At the outset, Vyjayanthimala, when you read her autobiography, comes across as a person who is so much in love with life. Every page of her autobiography speaks volumes about the passion she still has for ‘Bharatnatyam’. We are amazed at the amount of travel she has undertaken all these years and how even after her husband’s death (the charming and suave Dr. Chamanlal Bali), she has continued to dance and lead a peaceful life. She comes across a strong woman having resolute faith in herself and her abilities. One really wonders why did she ever stray into the big bad world of Hindi movies (Bollywood).
Some critics have ripped her apart but for the common reader, the fact is that, the autobiography really touches your heart. For a girl who was separated from her mother at a young age and was reared by her grandmother and father, it appears that life’s experiences have toughened her and made her strong. She describes the pain of having had to fight with her grandmother when she had to take a hard decision to marry the man of her choice – Dr. Chamanlal Bali, who was a much married man with three children. About her marriage to Dr Bali, Vyjyanathimala has written so much but it does feel that she has a tinge of regret which wants to cleverly camouflage and the end result is that it appears to be defensive. Her grandmother did not want her to be a home breaker and though she herself claims that Dr Bali’s first marriage wasn’t a happy one, haven’t we heard that before? Sridevi, Hema Malini, Jayaprada ... all these South Indian actresses seem to have fallen head over heels in love with married men. Sridevi, Hema and Vyjayanthi have this common thread among themselves – they have married a Punjabi – the only exception being that Hema chose to remain in the sidelines.
It is also clear why Vyjayanthimala attained motherhood at such a late stage. After her marriage in 1968, she seems to have become so busy with her movies and dance programs across the world that, motherhood had to take a backseat. It is a fact that without someone like Dr Bali besides her, she could have never done all those dance programs for such a long period. Dr. Bali, it seems, helped her to continue her passion after marriage to the extent of sacrificing his own career. But, yes, Vyjaynathimala seems to have loved him so dearly and she has sung paeans about him and eulogised him.
Her experiences with the triumvirate (Trimurthis) in Bollywood and Hollywood make for interesting reading. Gemini Ganesan, Sivaji Ganesan and MGR proved to be wonderful co-stars for Vyjayanthi. Alas; the same cannot be said about the Bollywood trio – Dilip, Dev and Raj. Her anecdotes about Dev Anand made me laugh like crazy. She writes about how she almost feared that she would fall down while walking with the dashing and debonair Dev Anand and how working with him was light and effortless.
Vyjayanthimala seems to have been caught in the political crossfire between Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. How sad.... The same Vyjayanthimala who replaced Madhubala in the 1958 hit – “Naya Daur” found herself replaced unceremoniously by Waheeda Rehman in the 1968 blockbuster – Ram Aur Shyam. The common link in both these movies was Dilip Kumar. She minces no words when she speaks about the Kapoor clan. Though she admires Raj Kapoor as a great showman, she also writes about the tricks that he played while shooting the song – Bol radha bol, sangam hoga ke nahin. This was the song where she had appeared in a swimsuit. She also remarks that Shammi Kapoor was cynical passing comments while shooting for ‘Prince’.
The Mumbai film magazines always wrote about Vyjayanthimala’s arrogance and how she was forver chaperoned by her grandmother. But the truth is that her arrogance and high-handedness were her safety nets because in Bollywood it is easy to get strayed, unless you have a strong family support. But the gossip that centred around ‘Sangam’ sadly ended up ruining her reputation. There was talk that Raj Kapoor was keen on marrying her and developed cold feet later, which in turn made Vyjayanthi marry RK’s personal physician Dr Chamanlal Bali on the rebound. But of course, in her autobiography, Vyjayanthi dismisses all this as salacious gossip that was triggered by RK banners’ publicity wing.
Her political experiences are a bit mundane but one needs to admire the fact that Vyjayanthimala still continues to have that passion for dance. She has written very little about her mother Vasundhara Devi and her father. But she does make generous references to her grandmother who appears to have been a guiding influence in her life. One almost feels a sense of envy at the chequered life that she has led post marriage. She seems to have met so many dignitaries and foreign luminaries. Perhaps, dance has made her what she is today. To her credit, she has kept her interest in dance alive by learning from different masters at different points of time.
The references to her interactions with Shirley Mclaine, the legendary Hollywood actress, with Pandit Nehru, Smt Indira Gandhi and Lady Edwina Mountbatten makes for interesting reading. It is also admirable that Vyjayanthimala never got lured to donning the greasepaint again for she was so much devoted to Bharat Natyam. Post marriage, she seems to have become so spiritual and her dance has helped her in a great manner for this spirituality to get evolved. She has refused attractive offers because she wants her audience to remember her as she was when she left movies. Her last release was “Ganwar” in 1970. She also mentions how she has always refused to do any of her filmi numbers during her dance performances abroad.
Vyjayanthi speaks from her heart when she talks about the 1966 movie Amrapali whose failure disappointed her. The movie is close to her heart because it gave her an opportunity to showcase her talent in dance like no other movie has done. Of course, this seems to be a bias on her part because who can forget the immortal “Hoton pe aisi bat” from Jewel Thief or the dance number with Padmini in “Vanjikottaoi Valiban”.
The autobiography is a must read for all the fans of the legendary Vyjayanthimala – her struggles in life and how she rose above them all driven by her passion for dance and her commitment to her vocation. Vyjayanthi takes pride in the fact that she was the first Indian to have danced before the UN General Assembly to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in December 1969, in New York.
She does mention about her only child Suchindra Bali in detail and this makes one wonder why she hasn’t had the opportunity to become a mother-in-law as yet so that her life would have come a full circle. Most actresses fade away after marriage and motherhood as the film world is a fickle one. But this lady, with grit and determination, has rewritten the rules and with support from her spouse, has attained the pinnacle of glory. She has firmly put the past behind her and her autobiography is a reflection of the indomitable spirit that is so characteristic of her persona.