Her stint with cinema is legendary. Vyjayanthimala, who has lived through the changes in Bollywood - "from the Kumars to the Khans" -, affirms that filmmaking has become easier due to technology and the camera itself has become an artist.
"Indian cinema has undergone a huge change technically. I see a huge Western influence in today's films. Technically, they are so advanced that I think the camera does wonders today. Our time was different. Now the camera itself is an artist," the actress, who turned 75 Sunday, told IANS in an interview.
"Be it dancing or fighting, it's mostly handled by the camera. If you miss something, they can correct it technically. But, in my time, if any mistake was made, the whole sequence had to be re-shot. It's much easier nowadays," added the actress, who is an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer.
A Tamil, Vyjayanthimala entered filmdom with a bang thanks to the success of her first Tamil film "Vazhkai" in 1949, which was later remade in Telugu. And its Hindi remake, "Bahaar", marked her entry into Hindi films in 1951.
As she hailed from the south, "I had to adapt many things (to work in Hindi films)."
"It was different from the south. So I had to work hard for the characters. It's not only the dialogues but also the mannerisms," said the retired actress who ruled the Hindi film firmament in the 1950s and the 1960s.
She was loved and appreciated not only for her on-screen persona and performances but also for her flawless dancing skills. She is grateful to have got opportunities to work with the best in the industry.
"It has been a long journey, a very wonderful journey, I must say. Whatever I have done in my films and after having worked with such wonderful people, great directors and very nice co-stars and technicians, I couldn't have asked for anything more.
"I have worked with three superstars -- Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor. I have worked with all the Kumars - Dilip Kumar, Kishor Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Manoj Kumar and Rajendra Kumar," she said, adding with humour that "in those times there used to be all Kumars and no Khans!"
Some of her memorable performances were in "Devdas" (1955), "New Delhi" (1956), "Kathputli" (1957), "Madhumati" (1958), "Sangam"(1964), "Leader" (1964), "Amrapali" (1966), "Chhoti Si Mulaqat" (1967) and "Jewel Thief" (1967).
My maximum films were with Dilip Kumar, said the actress. "We shared a certain comfort level and enjoyed the company since 'Devdas'."
In fact, she played Chandramukhi in director Bimal Roy's "Devdas", but says "I haven't seen any of the remakes of 'Devdas'."
It is believed that it was Vyjayanthimala who paved the way for south Indian actresses in the Hindi film industry. "I am happy that I could pave the way for other south Indian actresses, but the person who really opened the doors was S.S. Vasan who made 'Chandralekha' (1948).
"When it released, it took the north by storm because by then they haven't seen that kind of lavish sets, costumes and splendour. So Vasan was the person who opened the door for Hindi films in the south," she said.
"Chandralekha" was reportedly made on a budget of Rs.600,000 and was said to have been the most expensive Tamil film of its time.
It was a conscious decision on her part to bid adieu to showbiz after she married Dr. Chamanlal Bali, personal physician of Raj Kapoor, and relocated to Chennai.
"I still relish those golden memories. I left the industry once I got married to Dr. Bali in 1968. Offers kept on pouring in, but we had decided that I wouldn't work any more. Being a housewife is also a big profession and it comes with a huge responsibility: so is working in the industry. I preferred not to mix them up," said Vyjayanthimala, who now stays in Triplicane in Chennai.
Vyjayanthimala still practises Bharatanatyam and says: "I am still a senior Bharatanatyam performing artist. I take part in dance festivals. There would be a number of shows happening in the coming three months. I would be totally engaged with that."
(Dibyojyoti Baksi can be contacted at email@example.com)