Destined for greatness from the tender age of 4, Bollywood superstar Vyjayanthimala Bali was performing long before she made her cinematic debut at 13 in the Tamil film Vazhkai, later remade as Bahar in Hindi. Given the chance to dance for Pope Pius XII in 1940, she fell in love with the stage, following in the footsteps of her mother, Vasundhara Devi, until her career eclipsed her mother's.
Born to Tamil parents in Triplicane, a neighborhood of Chennai, Vyjayanthimala spoke multiple languages, and her early work was primarily in Tamil and Telugu. However, she soon assumed a pivotal role in the representation of South Indians in Hindi cinema, of whom there were astonishingly few at the time. Demonstrating the ability to assume drastically different roles, Vyjayanthimala mastered the East Indian Bhojpuri dialect when she was cast in Dilip Kumar's Gunga Jumna as washerwoman and love interest Dhanno. The production was immensely successful at the box office, becoming 1961's highest-grossing film, and it relaunched her into the Hindi scene after the brief return to Tamil cinema that followed her critically acclaimed Hindi debut in Nagin, Yasmin, Devdas, Patrani, Taj, Some Where in Dehli, and Devata.
Vyjayanthimala received three Filmfare Awards for Best Actress, in 1959, 1962, and 1965, earning these for her performances in Sadhna, Gunga Jumna, and Sangam. She also won Best Supporting Actress in 1957 for her role as Chandramukhi in Devdas, but she was heavily scrutinized by the media when she decided to decline this award on the basis that her role was not a supporting one. Vyjayanthimala won Filmfare's lifetime achievement award in 1996.
Aside from her talent as an actress, Vyjayanthimala is perhaps most well-known for her prowess as a dancer. Largely responsible for the introduction of semi-classical dance as an integral part of Bollywood film culture today, Vyjayanthimala was taught by Mylapore Gowri Amma and KP Kittappa Pillai and specializes in Bharatanatyam. Vyjayanthimala famously interpreted Chandalika by Rabindranath Tagore, which she presented first in West Bengal, where it was enthusiastically received. Winning the 1982 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the most prestigious recognition given to practicing artists in India, was undoubtedly a gem in the crown of her glittering dance career.
Shortly after her 1968 marriage to Chamanlal Bali, with whom she had a son, actor Suchindra Bali, Vyjayanthimala chose to quit acting and focus on other things, continuing to shoot only for films she was contracted to finish prior to her wedding, including Pyar Hi Pyar, Prince, and Ganwaar.
Vyjayanthimala later became involved in politics, winning election to the Lok Sabha in 1984. She served two terms there and one in the Rajya Sabha. She left the Indian National Congress in 1999 after realizing she was no longer aligned with their views and values, then joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Vyjayanthimala published her autobiography, Bonding, in 2007.