Vimi Mon, 2012-05-28 22:51 — stylehymn
I just recently watched Humraaz, I got really curious about Vimi. Here is what I found about her.
From Roshmila Mukherjee: Slim, swathed in chiffon and cloaked in an air of mystery, she caught B.R.Chopra’s eye. He couldn’t look away. He requested his host, music director Ravi, to introduce him to the beautiful woman rightaway. Close-up, she was even more bewitching. They chatted the rest of the evening; Vimi was aware that the famous producer- director was studying her every expression. Another woman would have been frazzled but she was used to men lavishing attention. “That’s why I dress tastefully… to make myself as attractive as possible,” she would laugh coquettishly. She knew Choprasaab was sizing her up for a role. Looking into those flashing eyes, Chopra knew she was the heroine he’d been searching for. He needed a new face for Humraaz—someone exotic and enigmatic. He didn’t even know where Vimi had come from. He cornered his host again, “Is she interested in acting?” Ravi wasn’t sure.
After all, it’s unusual for a bahu from a conservative Calcutta family to nurture starry dreams. But Ravi remembered that during a dinner at the Grand Hotel some months ago, Vimi and her husband, Shiv Agarwal, hadn’t been averse to the idea that she should give a movie career a go.
“It was a small, select gathering, I was soon singing a few of my favorite numbers,” reminisces Ravi. “Then someone mentioned that Vimi could also sing; we persuaded her to recite a poem. Her diction and delivery were surprisingly chaste. And lookswise, she was a stunner. I wondered aloud why she didn’t join films. She laughed off the idea, wondering who’d give her the big break. I invited her to Bombay and promised to have a word with Choprasaab.”
In Bombay, Ravi invited her to his son’s birthday party so he could show her off. When Chopra left without a word, she wasn’t disheartened. She played it cool. Music director Usha Khanna, who was a childhood friend of Vimi’s brother, egged her on to face the camera. Usha even dragged her to Filmalaya studio where they bumped into S.Mukherji. The movie moghul had looked her up and down and asked bluntly, “So what’s wrong with working in films?” And Vimi had replied airily, “Nothing… it’s just that temperamentally, I’m not cut out to be an actress.”
The day after the party, however, Ravi approached her with Chopra’s offer. She asked for time to think. Later, she recalled in an interview, “When Ravi left, I asked myself the question, ‘Why not?’ During the next three weeks, I must have repeated the question to myself over a thousand times. I didn’t have one good reason to say no. But I still needed some moral support to say yes. And that support wasn’t forthcoming from my family.” Despite the family’s disapproval, she eventually gave in to Chopra’s offer. A screen-test was arranged. He got her a new wardrobe, special make-up and hired a suite at the Taj Mahal Hotel. For six days, Vimi preened and pouted for the camera. She was very photogenic. One look at the stills and Chopra had discovered the heroine for Humraaz (1967).
Her orthodox Punjabi parents were outraged. Although born and brought up in Bombay, Vimi had been a sheltered child. Western dresses, lipstick and even talcum powder were taboo. But it had always been a chore to curb her exuberance. As a little girl, she couldn’t sit still for a minute, she’d be dashing around the house at breakneck speed. Once, she ran headlong into the bathroom tap. The head injury led to several visits to the doctor.
But she was running wild. again. She slipped and broke her jaw. On another occasion, she gave herself a new hair-cut; the scissor-happy girl messed up her long silken tresses, and was soundly thrashed by her mother. “I was so busy running that I learnt to walk only when I grew up,” Vimi had joked. By then she had already worked for 10 years at the All-India Radio, besides picking up a degree in psychology from Bombay’s Sophia College. Soon after, she met Shiv Agarwal, a businessman from Calcutta. Short, stocky and swarthy, Agarwal belonged to the reputed Amirchand Pyarelal family. He was bowled over by this Dresden china doll, it wasn’t long before they took the marriage vows. Vimi came from a middle- class family while the Agarwals were millionaires with a business in stainless steel. Vimi settled down to a cushy life in Calcutta… she was happily married with two children when she met Ravi at the party and her life was never the same again.
