Mahalingam.
In 1966, Vyjayanthimala starred in Do Dilon Ki Dastaan which also becomes failure at box office. After some box office flops, Vyjayanthimala soon signed alongside Rajendra Kumar in the swashbuckler ruritanian romance Suraj. Directed by T. Prakash Rao, the film also had Mumtaz, Bharathi Vishnuvardhan and Neetu Singh. Suraj was huge box office success and was one of the popular costume drama in Bollywood. Suraj was the last successful film of Rajendra Kumar and Shankar Jaikishan who introduced singer Sharda through this film. According to Boxofficeindia.com, the film grossed around 50,000,000 with nett gross of 25,000,000 and becomes second highest grossing film of 1966 with verdict super hit at box office. The film was also thirteenth highest grossing film of the decade with its adjust to inflation nett gross is about 511800000 (US$8.3 million). While Ibosnetwork.com reported that the film 40,000,000 and its adjust to inflation gross is about 504260000 (US$8.2 million). Following Suraj, Vyjayanthimala starred in the historical film Amrapali. Based on life of the Nagarvadhu (royal courtesan) of Vaishali, Amrapali, she played the title role along with Sunil Dutt who enacted the role of King Ajatasatru. Upon release the film was opened to widespread critical acclaim and was India's official submission for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 39th Academy Awards. The film was huge colossal flop which left Vyjayanthimala heartbroken where she decided to quit the industry, though director Baldev Raj Chopra felt that she could have easily continued for another decade in lead roles.
1967-70: Lost Interest in Films Post Amrapali:
After Amrapali which was the biggest flop in her career and some personal issues with co-stars, Vyjayanthimala lost interest in films. In 1967, she was signed in Tapi Chanakya's Ram Aur Shyam which was a remake of 1964 Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu. She co-starred Dilip Kumar for the seventh time who previously had made some memorable films with her. However due to some misunderstanding between Kumar and Vyjayanthimala, Vyjayanthimala was replaced by Waheeda Rehman. The same year she starred in Vijay Anand's Jewel Thief after Saira Banu backed out of the project due to her marriage with Dilip Kumar. The crime thriller reunited Vyjayanthimala after a decade with her co-star Dev Anand after Amar Deep. Jewel Thief also had Ashok Kumar as the main antagonist with four more female leads Tanuja, Helen, Anju Mahendru and Faryal. For the first time she worked under Dev Anand's production house, the Navketan Films after being rejected by Tad Danielewski for the lead role in 1965 Hindi film Guide. The success of Jewel Thief made Vyjayanthimala and Dev Anand a hit pair. Three decades later, Vyjayanthimala was approached by Dev Anand for a role in the sequel of Jewel Thief, Return of Jewel Thief (1996), but she refused to act in the film as she did not planned to make a comeback. Subsequently, Vyjayanthimala's dance number in "Hothon Pe Aisi Baat Main" sung by Lata Mangeshkar becomes huge hit where it was considered as one of the best dance number in Indian cinema while being influential for the rises of other dance numbers such as "Chamma Chamma" and "Sheila Ki Jawani" from China Gate and Tees Maar Khan respectively. The same year she did the magnum opus Chhoti Si Mulaqat produced by Bengali actor Uttam Kumar. Remake of 1954 Bengali film Agni Pariksha which had Uttam Kumar who reprises his role in the Hindi version and Suchitra Sen in the lead. Unlike the original version, Chhoti Si Mulaqat failed to create any box office record and was declared as box office disaster. Her last release in the year is Hatey Bazarey with Ashok Kumar. Inspired by Banaphool's novel with the same, the film was directed by acclaimed director Tapan Sinha where Vyjayanthimala made her Bengali cinema debut through the film. She played the role of widowed young women - Chhipli - who falls for a civil surgeon Doctor Anandi Mukheerjee. Upon release the film received unanimously positive reviews where it was awarded with the Best Feature Film Award at the 15th National Film Awards while Vyjayanthimala's performance also appreciated by critics alike. A review from Upperstall had mentioned that, "Vyjayantimala, in her debut in Bengali films is extremely convincing as the independent and vivacious tribal widow". Similarly her singing in the song "Shyam Tor Tore Tamal Tolay Boshe Thaki" along with singer Hemanta Mukherjee received her praises where it was described as "pleasant surprise" in the same review.Hatey Bazarey was also received well commercially and was one of the successful Bengali film of 1960s.
In 1968, Vyjayanthimala appeared in three big budget film with high profile actors such as Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Rajendra Kumar. Her first release in the year was Sunghursh, directed by Mere Mehboob (1963) fame Harnam Singh Rawail. She co-starred Dilip Kumar for the seventh and last time in her career with Balraj Sahni and Sanjeev Kumar in key roles. Originally offered to actress Sadhana, the role later went to Vyjayanthimala as the former suffers with her thyroid problem. Reportedly she did not exchange a word with Kumar while filming following their relationship broke up. Vyjayanthimala's enactment of a courtesan Laila-e-Aasma, she received positive feedback from the critics. Anuj Kumar form The Hindu said that "Vyjayanthimala is graceful as ever. In a film dominated by men, Rawail made sure she had a substantial role. Her dances and Naushad's lilting tunes come as a welcome break to the sinewy tone imparted by Abrar Alvi and Gulzar's dialogues". The role fetched her Best Hindi Actress Award at 25th Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards.Sunghursh was followed by Saathi directed by C. V. Sridhar. Remake of highly acclaimed Tamil film of 1961, Palum Pazhamum, the film had Rajendra Kumar and Simi Garewal replacing Sivaji Ganesan and Sowcar Janaki respectively from the Tamil version with Vyjyanthimala enacting the role originally portrayed by B. Saroja Devi. The same year she also co-starred with Dev Anand for the third time and last time in T. Prakash Rao's Duniya. All her releases in 1968 did not enjoy success at the box office. Duniya, Saathi and Sunghursh was named as tenth, eleventh and twelfth highest grossing film of 1968 respectively, with the first two was labelled as average while the latter only managed to do above average business at box office. On the other hand, Duniya is considered as a hit film by some critics and often included in the hit film list of Dev Anand.
