17 March 2012 | Remembering Vijayasree

Vijayasree in Lanka Dahanam

Vijayasree in Lanka Dahanam

This is dedicated to Jay. [ He knows why  :) ]

In 1988, actor Kaduvakkulam Antony had brought out a Directory on the Actors and Actresses of Malayalam Film Industry quaintly titled, “മലയാള സിനിമ : ആരംഭം മുതല്‍ ഇന്ന് വരെയുള്ള താരങ്ങളുടെ ജീവ ചരിത്രം.”  Vijayasree‘s profile starts  off this way,

“നായകന്മാരില്‍ പുരുഷ സൌന്ദര്യത്തിന്റെ പൂര്‍ണതയായ ജയനെപ്പോലെ നായികമാരില്‍ വിജയ്ശ്രീയോളം മാദക സുന്ദരിയായ ഒരു നായികയും മലയാളത്തില്‍ ഉണ്ടായിട്ടില്ല.പ്രപഞ്ച സൃഷ്ടാവിന്റെ സൃഷ്ടി വൈഭവത്തിലെ കലാമൂല്യത്തിന്റെ ചിഹ്നം എന്നോണം ആയിരുന്നു വിജയ്ശ്രീയുടെ ശില്പസൌന്ദര്യം  തുളുമ്പുന്ന മേനി ലാവണ്യം.”

I would love to hear a faithful translation of the above that does not lose any bit of the implied voluptuousness in the above quote. Really.  ( Looks like I have highly erudite friends in faraway places :D Thank you so much Anu. )

Here is the closest that comes to it. Really :)

If Jayan epitomised the essence in manly beauty among male actors, then there has never been an actress in Malayalam whose voluptuous beauty compared to Vijayalakshmi’s. Her graceful statuesque beauty was almost a symbol of God’s artistry

Vijayasree was a rare phenomenon in Malayalam films. There is no other way to express it. In the 4 years that she blazed through our neighborhood screens, she was doing on an average of  one movie release per month by the third year ! Though it never comes close to the other phenomenon which was mentioned in the same breath by Kaduvakulam Antony- Jayan, the underlying commercial principles were the same  to both, in terms of their ‘viability as a popular brand’ -  “Flood the market, take the money and run“. But her feat still remains unchallenged for any actress till date, when you think about it. The numbers were extraordinary and overwhelming. And there was a reason too, I guess – the male hormones locked and bottled up in the early 70′s of Kerala had suddenly found their pinup girl – she was the Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe of ours, all rolled into one hugely ‘magnetic, smoldering’ entity.

Poojapushpam - Pattupusthakam Cover

Courtesy : MSI

Born to Vasu Pillai and Vijayamma, from Manacaud, Thiruvanathapuram ( the Vilakkaattil family), a loving sister to two brothers, the details of the circumstances that brought her to the arc lights aren’t forthcoming , but suffice to say that according to records, her first appearance onscreen was the Tamil film Chitthi (1966). [ Thank you Muhsin. ] Her first film in Malayalam was Poojapushpam (1969), directed by the patriarch Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair. Maybe the fact that they were from the same city helped. She ended up being a part of 3 of the 6 movies Thikkurissy directed in his  prolific season as a director ( not forgetting Sheriyo Thetto way back in 1953 ) in the 70′s. She also got to share  screen space with the leading lady of the times, Sheela in her debut movie itself. Of the 40 movies ( that I could manage to put together ) that formed the creative output of her four eventful years, she played screen goddess in 99% of them, ‘reigning’ right opposite the demi-god of celluloid of the times – Prem Nazir.

She got the best of the directors queuing up for her screen time, for parts that veered more towards ‘entertaining’ than ‘emoting’, and she seems to have happily taken it her stride. Would she have proved her mettle in the latter if she were given an opportunity with confidence?

Muthuraman, Vijayasri, Vijaya Nirmala in Chitthi (1966)

Courtesy : Muhsin / The Dancing Queen Padmini Blog

I’m pretty much sure, she would have. But the ‘perceived demands’ of what the audience expects out of Vijayasree onscreen were already decided, according to me. It was a career graph that played out uncannily similar to Jayan’s – brighter but sadly, very short-lived. Even with the existing commercial dynamics, she would have given all the leading ladies a run for their money, had it not been cruelly snuffed out by personal setbacks that hurtled her down to her very hell and ended up with that fateful decision on March 17, 1974.

