Actress Vyjayanthimala finally honoured for her contributions to the Indian cinema

Letter to Editor

VYJAYANTHIMALA, widely regarded as the first female superstar of Indian cinema, was at long last recently awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award, by the Indian government.

She was included in the latest batch of awardees. Born in 1933, the 90-year-old screen legend made her debut in the Tamil film Vaazhkai in 1949 and in the Hindi film Bahar in 1951.

She was active from the 1950s to the late 1960s especially during the black and white film era. She should consider herself lucky to receive the award due to her longevity.

She starred in numerous Hindi and Tamil films, many of which were blockbusters. During her eventful career she acted with all the major actors, namely Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar.

She had also shared screentime with Raj Kapoor, Kishore Kumar and Tamil actors Gemini Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan.

With M.G. Ramachandran she acted in only film, Baghdad Thirudan, featuring a story from The Arabian Nights and it had many memorable songs.

Malaysians are quite familiar with her as she was the heroine in Sangam opposite Raj Kapoor, a film that drew very large crowds to the local theatres in 1965 and ran for months.

The film’s evergreen songs still bring a lot of nostalgia to Malaysian folks. To a large extent it was Sangam that exposed the Malay audience to Hindi movies especially for the catchy songs.

Kannum Kannum, Vyjayanthimala’s song-and-dance duel with Padmini in the Tamil film Vanjikhottai Valiban, is simply unforgettable and is one of the highlights of her dancing and acting career.

Both the very talented and beautiful Vyjayantimala and Padmini were also the two main actresses who, despite stiff competition from Madhubala, Nimmi, Nutan, Geeta Bali, Nargis and Meena Kumari, made it big in the Hindi cinema.

Both were the finest exponents of Bharata Natyam, the classical dance of India, which as always has had a dedicated worldwide audience including Malaysia’s international cultural icon Ramli Ibrahim.

Never again in Indian cinema will there be a such a dance-off or choreographic competition like the one in Vanjikhottai Valiban, which mesmerised viewers with the dancers’ exquisite agile moves, facial expressions and accompanied with the Indian versus Western music composition. The film was remade in Hindi as Dr Vidya.

The dance contest mesmerised millions and continues to be popular up to this day. Music for this Tamil film was provided by famous Marathi/Hindi music composer C. Ramachandra.

Numerous diverse imitations and emulations of the dance contest have been spawned over the decades including the one in 1991 by Michael Jackson and Yamuna Sangarasivam in the Black or White music video.

Despite its early popularity in Indian films Bharata Natyam had to slowly give way to cabaret and western dances and songs featuring Cuckoo Moray and Helen such as Dilmen Tu and Aarey Tauba.

There are scores of films and even more songs -solos and duets – to remind the cinema audience of the evergreen presence of Vyjayanthimala. Melodious songs from films such as Naya Daur, Madhumathi, Kath Putli, Aasha, New Delhi, College Girl, Sangam, Amraphali, Devdas, Nagin, Pyar Hi Pyar, Suraj, Nazrana and Tamil films Irembu Thirai, Thaen Nilavu and Partiban Kanavu.

Songs like Aaja re pardesi, Maang ke saath Tumhara or Tu mera main teri duniya jale to jale will always remind and reflect on this legendary actress.

The award was long overdue and the Indian government needs to be more magnanimous with its top honours especially for her senior citizens.

Many deserving people, especially from the movie industry, have lost out due to old age and received their recognition only posthumously. – March 19, 2024


V. Thomas
Sungai Buloh, Selangor

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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