IN TERMS of ability, influence, magic moments, and stunning screen presence, Vyjayanthimala is regarded as the greatest Bollywood dancer of all time.
The magnificent movie icon entertained different generations, influenced lead stars who followed in her fabulous footsteps and changed dance forever in India. Born in 1936, she turns a year older this week and celebrates her 87th birthday on August 13.
Eastern Eye decided to mark the occasion by highlighting her top 10 dance numbers, presented in chronological order, (knowing there are many more).
Man Dole Mera Tan Dole from Nagin (1954):
The legend of Vyjayanthimala started with this simple snake-inspired dance number. The young actress glides effortlessly to a song that became a rage when it was released, with audiences throwing coins at the screen. The magical moment kickstarted an unstoppable rise that would take her to the top and help redefine dance in commercial Hindi cinema.
Ab Aage Teri Marzi from Devdas (1955):
In terms of characters, the greatest dancers in Bollywood history have been courtesans, played by actresses across different generations. The greatest of these is Chandramukhi (above) in Devdas and Vyjayanthimala played her in the definitive version of the movie. It included this classical inspired dance number, which set the standard for others and was an important trigger point in the film’s plot.
Tum Sang Preet Lagai Rasiya from New Delhi (1956):
She may have delivered a technically perfect Bharatanatyam performance in the movie, but this musical moment stands out because it was one of the first in Bollywood to be inspired by bhangra folk.
The actress effortlessly helped pave the way for Punjabi folk dance to be introduced into frontline Indian cinema and had recalled: “People were seeing a woman do bhangra onscreen for the first time.”
Uden Jab Jab Zulfen Teri from Naya Daur (1957):
He may have been the greatest Bollywood actor of all time, but dancing wasn’t a strong suit for Dilip Kumar. However, a brilliant song and having the greatest dancer of the golden era opposite him resulted in his greatest musical moment. He bounces off Vyjayanthimala (above) beautifully in a top track that was catchy, celebratory, romantic, and fun.
Mujhe Budha Mil Gaya from Sangam (1964):
This progressive musical number was the first in Bollywood where a wife tries to seduce her husband with sexy dance moves, revealing costumes and suggestions of stripping. The cheeky lyrics and incredible screen presence of the actress turned this into an iconic movie moment. Later scholars would suggest it was a younger wife trying to arouse her older husband.
Kaise Samjhaoon by Suraj (1966):
Although the awesome actress performed a wide variety of styles across the decades, she was at her very best with Indian classical dance. She magnificently combines classical moves to a commercial Bollywood song and made it visually poetic.
Dance off in Amrapali (1966):
This classic movie (right) put forward as India’s official entry into the Oscars was very much a dance driven drama, so demanded eye-catching choreography. This particular song presented a classical Indian dance in its purest form. It had two dancers in striking costumes, including Vyjayanthimala in a good old-fashioned danceoff, as classical Indian music plays in the background. It is just beautiful to look at.
Kal Nahi Paaye Jiya More Piya from Chhoti Si Mulaqat (1967):
There are a lot of major musical numbers like Aaja Re from Madhumati, but also many hidden gems that are not so well known, like this one (top right). A standout moment in the remake of 1954 Bengali film Agni Pariksha is Vyjayanthimala delivering a classical Indian dance performance in a surreal setting, during a stage performance. Everything from the movements to the facial expressions and statuesque poses is on point.
Hothon Mein Aisi Baat from Jewel Thief (1967):
This was arguably the greatest dance moment in the glittering career of Vyjayanthimala (above). One of the best dance numbers ever created on screen saw the Bharatanatyam beauty deliver passion, power, and grace in what can best be described as the perfect performance. The dynamite choreography is complemented by mind-blowing camerawork, which took audiences into the heart of the action.
Muqabla Hum Se Na Karo from Prince (1969):
During the late 1950s and 1960s, Vyjayanthimala, Shammi Kapoor and Helen were considered the best Bollywood dancers. They finally came together for this dance-off that incorporates various styles from across India and around the world. The freestyle number was fun, fabulous, visually striking and one of her personal favourites.