Sindoorapottuthottu from Rakthapushpam ( 1970 )

I have uploaded her filmography separately here ( any additions/ deletions are welcome ) , and as mentioned,show a prolific output of movies in the short span of  her 4 active  years in Malayalam cinema.

The Object of Desire on the Malayalam Screen.

So, what exactly was the Vijayasree magic that drove the hormone-crazy to the box-office? Kaduvakkulam Antony, gives the answer to that too : :)

വിജയശ്രീ ഒരു വിഭാഗം പ്രേക്ഷകരെ ഹരം പിടിപ്പിച്ചു. ആ ‘ഒരു വിഭാഗത്തില്‍’ പ്രേക്ഷകരില്‍ തൊണ്ണൂറു ശതമാനവും അടങ്ങുന്നു എന്ന് മാത്രം.

Kadali Vanangal from Othenante Makan (1970)

She spelt  guaranteed, commercial success at the box-office, and  directors like AB Raj, P Subramaniam, Sasi Kumar, M Krishnan Nair and Kunchacko, competed with each other to churn out movies with this guaranteed magnet at the marquee. Barring a few productions, which  I think she was fortunate enough to come by in her blazing career, every single production was an unabashed celebration of Vijayasree, the entertainer and performer onscreen. She was deified on screen ! It was a double-deal. With Prem Nazir and Vijaysree, you had a guaranteed minimum return and a fair run at the box-office, regardless of whatever tripe you put out there on screen, most of which that would make the theatre of the absurd blush pink. And the outrageous storylines stitched around  her had an almost unlimited supply of surreptitious scenes that amply glossed over her voluptuousness without crossing the ‘limits’ . But then, that would all change once Udaya Studios latched to  her brand promise and pushed it overboard, trying to milk this franchise for what it was worth. And the end of it , the sartorial style of this  leading lady  left little to the imagination, but it was all prim and proper, you see.

Vijayasree in Maravil Thirivu Sookshikkuka

Vijayasree in Maravil Thirivu Sookshikkuka

I have often wondered  as to what exactly had been Vijayasree’s aspirations  in doing the same, cloyingly naive and bimbette roles that just demanded nothing but her screen presence, over  and over again. Most of them had, usually, often dangerously, traversed the line of cringeworthy ‘sartorial elegance’ as her output increased along with the rate of her success.  I think, that to her, it was just another production that she had to put in her best and be done with.  For the producers, she was heaven sent. They knew exactly  where to apply the right degree of pressure, that ever-so-infinitesimal nudge  that would get them their reel’s worth at the box-office, with Vijayasree in a  leading role. They could make her traverse the fine line between the burlesque and the bimbette with surprisingly professional ease, where  other leading ladies of her times were horrified to take themselves.  You see, when her peers deliberated or  shied away from dipping their toes, Vijayasree went skinny dipping without a care ( no pun intended ).

Hare Krishna from Adyathe Katha (1972), one of her early movies.

She did the maximum number of movies with Sasi Kumar (10- a quarter of her life’s work ), closely followed by Udaya productions, though it was through the latter that she first courted fame – Othenante Makan in 1970, and infamy in 1973 with Ponnapuram Kotta . AB Raj, P Subramaniam, M Krishnan Nair, P Bhaskaran, K Sethumadhavan, Venu, MD Mathews, TR Raghunath – everyone wanted a share of the golden run at the box-office. And they got it.

She was an accomplished dancer with fluidity, poise and grace , a fact that is  quite obvious from the ones that she got an opportunity to show off her prowess – think  Govardhana giri from AB Raj‘s Marunattil oru Malayali ( 1971) or for that matter Swapnalekhe ninte from TR Raghunath‘s Ankathattu, and you know what I am talking about. Another surprising element of all of Vijayasree’s movies, regardless of the tripe that passed off as its screenplays was the presence of some of the most memorable duets in Malayalam film songs and most of  them had the creative genius of Sreekumaran Thampy behind them. I have put together a collection of my favorites from her body of work in a separate post which you can read here.

An Act of Sheer Greed and then, Infamy.

