Bollywood’s first dancing diva, Vyajyantima, turns 86 on Saturday. A widely respected classical dancer and actor, Vyajyantimala has starred in many popular films, including Raj Kapoor’s iconic love story Sangam. She even wore a swimsuit for a song in the movie and it was the first time she wore one on screen. Raj Kapoor had to beg and sit at her grandmother’s feet to convince her that she should be allowed to wear a bathing suit. (Also Read: When Rishi Kapoor’s mother left home because Raj Kapoor was ‘involved with Vyjayanthimala’)

While she was not the first to wear a bathing suit in Hindi movies, she was the first South Indian to do so. “My first impression of Raj Kapoor was that he was very flattering, very sweet with grandma. He sat down at her feet, held her hands, looked at her pleadingly and pleaded, “Ammaji, ammaji.” He was a much better actor that way in real life. My God, he would do anything for his movies. If he wanted to get a scene done a certain way, he knew how to move. “Amma ji, it would be good since she’d be in the water. It would all be in a long shot and the rest would be through a duplicate.” I was completely covered before jumping in the pool. But being in the water for hours was very difficult. Grandma reassured me, “We’re all here and it won’t get out of hand,” wrote Vyajyantimala in her book Bonding..A Memoir. The book was launched in 2007.

She also recalled how she agreed to make the film in the first place. She wrote that she had asked for permission from her grandmother. “There wasn’t much to him except that he was a jazzy showman and grandma had heard all the colorful stories about the great RK. Initially, Yagamma wasn’t sure I would accept this assignment, because of his reputation as a woman’s man. But she also knew that he did things on a large scale. As a filmmaker, RK was a force to be reckoned with. He stopped for nothing, be it the sheer size of the film, publicity or hype. He could make it happen, because more than anything, he had the vision. So that last aspect scored above any reservation Grandma had.”

Remembering the origin of the famous song, Vyajyantimala added, “He told her how he would have liked to make this film before but couldn’t, and that Rajendra Kumar would be cast as well. And she kind of said yes. RK sent me a telegram from Bombay saying ‘Bol Radha bol sangam hoga ki nahin’ I presented it to Grandma and she said I could continue so I sent the reply ‘Sangam hoga, hoga, zaroor hoga… ‘ And it turned into a number sequence in water.”

Due to her long journey on the screen, Vyajyantimala has had many hits like Naya Daur, New Delhi, Naya Daur, Aasha, Sadhna, Madhumathi and Ganga Jamuna except Sangam. She also worked in many Tamil and Telugu films.

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