A dream girl that Bollywood missed

Jayalalithaa, vanilla complexioned, dancing ever so voluptuously on a black rock, was my swapnam sundari. I saw Izzat repeatedly at Mumbai’s Roxy cinema

Lend me your ears. If not, just let me tell you about one of my many compulsive disorders. When I was a kid — some say I still am — I was fixated on this Hindi film, Izzat, in which honourable Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, had portrayed a tribal belle. She had performed a rambunctious dance to a lyric which refuses to budge from my attic-like head.

The lyric was Jaagi badan mein jwala... saiyya tu ne kya kar dala, meaning, “My body has been awakened by a flame... O what have you done to me, my beloved?” That was so frying pan hot that the ditty would echo in my head. Used as a courtship line, it was a disaster though, which never worked. Never mind. Jayalalithaa, vanilla complexioned, dancing ever so voluptuously on a black rock, was my swapnam sundari. I saw Izzat (1968) repeatedly at Mumbai’s Roxy cinema. Oh no, it flopped despite Dharam the Garam in the double role of a rose-skinned and dark-skinned guy. Gora aur kala sort of stuff.
After that Jayalalithaa never reappeared at the Roxy or at any theatre in Mumbai. More’s the pity. Because an intense search was on, then, for a south of the Vindhya’s actress to step into the terpsichorean shoes of Vyjayanthimala. My jwala jazz baby was so right, but guess a single flop doused her flame for a Bollywood career. Earlier, I had a soft corner for B. Saroja Devi — so ramrod straight in her Kanjeevarams — and Pandari Bai who brought tears to my eyes faster than a platter of chopped onions. Alas, Jayalalithaa didn’t rock anyone in Mumbai (except me, it would seem).
Of course, with the advance of time and politics, there has been something rock-strong about Jayalalithaa. I’d hate to be in her bad books really, which is why I was on my best behaviour the one and only time I interviewed her, Circa 2000. The conversation, at an ante-room of her Chennai house, was for a special south edition of a film magazine. The honcho of the magazine’s marketing department emphasised that I should not ask rude questions. And I shouldn’t sip more than a single cup of tea, and wave away the biscuits suavely. Done.
At the appointed minute, I was sitting nose to nose with my Izzat obsession. Her complexion was flawless, her body lingo queenly. We started chatting over tea (no biscuits). She was stately till I couldn’t help but shift gears to some controversial ones — better to be banished from Chennai rather than print an obsequious Q&A. About the criticism of her holding up traffic whenever her cavalcade of cars hits the roads, she remarked that the interview was for a film magazine, not a civic responsibility bulletin. Quite.
Next, it was believed that Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar had invoked her wrath. Mohanlal portrayed a not-so-veiled version of MGR sir and Aishwarya Rai was a take on err... her. Right? To that Jayalalithaa responded quite frankly that she did not appreciate Ratnam’s skills as a filmmaker. Next please? On A.R. Rahman, she went thumbs-up, not so on Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan. The interview wasn’t bad, it had fiery quotes. Interviewer khush hua.
She eased up, talked about her love for English literature, invited me to visit her personal library whenever I’m free. “Ha, I’m always free, ma’am,” I interjected. She smiled her only one smile for the day,“I will let you know when.”
Emboldened, I asked her about Izzat. What if it had clicked big time? Wouldn’t it have been fun to become the dream girl of Bollywood? Now, she looked meaningfully at the exit door; my time was up. We shook hands; great meeting you ma’am!
P.S: She’s still to let me know about my visit to her library. Meanwhile, there’s always the Izzat DVD for a dance down memory lane.

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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