We love Dilip Kumar to death. We love him with all his favourite heroines from Nalini Jaywant (whom he once told me was his most challenging co-star) and Nargis to Waheeda Rehman and Saira Banu. But, Dilip Kumar was at his best with the electrifying Vyjayanthimala.
“It’s good of you to say that,” the still-mellifluent and warm voice on the phone responds to my compliments when I catch up with Vyjayanthimala in Chennai through her one and only devoted son Suchindra Bali.
Recalling her magical pairing with Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala says, “We did some good work together. Dilip Kumar was such a joy to work with. He always had something extra to contribute to every scene. His understanding of the film medium was unbelievable. I learnt a lot from working with him. Why only me? I think we all did. All the co-actors who had the privilege of working with him.”
The iconic actress laments the passing away of a co-star who according to her epitomized the spirit of renaissance. “He could hold forth on any topic with equal authority. I first got to work with him in Bimal Roy’s Devdas where I played Chandramukhi. Our pair was liked by the audience. I was then cast with him in BR Chopra’s Naya Daur. Madhubala was supposed to do the film with Dilip Kumar. I don’t know what happened. But I was offered the film . I loved my part. I agreed.”
Vyjayanthimala, who worked in 6 films with Dilip Kumar, singles out Ganga Jumna as her favourite. “It was a challenge. Here I was, this Tamil actress who couldn’t speak Hindi without any accent after much training and tutoring. In Ganga Jumna, I was expected to speak the Awadhi dialect, and that too without any accent.”
She received tremendous support from her erudite co-star. “Dilip Saab would record the dialogues on tape and send them to me to rehearse and prepare. When we shot for the film, the words just flowed effortlessly. I think our onscreen chemistry was always special. But in Ganga Jamuna, it was extra-special.”
The Sungharsh actress, now 84, continues to share a warm bonding with Mrs. Dilip Kumar. “Saira has always been fond of me. She calls me Akka, which is elder sister in Tamil. Whenever I visit Mumbai, she sends her car to the airport and I made sure I visited their residence. Saira always said I shared the best screen chemistry with Dilip Saab… I don’t know how to face her after this (Dilip Saab’s demise). She was such an exemplary wife, so unconditionally devoted to Dilip Saab. I must say he was very fortunate to have her.”
Vyjayanthimala says she has the fondest memories of the time spent on the sets with Dilip Kumar. “We will do another film together up there soon,” she chuckles. When reminded that we need here down here with us, she replies, “That’s very sweet of you. But don’t forget, I am getting old now.”
Vyjayanthimala, who stays in Chennai with her son, his wife and two daughters, hopes to visit Saira Banu soon. “At the moment, this Covid situation has me confined to my home for the past one-and-a-half year. I have not stepped out at all. I do my dance practice at home.”