The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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By Vyjayantimala Bali with Jyoti Sabharwal,
Stellar, Rs 695

Vyjayantimala Bali is arguably the most luminous female icon in the Hindi film industry of the Fifties and Sixties. She embodied much of what Bollywood came to stand for in subsequent years. For instance, her graceful demeanour and tender looks represented a trope of feminity which starkly contrasted with the androgynous virangana figure popularized by the actress Nadia in the pre-Independence period, or the vamp of the films in the Seventies, played to perfection by the likes of Helen.

Widely accepted in her time as a paragon of Indian feminine beauty, Vyjayantimala was also one of the most emotive heroines on the Indian silver screen. She was among the most competent actresses who carried forward the industry’s agenda to showcase what it understood to be ‘Indian morality’.

A pioneer in Bollywood for being a multi-faceted performer, an equally talented dancer and actor, some of Vyjayantimala’s sterling performances in cinema are inconceivable without her mesmeric spells of dancing. Dancing is the soul of her acting, because this southern star believes that “everything begins and ends with dance”.

Bonding…, Vyjayantimala’s memoir vindicates her claim that dance truly is the raison d’etre of her existence. Jyoti Sabharwal, in co-authoring the memoir, meticulously charts out the making of the phenomenal danseuse, who made her first big public appearance in Europe in 1939 at the age of seven. She performed before the Pope and earned his blessings. It was just the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

As a cultural ambassador for India, Vyjayantimala universalized the Indian temple dance forms, especially the Bharatnatyam of the Tanjore tradition.

The memoir contains Vyjayantimala’s views on dance as a form of art. “The two major aspects are Nritta, pure dance, and Nritya, interpretative abhinaya or miming,” writes the dancer extraordinaire. This, as well as her disapproval of modern film dances which, she thinks, are “like exercises, aerobics or even acrobatics”, may interest a dance student or a choreographer. A sociologist may ponder her condemnation of ‘the gender bias’ in modern films. A film bug should relish the funny anecdotes scattered in the memoir, such as her uncanny encounter with a snake just before she was assigned her role in Nagin.

But more than anything else, Bonding… is an illustration of how life connects with art, and is sustained by it. It is the saga of a life which would not only be incomplete, but also impossible, without art.

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