Post her retirement in films, Vyjayanthimala was offered with many roles by big banners opposite leading actors of that time. But she refused all those offers as she does not want to make a comeback. In 1968, she was signed opposite Raj Kapoor in Mahesh Kaul's Sapno Ka Saudagar, she refused the role which went to the debutante Hema Malini, who become one of the biggest actress in Bollywood later. However in 1975, Vyjayanthimala was almost signed in Gulzar's Aandhi with Sanjeev Kumar but she backed out from the project as the role resemble Indira Gandhi's personal life. Perhaps the most famous role that Vyjayanthimala ever turned down was the 1975 crime-drama film Deewar. Inspired by 1961 film Ganga Jumna, a Vyjayanthimala starer, the film was directed by Yash Chopra and features Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in the lead roles. She turned down the role of a mother for the lead actors which later went to Nirupa Roy who attained popularity through success of the film and later cast in similar roles. Following that, she refused the multi-starrer 1981 blockbuster film Kranti opposite Dilip Kumar with Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Parveen Babi, Sarika as the ensemble cast which was directed and produced by Manoj Kumar himself. Apart from Hindi films, she have also refused the 1989 Tamil film Mappillai starring Rajinikanth. As said by Rajinikanth who played the lead role in the film, "actor Vyjayanthimala was first offered the role of mother-in-law in Maapilai which was a pivotal role, but she refused the film even though the producer of the film Chiranjeevi come forward to give her huge salary, she said that she does not want to play the role of antagonist opposite me and will never agree to be part of fighting scene against me". Following many films refused by Vyjayanthimala, Dinesh Raheja from Rediff commented that "good money and pivotal roles notwithstanding...did not seem alluring enough".
Vyjayanthimala's political career was initiated in 1984 when she contested in 1984 Tamil Nadu general election for the South Chennai constituency as the nominee of the Indian National Congress opposite Era Sezhiyan, the leader of Janata Party and seasoned parliamentarian. During the campaign, Sezhiyan took provoking quotes such as "Send me to the Lok Sabha. Send her to R.R. Sabha (an organisation promoting fine arts)" to defeat Vyjayanthimala, ironically she won the election with margin of about 48,000 votes where she gained 313,848 with percentage of 51.92%. Subsequently, she debuted in the Lok Sabha, the directly elected lower house of the Parliament of India by the end of January 1985 with Amitabh Bachchan.
In 1989, Vyjayanthimala again had to face the 1989 Tamil Nadu general election, this time she was opposed by Aladi Aruna of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. She again beat her opposition by nearly 12584 votes. Later on 1993, she was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India for a six-year term. In 1999, she has resigned from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress party. In her letter to the party's president Sonia Gandhi, she included the reason for her resignation where she said that, "painfully watching the party drifting from its avowed principles after the death of Rajiv Gandhi. The party has lost touch with its grassroots and one can see day in and day out that sincere party workers are being steadily ignored", she adds more, "increasingly difficult to justify ourselves to the public and my conscience does not allow me to stay in the party any longer". Later she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on 6 September 1999.
In her hey-days, Vyjayanthimala was the subject of many controversies. Particularly her relationship with her co-stars was often the subject in topic. In the early 1960s, Vyjayanthimala was linked with Dilip Kumar, who has acted with her the most compared to any other actress which resulted in great on-screen chemistry between them. While working for his home production Gunga Jumna (1961), it is said that Kumar handpicked the shade of sari that Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene. In addition to that, film historians Bunny Reuben and Sanjit Narwekar have confirmed the Kumar & Vyjayanthimala's affair where they had said that Vyjayanthimala was Kumar's third love after Kamini Kaushal and Madhubala.
In early 1960s, actor Raj Kapoor had commenced the filming of Sangam with Vyjayanthimala playing the female lead along with Rajendra Kumar and Kapoor himself as male lead. The filming took four years to finish. During this time Vyjayanthimala is said to have been romantically involved with Kapoor and almost married him. Initially, she was vexed with him and kept him at a distance. However Kapoor did not give up over her attitude. This incident had made Kapoor's wife Krishna to move out of her husband's house with their children. They checked into Natraj Hotel in Mumbai and stayed there for four and a half months as Krishna was disgusted with the affair.
Vyjayanthimala married Chamanlal Bali in 1968. After marriage, she gave up her acting career and moved to Chennai. They have a son, Suchindra Bali. In 2007, she published her autobiography, titled Bonding, with Jyoti Sabarwal as co-writer.
Vyjayanthimala is a Vaishnavite and a vegetarian. She grew up listening to holy chants and devotional songs. She is a devotee of Aandaal, one of the 12 Alvar saints of South India. She used to invoke Aandaal before any public performance to gain her blessing.
Notes and Awards
Mohini Sivashankaralingeswara Prasad
Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress
Filmfare Award for Best Actress
Madhumati / Madhavi / Radha
Nominated--Filmfare Award for Best Actress
Filmfare Award for Best Actress, BFJA Award for Best Actress
Filmfare Award for Best Actress
Princess Anuradha Singh
Shalini Singh / Shalu
Munni / Laila-E-Aasmaan
BFJA Award for Best Actress
Shanti / Sharada