Vijayasree’s dream run at the box-office took a  rather horrendous turn towards the seemingly bizarre and ignominy, thanks to a wardrobe malfunction caught on camera during the shooting of the now ‘infamous bathing scene clip’ from Udaya’s Ponnapuram Kotta, released in 1973. Though the actual events surrounding the event seem to have acquired various colorful interpretations, the basic act of filming her in her most vulnerable moment without her knowledge and then adding it to the reels in the B-Class editions to stretch the box-office run of the movie was  despicable at best, and this has been corroborated by more than one reliable and respected sources from the field of film journalism in Kerala. And no, I will not dignify that act of pure revulsion by sharing that here. You know where to look if you are so hell-bent on watching it. Then again, come to think of it, in a way, she still has you wrapped around her cosmic finger, 40 years on, doesn’t she – hormones, irresistable temptation and all ?

Ponnapuram Kotta - Songbook Cover

Courtesy : MSI

There is also a mention of an interview that Vijayasree had given to Nana Film Weekly in 1973 ( presumably post the month of March 1973, when Ponnapuram Kotta was released ) where she lashes out at this certain ‘respectable’ Producer-Director who has ended up being a Monster and her career-nemesis. if anyone has a copy of this, I really would love to go through the interview please.

A  half-baked attempt and a train-wreck called Naayika (2011)

Tragedies, specially with stardust all over, always are  opportunities in itself, when handled right. After all, who doesn’t love a behind-the-scenes-peek into the tragic  love story of a movie star, specially when promised to be presented in all its titillating glory? Remember Lekhayude Maranam, Oru Flashback? Usually, the attempts end up as trainwrecks, and Naayika (2011), Jayarj’s half-baked attempt to tell you a story of an erst-while leading of the 60′s from a current context , specially with ample hints thrown in so thay you absolutely know what they are talking about onscreen still ended up so outright confusing a plot that I was wondering five minutes into the movie as to what exactly I was doing there.

Sarayu in Naayika (2011)

Sarayu as Vani in Naayika (2011)

The movie ‘fictionally’ recreates “Stephen Muthalali”, his Man Friday “Chakrapani”, references to a “MC Daniel Award” and actress “Vani” who suffers a wardrobe malfunction during the shooting of a movie named “Kulathoor Kotta” in the movie ! If you were a Malayalai who was around in the 70′s, you don’t need a PhD in Atomic Physics to know exactly what Jayaraj was trying to ‘recreate.’ The movie ended up looking like roadkill. Maybe there was an element of celestial justice at work.

From Naayika (2011)

38 Years on, Vijayasree still remains and represents a part of Malayalam Cinema that can never be recreated. Its a period that can never be forgotten. Along with its reigning queen, Vijayasree.

Related : Vijayasree | Filmography
Related : Vijayasree | The Songs and Dances

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42 thoughts on “17 March 2012 | Remembering Vijayasree

  1. i am a very greatest fan of vijayashree. she was really very graceful and gorgeous. i am from hyderabad . a telugu man.she acted in one telugu film nippulanti manishi with an excellent dance. i always remember her. wonderful face. no one in indian film industry is as beautiful as her.i am her ardent fan.can any one give more details about her life.

  2. Chelanagattu Gopalakrishana’s book ” malayalathile pazha nayikamar” is included Vijayasree’s story. I dont think it is a true story.The other time some other famous malayalam film magazines commented other stories.

    • Hi Rajasree,
      The whole objective of putting this down in words is to invite as many diverse perspectives and observations on her, so that, at one point in time, you would be able to read the real story than whats been served to you as the truth. Thank you for writing in. Regards, cinematters

      • Really, you said it sir.
        Chelanagattu Gpalakrishan continues, she was an unlucky girl in Malayalam cinema.actually she was from a muslim family (her mother married a Thangal, and he was very rich, she had another 2 sisters also.she practiced classical dance care of Guru Gopinath , got a chance to act on 1968)
        she married Kaashi who is from Madras, on her 17th age as well Assim bhai -producer- (he was very older than vijayasree) keep her like wife.
        rumors (or not) are like this continues ..

        on the time Ponnapuramkotta shooting, there was a naked kuli scenne trailed and its taken in a hidden camera and published anonymously.she was then very desperated and that was another reason for her suicide,some other story says…
        any how she was very beautiful charm compare even new gen.
        There was an aramana rehsyam angadi paattu regarding herself and unni mary..
        Vijayasree’s unnimary’s thighs were a marketing secret of Udaya’s vadakkan paattu movies..