Her parents disowned her when she signed Humraaz. Her in-laws gave some money to the couple and broke off all ties. Vimi was hurt by their callousness but refused to be stymied. “I am helpless,” she sighed. “I can’t retrace my steps. Acting has become a way of life for me. If others are unhappy, there’s nothing I can do about it. One can’t keep everyone happy.”
Her first day on the sets was a fiasco. Although she had done radio plays ever since she was eight, she had had no formal training in acting. There were the occasional concerts in school and college; she had also represented her college at the All-India Youth Festival but facing a movie camera was another kind of discipline.
That all eyes were focused on her didn’t make it any easier. “I was not nervous,” she stated then. “But the high-pitched voices unnerved me. I can’t stand people fighting or talking at the top of their voices.” She adapted to the ambience of the studios. Looking beautiful for the camera was easy. Vimi always had a flair for high- fashion. And at 112 pounds, she didn’t have to diet or exercise. Moreover, she was extraordinarily photogenic. All that she lacked was acting talent. “She couldn’t even keep her eyes closed without the lids fluttering,’ remembers Chopra exasperatedly. “When she couldn’t get it right despite several retakes, I asked her to shut her eyes, then to open them slowly and I’d take a reverse shot.” Since there were two seasoned actors in Humraaz—Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar—Vimi had to make an attempt to match skills with them. And she was ready to put in long hours on the sets. Chopra roped in veteran actor Manmohan Krishna to help him out with his protege. “Three days before we had to picturise a scene, we’d put her through the grind of rehearsals and more rehearsals. By the time, she had to give the shot she was word-perfect, thanks to all the coaching,” explains Chopra. Once word spread that she was working with one of the most prestigious banners in town, offers started pouring in. But a clause in her contract prevented Vimi from signing any outside productions till Humraaz was complete. “I hadn’t realized how much this had disturbed Vimi and her husband till the last schedule,” recalls Chopra. “We were flying out to Darjeeling for a fortnight, I informed Vimi who was in Calcutta about the details of the outdoor schedule. On the day of my departure I got a telegram from her, stating that as far as she was concerned her work in the film was over and so she wouldn’t accompany my unit anywhere.”
Shocked, Chopra air-dashed to Calcutta and headed straight for her bungalow. After much wheeling-dealing, the Agarwals consented to go to Darjeeling, provided Chopra released her from the contract. “Once I agreed, the outdoor went off without a hitch,” remembers Chopra.
Humraaz was a super-hit. At the silver jubilee celebrations, Chopra watched his glamorous heroine sign autographs by the dozen. A star, as they say, was born. Producers queued up. On the other hand, B.R.Chopra had no intention of repeating her in his next project though he had a two-film contract with her. “At a time when she had hiked up her price to Rs 3 lakhs, I could have insisted that she act for me for as little as Rs 50,000. But I wasn’t interested in working with her again,” he says bluntly. For a while, Vimi was the toast of movie town. She caught the eye of many heroes, including the dashing Shashi Kapoor who was tired of co-starring with heroines years older than him. When producer Tejnath Zar approached him for Vachan, he insisted that Vimi should be paired with him. “However, Vimi wasn’t very keen on Shashi,” Zar remembers. “After Humraaz, her expectations were sky high. She only wanted to act with stars like Raaj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Sunil Dutt.” Zar consulted B.R.Chopra before persuading her to do Vachan. Chopra didn’t recommend her too highly but to start with, Zar and his hero found their heroine hassle-free. “She was very sweet, soft-spoken and understanding. She wasn’t ever late, she was always ready to put in an extra hour,” says Shashi Kapoor nostalgically. “But she concentrated more on her looks than on her acting. Clothes, make-up and those elaborate bouffants were her forte.”
Zar agrees. She had about 20 scenes in the film and she insisted on 20 different dresses. “Vyjayanthimala and Sadhana were the Queen Bees then…Vimi probably felt that she could compete with them by looking more glamorous,” reasons Zar. There was no denying that Mrs Agarwal was a heart-stopper. The moment she walked into a room, she’d make heads turn. She was poised to go places but ‘Loin’ Ajit, who worked with her in Patanga, says firmly, “Her husband ruined her career. Producers couldn’t take his interfering ways and tall tales beyond a point.”
