Their ethereal beauty coupled with the grace truly made them divas of the silver screen. With that kind of unparalleled grace, it was difficult for anyone to replicate the same kind of aura in reality. However, one commonality that all of them unmistakably display is their sheer ability to dance heavy-duty classical sequences in their films. Not undermining today’s generation, but that era had some beautiful dance sequences shot with the kind of opulence that was rare to see during those times. Be it Vyjayanthimala Bali or Meena Kumari, all of them had a distinctive style of expression. If Meena Kumari’s performance as tawaif Sahibjaan in Pakeezah was heart wrenching, then Vyjayanthi’s pining for a lover in Amrapali was simply convincing.
It doesn’t come across as a surprising fact that most of them were classically trained in dance and the dedication showed in their steps. Vyjayanthimala, who is a classically trained Bharatnatyam dancer danced in the Vatican City when she was just five for the Pope.
Known to be an accomplished dancer, she was also responsible for bringing a semi-classical touch to Bollywood. If her Man Dole from the film Nagin gave a sneak peek to the gifted dancer in her, then her dance sequences in songs like Hothon Pe Aisi Baat from Jewel Thief and Neel Gagan Ke Chaaon Mein from Amrapali just reaffirmed her dancing prowess.
Veteran choreographer Saroj Khan, who has worked with Vyjayanthimala, Waheeda Rahman and Asha Parekh attributes it to their dedication and commitment. “If we saw 100 per cent dedication then, we can see hardly 25 per cent of it in the present generation. Their attitude towards work, especially dance if one has to particularly take note of, was that of sincerity and discipline,” says Khan.
Having been an assistant choreographer in those days Khan reminisces about how rehearsals would begin in the early hours of morning. “I remember waking up Mala Sinha at five in the morning for a rehearsal and without any complaints, she would dutifully be ready on time. I also remember teaching some actresses at seven in the morning before the shoot would begin so that there wouldn’t be a problem during the main shoot. Such was their sincerity and they would listen to every minute instruction with great attention. Even as a junior they listened to what I told them,” says Khan.
Waheeda Rehman, who literally wowed the audiences with her acting prowess, also surprised everybody with her fluency and finesse in dance. Having learnt Bharatnatyam, she too had the grounding and could easily understand choreography. Her semi-classical dance sequences in Guide and in Teesri Kasam and Prem Pujari gave that outlet for experimentation with folk and other forms. Khan, who has also worked with Waheeda in Guide and various other films, lauds the actress for her immense amount of dedication.
“Moreover, our dance masters would have the last word then. They knew what they were doing and were respected for that. No assistants were treated lesser or greater than the actor, and everybody on the sets would listen to the choreographer,” says Khan.
“I miss that level of perfection in our leading ladies of Bollywood today. Barring a few exceptions like the Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sridevi no one today has that appeal or magic of a dance diva. I hope that the generations to come will see more promising performers and dancers in that sense,” she adds.