Vijaya Nirmala died with one dream remaining unfulfilled. She had cherished hitting half a century as a female film director. But, perhaps, what she has achieved no other could have conjured up in their wildest dreams.
The versatile Telugu actor, director and producer, who made meaningful films, holds the Guinness record for the number of films to her credit.
Beginning with ‘Meena’ in 1971, she went on to make 44 movies that included one in Malayalam and another in Tamil. And more than half of these were with her husband Ghattamaneni Krishna, who is better known to the present generation as Mahesh Babu’s father. The last time she wielded the megaphone was for ‘Neramu Shiksha’ (‘Crime and Punishment’ in 1973).
Nirmala was born on February 20, 1947. Her father Rammohan Rao was from Madras (now Chennai) while her mother Shakuntala hailed from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh.
It was rather not too difficult for Vijaya Nirmala to cut her teeth in the film industry, for her father was a sound engineer at Vijaya Vauhini Studios in Madras. Legendary director P Pullaiah, who saw her accompany her father to the studios, liked the three-year old’s looks and wanted to give her a role as a child artist in his Tamil film ‘Matsyarekha’.
Vijaya Nirmala, who was in Dubai in 2005 for an event along with Krishna, shared a funny moment with tabloid! When she was required to cry for a scene, the chirpy little girl could just never do it. The director then scolded her, shocking her dad and those on the sets. That did the trick and she broke down while the camera was rolling. Of course, she was rewarded with an ice-cream by the director after the shot.
Next, she acted as a girl who begs on a train in Tamil film ‘Mampole Maangalyam’ starring Savitri and Gemini Ganesan and in a Bengali film, too.
Then there was a pause as she focused on her studies and learnt Bharatanatyam encouraged by her cousin Rao Bala Saraswati. She recalled that none other than NT Rama was the chief guest at her first performance as a classical dancer. Among her prized mementos is a stainless steel cup that she received from NTR, she had told Gulf News tabloid!.
Later, she was noticed for her roles in mythological films ‘Bhoo Kailash’ and ‘Panduranga Mahatyam’, which starred NTR.
Despite known for her major work in Telugu films, Nirmala made a debut in the lead role in a Malayalam movie. When she was about 13, noted cameraman Vincent approached her father asking if Nirmala could act in a ghost flick he planned to make in Malayalam as her expressive eyes are well suited for the role in ‘Bhargava Nilayam’ in 1964. He consented, and Nirmala was cast opposite the prolific actor Prem Nazir.
Her first meaty role in Telugu was in ‘Rangula Ratnam’ in 1966, directed by Vijaya Vauhini’s BN Reddy.
Her next film under the same banner was ‘Enga Veet Penn’ directed by LV Prasad. Since another actress also went by the same name, Prasad added the prefix ‘Vijaya’ to her name in the credits.
Nirmala got into limelight after working with her future husband Krishna in ‘Sakshi’ (Witness) in 1967. He audience instantly liked this combination and they went on to make more than 50 films together, half of those under Nirmala’s direction. Those were the days when James Bond-type films were a recipe for success. Krishna was known as ‘Andhra James Bond’. Krishna-Nirmala bond firmed up, culminating in tying the knot after working together for about four years.
Nirmala, who had an unsuccessful marriage earlier, married an already married Krishna contributing what we call the masala in gossip columns in the glossies.
Nirmala told tabloid! that she was impressed by director Bapu’s style of filmmaking using storyboards and shot division for ‘Sakshi’ and nursed an idea of trying her hand at direction. It was Krishna who advised her to work as an actor some more before getting behind the camera.
Again, it was not a Telugu film for her as director. It was to be ‘Kavita’ in Malayalam made under their newly floated Sangam Movies banner with a budget of Rs300,000 (Dh16,000 at current rate). Next came ‘Meena’ based on a novel by Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani in Telugu. Then there was no looking back, bringing a feminine point of view to narration on celluloid.
Her death leaves a void in the Indian film industry. Nirmala is survived by Krishna and her son Naresh from her first marriage to Subbarayudu. She considered Krishna’s children Mahesh Babu, Ramesh Babu, Manjula and Priyadarshini born to Indira Devi as her own.