  3. She was a great beauty like Unnimary and Hema Malini.Her acting has improved with K.S. Sethumadhavans Jeevikkan Marannu Poya Sree along with Chattakari Mohan and Sheela and she done a great job in Yauvanam with Madhu and her role as Vandikari ( filim not completed) was very enjoyable and fun.saw the trailer when when to See the movie Yavunam last movie of Vijaya sree . ! great of u to remeber her

    • Hi Kishore,
      The objective was to compile as much information possible as an actress in Malayalam cinema, that would help share the fact that she was more than the infamous wardrobe malfunction video (that her name is synonymous with Online ). Glad you found it informative. Thanks, cinematters

    • Hi Muhsin/DQP,
      Thank you for this ! The aspect of her first film being Pujapushpam (1969) was based on the profile from the directory, which in itself was based on personal interviews that Kaduvakkulam Antony and his editorial team had with their peers of the industry. See that the DVD is out of stock both at Webmall and Moserbaer. Will surely check this out. In the interim, would you be so kind enough to provide a few screenshots if possible? You could mail it to oldmalayalamcinema@gmail.com. Thanks so much, cinematters

    • Hi Gita,
      The details furnished here about her family and her hometown are courtesy the Directory broughtout by Kaduvakkulam Antony about which I have duly mentioned there. Why not plan a trip to Trivandrum and check what you could find out for yourself, based on the details ? Would love to have it shared here too. Thanks , cinematters.

  4. Dear CM ,
    I congargulate you for this attepmt.Vijayashee as I know,was an actress with great faculty for acting.But she was been used or i would take the freeom to tell misused in Malayalam Indusrty as a sex bomb.But here sexy apperance added honey to movies of that time.Mostly dubbed by own Vijayashree had appeard win giving lip for great singers for P.Madhuri,LR.Eswary,P.Susheela and others.
    The song”Devikulam Malayail: from Thenaruvi still facinates me.Nasir Uncle and Vijayshree had done it a masterpiece.Again I loved here double role in “Pathmavyooham”.Eventhough Merryland’s “Swargaputhri” was not so fair movie for me,I loved to see her with Nasir Uncle.The dream song “chaapam kangery” partially colour-was amazing in “Postmaney Kanannilla” .

    Angathattu,Ponna Puram Kotta,Othantey Magan,Maya,Jeevikaan Marannu Poya Sthree,Aromalunni,Manthrakodi,PanchavadiLankadhanam were all here all time superI think KS.Sethumadhavan was aware of her caliber.Eventhough there were off screen fights both her and Sheela had done good in his movie “Jeevikaan Marnnu Poya Sthraee”.

    With Regards,
    Manu J.Krishnan

  5. Vijayashree..

    Once, I’d been her costume asst. in mid 60′s. She possessed a lovely temple statue like physique. Her body parts were proportional. She always loved to wear tights. And I bet, No other indian heroine fit to that apparel except Hema malini. Viji had a nice pair of legs. She led a possible pure life which a cine- star could get..

    I wish this blog owner all the wellness of this world.

    Rajamani.Ulpetti

    • Dear Sir,

      I continue to be amazed, overwhelmed and humbled at the ways in which little notes published here can bring back people and memories from Malayalam cinema’s sepia years. Being part of the professional team that had worked with this exceptionally beautiful and the most viable actor in her active years, I am sure Sir, you would have more to add to the life and times of Vijaysree, as you witnessed it, beyond this short note. Would love to hear whatever you would like to share in your time. Thank you so much for your warm wishes. regards..cinematters

  6. Vijayasree, Sheela and Jayabharathi,.no one yet in Malayalam cinema to match their beauty and feminine grace.. the current crowd of heroines Archana Kavi, Maithili, Rima, Ann, etc et …wish she was still alive..

  7. Malayala cinema had never seen a beautiful and good looking face actress before or after Vijaysree.All other actressess are below average compare to Vijaysree.Moreover she had a good body , an excellent dancer with a wonderful smile that attract the youth. Vijaysree’s excellent acting skill was seen in Swargaputri, Jeevikkan marannu poya stree,Ponnapuram Kotta, Padmavyooham & Puspanjali. Almost All the premnazir –vijaysree movies were hit.

