Vyjayanthimala (born 13 August 1936) is an Indian film actress, Bharathanatyam dancer, Carnatic singer, dance choreographer and parliamentarian. Regarded as the "first female superstar" of Indian cinema, She made her debut in the Tamil language film Vazhkai in 1949 and in the Telugu film Jeevitham in 1950. She later became one of the most prominent actresses of South Indian cinema and in the golden era of Bollywood and was known as one of the iconic leading actress of all time.
Vyjayanthimala was one of the biggest Bollywood stars with a career lasting almost two decades. She was the first star to completely change the standard and style of dancing in Indian cinema. It was because of her that Indian film actresses later on were expected to know classical dance. She was the first South Indian actress to become a Bollywood star and "paved a way" for other south Indian actresses to foray into Bollywood. Vyjayanthimala is an accomplished dancer and was one of those who introduced semi-classical dance to Bollywood. Her subsequent dance numbers in her films had earned her the title of "twinkle toes".Vyjayanthimala made her screen debut at the age of 13 through the Tamil film Vazhkai (1949) and Telugu film Jeevitham in 1950 and acted in Bollywood movies Bahar and Ladki. Following the success of Nagin, Vyjayanthimala established herself as one of Bollywood's leading actresses while making inroads in successful Tamil and Telugu films. After successfully establishing herself as a commercial actress, Vyjayanthimala appeared in Devdas, playing Chandramukhi, the hooker with a heart of gold, in 1955. In her first dramatic role, she received her first Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 4th Filmfare Awards, where she refused to accept the award citing that hers was not a supporting role, being the first person to refuse a Filmfare Award. Following that, Vyjayanthimala appeared in series of blockbuster films such as New Delhi, Naya Daur and Aasha. She reached the pinnacle of her success in 1958, when two of her films — Sadhna and Madhumati — became huge critical and commercial hits. She was nominated for two Filmfare Award for Best Actress Award for Sadhna and Madhumati and won the award for the former.
At this point, Vyjayanthimala made comeback to Tamil films, where she tasted commercial success with Vanjikottai Valiban, Irumbu Thirai, Baghdad Thirudan and Then Nilavu. In 1961, the release of Dilip Kumar's Ganga Jumna saw her playing a rustic village belle Dhanno who speaks Awadhi language dialect. Critics applauded her performance, while some labeled it her best till date. She won her second Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her role in Ganga Jumna. Beginning from 1962, most of her films performed either averagely or poorly at the box office. However, in 1964, with the success of Sangam, her career hits the peak again. She reinvented herself playing a modern Indian girl appearing in revealing costumes and a one-piece swimsuit. She went to receive her third Best Actress Award at the 12th Filmfare Awards for her role as Radha in Sangam. She later achieved critical acclaim for her performance in the historical drama Amrapali, which was based on the life of Nagarvadhu, royal courtesan of Vaishali, Amrapali. The film received universal acclaim, but it was a huge box office failure, which left Vyjayanthimala, who had huge expectations of the film, disenchanted to the point where she decided to quit films. In the end of her career Vyjayanthimala was mostly seen in commercially successful films such as Suraj, Jewel Thief and Prince with a few critically acclaimed films such as Hatey Bazarey and Sunghursh. Most of them were released after Vyjayanthimala had left the film industry.
Besides films, Vyjayanthimala's main concentration was in Bharata Natyam, a form of Indian classical dance. After quitting movies, Vyjayanthimala continued with her dance career. In addition, she was conferred with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest Indian recognition given to practising artists. The award was presented to Vyjayanthimala in 1982 for her contribution in Bharata Natyam field. Moreover, Vyjayanthimala is an avid golfer and is one of the oldest in Chennai. She has also served as chairperson of 48th National Film Awards.
She is also known as Vyjayanthimala Bali.