Disinherited by the family, Shiv Agarwal apparently wanted to cash in on his wife’s looks. He invested whatever money she earned in a high-power publicity campaign. Unfortunately, the publicity backfired because it was clear as day that Vimi was no actress. Despite a successful debut, Vimi was described by critics as a “wooden face”.
By the time Vachan was complete, Vimi had ceased to be hot property. “After watching the first six reels,” Zar recapitulates, “a leading distributor offered to buy the film if I changed my heroine. But I stuck to my choice…The film was a wash-out. For three years, I couldn’t launch another film. To this day, I owe money to my distributors.”
Patanga and Abroo didn’t fare any better. The Punjabi film, Nanak Naam Jahaaz celebrated a silver jubilee but by then it was too late. The Agarwals couldn’t pay the rent for their Juhu apartment and moved to a modest house on Bandra’s Pali Hill. Even then the going was difficult. “For months, the house would be lit up with diyas and candles. They couldn’t pay the electricity bills, you see…”Zar trails off, embarrassed on being reminded of those days.
Dark days literally descended on Vimi. Desperate for cash, it is alleged that her husband pushed her into the arms of prospective producers. Their parties were no longer classy affairs but crowded with riff-raff. When Vimi objected to the quick, shady liaisons, it’s said that her husband beat her up black and-blue. “She came to my office a week before she died,” says B.R.Chopra. “Though it was quite early in the day, she was reeking of cheap tharra (alcohol). She was very distraught, her back and arms were covered with bruises.”
She had come to ask him to forget and forgive the past. “I’m really sorry for having misbehaved with you. You must excuse me,” she kept telling Chopra over and over again. Vimi would frequently apologize to moviewallahs about her husband’s boorish behavior. It was obvious to all around that her marriage was on the rocks; yet, she was too frightened to make a break. The woman with so much joie de vivre had turned into a taciturn and reserved woman…haunted by an inexplicable fear.
Around this time, it seems, a film broker ironically called Mr Jolly, entered her life. Jolly was drawn to the once elegant woman and started recommending her to his distributor friends. He was even planning a film with her in the lead. Vimi knew this was her last opportunity. She started spending a lot of time with him. Realizing that he was going to lose his golden goose, Agarwal turned even more violent. Unable to bear the torture any more, Vimi moved in with Jolly. For some months, they stayed at the Oriental Palace Hotel but when funds ran out, they were forced to move to a sleazy neighborhood. By then, Vimi was beyond caring. Zar remembers meeting her with Jolly at a dubbing theatre. She was drunk. Noticing her Vachan producer, she laughed bitterly, “See, your heroine is passing through such bad days.”
Five months before her death, her mentor Ravi met her at the Bandra court. “Her husband was also there but it was obvious they weren’t together. There was another man with her. As soon as she saw me, she came running towards me. She broke into tears and complained about her husband,” the music composer remembers.
The estrangement between the once much-in-love couple surprised Ravi. “Her husband was from a good family. He seemed very attached to her. She and Agarwal seemed to be happy together. Kisi ki nazar lag gayee.” Ravi promised to help bring about a reconciliation between Vimi and her husband. But as circumstances would have it, he soon had to leave for a foreign concert. When he returned, she was no more. And he never saw Agarwal again. “What happened?” he asks. Apparently, watching her stardom go to pieces, Vimi had lost her zest for life. She started drinking heavily, her liver was damaged. Her last few days were spent in the general ward of Nanavati hopsital. Jolly was by her side… they were down to their last rupee. On August 22, 1977, she breathed her last. She was in her 30s. Vimi’s body was taken to the Santa Cruz crematorium on a chanawalla’s thela. The body was wrapped in a soiled dhoti. “And to imagine that she once used to drive down the same roads in an Impala. Crowds would hope to catch glimpse of the Humraaz heroine,” recalls a misty-eyed Zar. On the day, she was wheeled on her last journey, there were only a few curious bystanders. Her fans had forgotten her. So had her producers and heroes. “There were only nine people at her funeral. And only two from the industry—S.D. Narang’s brother and me,” laments Zar.
Yet, two chautha ceremonies were held in her memory. One was organized by Jolly and the other was presided over by Agarwal and their children who were in their early teens. However, neither the husband nor the kids attended the funeral. It was a believe-it-or-not farewell to a beautiful woman who lived for a dream…and lost everything for a dream