Well - preserved, a friend remarked of my house and me, and in that order. I was flattered, even if I did sound like a jar of pickles. My hair has thinned, and my waist has thickened, but I wasn’t too bad, I thought.
Her words reminded me of a recent meeting with actor Vyjayanthimala.
Now here is a person who has aged gracefully and wears her years with élan. And not a bit of fat anywhere. She is so trim and slim, and that lovely smile from her ‘Madhumati’ days is intact.
My sister Viji had met Vyjayanthimala in Mumbai earlier this year, and called her when she came to Chennai recently. Vyjayanthimala immediately invited her to her place for dinner. After dinner she dropped Viji back - and came in to meet my mother. Viji said later that she had just asked her, “Will you come and meet my mother?” and she had immediately agreed.
When Vyjayanthimala was in her prime I was rather young (I think I was about eight when I saw ‘Nagin’) and was totally captivated by her. She was beautiful and graceful, and had the most charming smile. She remained my favourite heroine for very long, till after ‘Sangam’. I still feel that no heroine of today – size 0 or not - can hold a candle to her when she was at her best. She did not do many Thamizh pictures, but those she did were great. Her dance with Padmini in ‘Vanchikottai Valiban’ remains one of the screen classics ever.
She ruled over the Hindi screen with the great heroes she costarred with – Kishore Kumar and Pradeep Kumar earlier, and then Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor.
So when Viji called and said that Vyjayanthimala would be coming home, I was excited. Quickly changing into a more presentable saree (I had already got into my nightwear), and patting my hair into place, I went downstairs to receive her. I opened the gate when the car came and she, sitting next to her son in the front, put out her hand, and said, “Rajalakshmi (my full name,) can you please hold the gate open?” I was disarmed.
That set the tone for the rest of the visit. She was all charm and grace, and we relaxed, and told her how she, among others, had filled our thoughts of films and film actors. When I asked if we could take pictures, she immediately agreed and got up telling my mother to keep sitting, and stood behind her chair and posed (see picture at the top). Several clicks later, we were back to chatting, and she told us about the dance programme she is presenting this music season. At 70 plus, she is still thinking up new themes and rehearsing rigorously. No wonder she is so slim.
When my mother mentioned that my birthday is on the same day as hers, she appeared delighted, and shook hands with me all over again. Now, I can understand my being delighted, but her? There was no need for her to appear so. That, I suppose, is the secret of her charm.
Incidentally, she lives barely 5 minutes away from us on C. P. Ramaswamy Road. She was amazed that we were practically neighbours, and had been so for the last 40 years. My husband, thinking this an opportune moment, mentioned to her the overburdened condition of our road, and asked her what she could do, as a former MP of the locality. Suchindra, her son commented that they were also victims of the weird road rules – he had no direct access to their home from the main road.
Granted, that I am not the star struck teenager of the 60s, nor she the reigning queen of the silver screen today. In spite of that, she bowled us over with her matter-of-fact manner and total lack of airs.
My mother remembers her from an earlier occasion too as a nice person. At the investiture ceremony at Rashtrapathi Bhavan, New Delhi, in the 1970s, when my mother and her sister had accompanied my father to see people receive their Padma Shri and other awards, my aunt had gone up to Vyjayanthimala and asked if she could hug her. And the star had easily agreed and hugged her back.