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.
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?
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.
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 ?
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.
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.