  8. Thank you for that wonderful piece on Vijayasree. I was always intrigued by her coz as a child (superficial me), she used to be one of the few Malayalam actresses I found truly beautiful (apart from the Travancore sisters). I seriously didn’t know she and Prem Nazir used to be such a hit combination. I had heard something about the wardrobe malfunction episode from my mom, but had never believed it. So it was indeed true. What a tragic thing to happen to her! Yet nothing takes away from the work she did and I am so glad your post celebrates her as an artist.
    I have not watched ‘Nayika’, but I hope Jayaraj didn’t go about trying to present her as just a tragic figure.
    I really enjoy coming to this site and reading the enlightening posts and discussion.

    • Hi Meenu,
      Glad that it took you back to your childhood, and the pleasure is always mine.From what I have learned through my interactions from learned archivists since the past few weeks is that it wasn’t the first. She had suffered the ignominy before too. The effort had been to speak about her unique place in Malayalam cinema and nothing more. Thanks so much for your engagements on topics that piques your interest at this blog. Appreciate it .Thanks..cinematters

  9. cinematters, adding fuel to the flame of gossip, I watched Ponnappuram Kotta as a kid in its re-run during the late 80s. My sister-in-law informed me that it was the so-called wardrobe malfunction and its subsequent exploitation that led to her demise. Didn’t she commit suicide?

    • Dear Anu,
      The post has sure brought out a lot of interesting responses via email to me, and one from a very reliable source mentions a love affair that went horribly wrong, compounded by the notoriety that she got with Ponnapuram Kotta must have been the reason that drove her. And the very fact of the cause of her death still remains a mystery as the report on the Cause of her death is untraceable in the public domain. Something that would interestingly repeat itself 8 years later, with Shobha’s apparent suicide. Whatever be the tragedies that befell her in her personal life, her career as a star performer/actress – the sheer prolificity is yet to be equalled. Pssst..who doesn’t love gossip :-P ?..Thanks..cm

    • SHE DID COMMIT SUICIDE.. BUT IT WAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PONNAPURAM KOTTA issue.. IF THAT WAS THE CASE, HOW VIJAYASREE ACTED IN THENARUVI and PAAVANGAL PENNUNGAL (both UDAYA studio movies released after PONNAPURAM KOTTA).. during that time, the man behind azim company and vijayasree affair had said to be got more importance in vijayasree’s untimely death..

      • might be that “blue film anonimously “released” after Thenaruvi /paavangal pennungal .? .didnt ? that might be one of the reason.
        possibilty sir?

  10. You know, coming here and reading about her made me see her in a whole other light. i have been more into the music in the movies than the movies themselves. could never really digest most of the visuals that went with the beautiful songs. and when i did watch the movies, i merely tolerated them so that i could get on with the music. its not just with Vijayasree. your other articles on old movies too… maybe i should give them all one more chance.
    Vijayasree- she was beautiful. I guess what one would call a ‘real woman’ huh? she looks absolutely ravishing in that pic you have put up from Lankadahanam. :)

    And Sarayu-Nayika… Seriously?

    • Dear Remitha,
      Her acting abilities may have been questionable, but her reign as a screen goddess ain’t. Regardless of whatever was going on ‘behind the scenes’ that enabled a prolific output of movies, she still remains a unique phenomenon in Malayalam cinema.. And yes, you should give them all movies one more chance, forget the articles :) . She was ravishing, and no, this time this is not my hormones speaking . Thanks ..cinematters

    • I wouldn’t call that, Susie. It would be more of putting together streams of information shared by generous movie archivists at one place :) Glad you liked what you read..regards..cm

  11. I think it was in a book by P. David the still photographer..it said her name was Nazeema and she was from Kollam, had a huge bungalow in Madras, and after her death there was no one to pursue the case and finally ended up as a closed case.

    Anyone has any info on this

    • Dear Rajesh,
      Beats me ! Her family details have been clearly mentioned in her profile page, in the Directory brought out by the Ed team led by Kaduvakulam Antony who clearly mentions the personal telephone interviews and meetings that went into compilation of each. A bit strange as the rest of the profiles are spot on in their details too with regard to family details.Interestingly, P David is a part of the Photographers team of the directory. :) Will again reconfirm and let you know..regards..cinematters

    • Dear Rajesh,
      Why not? Guess Wardrobe malfunction was an occupational hazard, considering the “workspace” that she operated in, for most of the films. This would also mean the Ponnapuram Kotta incident was the second. Strange and curious to have a repeat in the same studio, under same circumstances..Sad…cm

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