Dancing STAR and her rising SON
Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Suchindra Bali (left) with actor-dancer mom Vyjayantimala Bali
SHE REMAINS Hindi cinema's most memorable dancer and Southern Queen who paved way for the others, snaking through "Man doley" and prancing around in "Chad gayo paapi bichua". Vyjayantimala Bali for many avid film watchers remains the eternal Chandramukhi from Devdas and the doe-eyed beauty with the milky face of Sangam. And dance aficionados will always admire her as a Bharatanatyam dancer who's held her own on stage for over five decades and continues to dance past 70. She tugs her son Suchindra Bali to sit down for a chat with Bhumika K.
Suchindra, a law grad from Columbia University, chose to move away from his practice to make his debut in Hindi and Tamil films. Busy hearing scripts in Chennai right now, he's accompanied his mom, whom he visibly adores and respects, for the concert. Mom very excitedly and endearingly whispers into son's ear about how they will begin their conversation, deciding to say a quick hello to each other, to start off the afternoon. Here's what transpired after:
Vyjayantimala: Feels good to be together.
Suchindra: Yeah and be giving an interview together.
V: I'm gonna ask you some questions and you better answer them.
S: I'll try my best!
V: Don't you dare ask me questions you feel I may not like, OK?
S: Achcha, you're kind of ... (with a twinkle in the eye and a tilt of the eyebrow)
V: Putting you on guard (laughs). C'mon I was just joking ya!
S: I know that.
V: (To us) We're friends you know. It's not that mom and son kind of thing.
S: We share a good relationship. We understand each other.
V: We vibe. We even fight you know.
S: But it's all in the healthy spirit.
V: We are very spontaneous. He's like me and my husband. We quickly react, quickly get happy, angry, or sad... everything is fast. And then we come back. We don't hold on to that irritation.
S: I'm not too much of a cook. I just make some basic stuff.
V: What basic?
S: Like eggs.
V: (Incredulously and sarcastically) Eggs? My God! And he says he can make a raitha. What is there to make in that?
S: But still, something is better than nothing. (Both laugh)
V: But you're lucky I eat what you make. (To us) Not eggs, because I'm a pure vegetarian. But when he makes raitha, OK.
S: (To us) I've learnt to cook because I've been on my own, at boarding, then in the U.S. at Columbia. I used to make rice and daal.
V: Oh that's so important to make rice. I do cook for him. Specially on festivals, birthdays and New Year, we like to spend time together.
S: Yeah otherwise she's in Chennai and I'm in Mumbai and I keep shuttling.
Did he choose to get into acting?
V: Ask Me! (laughs)
S: Not really. Let me answer that!
V: No, no. I won't let you answer that. (laughs heartily)
V: Because this choice was not mine at all, your getting into films.
S: That's why I'm answering it!
V: (Laughs boisterously) Naughty fellow!
S: We had agreed on one thing that I would complete my education. After that I could do anything. I was interested in modelling and my friends coaxed me to give it a shot and get my portfolio done. That's how I did a couple of assignments in Delhi and pictures were splashed in Tamil papers. That's how it started and I've enjoyed it.
V: Now he's put his foot into it. (laughs)
S: I want to prove myself, and stand on my own feet. I've just started. (He's done two films - Aaanch in Hindi and Kannodu Kanbethellam in Tamil.) I'm hearing two scripts and I want to come in, in a big way.
V: I never went to his sets even on a single day of shooting, but these two films were not bad at all. But today everything has to have a lot of hype, publicity and marketing. It never happened during my time but now it matters. That didn't happen quite the way it should have, for him. I didn't have the slightest inkling he wanted to act. When he asked me, I was pleasantly surprised (Then changing her mind) I wouldn't say pleasantly, but I was surprised. As a good mother I'm being supportive. Children today are like that. They want to find their own path.
V: What about dancing? What do you think of it? Today the kind of dancing is not what I did in my films!
S: See, dance is dance. There has been a change in trend and you have to keep up with the times. But even then and even and now, there's no patch, there's no one to touch you when it comes to dancing.
V: Awww oh! (Drawls and laughs)
S: I'm fairly OK.
V: (Flying to his defence) No he's got a good sense of rhythm and he's light on his feet. He's quite graceful. He has to prove himself because dancing has become an essential part of films today. Every hero dances. (Laughs) One has to be flexible and agile. I was that and it helped me in my dance. S: I hope it's there in me.
V: Even when he was acting, he would only tell me about the acting scenes. When I would ask him about what steps he did in the dance he would not do it! (Chuckles heartily) He said wait for the film.
S: I wanted her to see it finally. I didn't want her to have a trial.
V: But when I saw the film I was happy. I was pleasantly surprised and I said `Not bad!'
S: Yeah, but nothing close to what you did...
V: (In vehement protest) No no no, no comparisons. There should never be any comparisons, because comparisons are always odious. You should have your individuality...
No role models, no image in your mind. If you have to struggle, you have to. Achcha, don't you remember, I did a very bold number. Which film was that?
S: Sangam! `Main kya karu Raam mujhe budhdha mil gaya'.
V: Yaaa, of course!
S: And the best part was that there was no choreographer! (To us) I believe Raj Kapoor gave her the concept and a free hand to do what she wanted.
V: In those times it was a bold number. But it fitted in beautifully with the theme and concept. I would say there was no vulgarity, which I find today in the gestures and movements. I don't know whether you agree. I'm not for baring it all, and for movements that are not aesthetic. The emphasis is only on sex and nothing else. You just want to titillate the masses. Not that I'm old fashioned or outdated... There are some real good dances even today. I think you have to retain certain Indian sensibilities and culture. I do contemporary pieces in my dance, but with a balance.
V: (Laughs) Hey what about a girlfriend?
S: Girfriends, (rather embarrassed) yeah I discussed... I mentioned...
S: Whoever has to be mentioned.
V: No secrets from me, you know that (To us) I still don't know if he has one!
S: I've already told you. I don't want to give names here!
(Both laugh and set off for lunch)
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