Filmy Ripples – Rise & fall of vamps (Part 2)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

Then the villis transformed into what were known as ‘vamps’. The dictionary definition of a vamp is “a woman who is conscious of and makes use of being attractive to men in order to get what she wants”, akin to a honey trap. In films, vamps somewhat resembled this description.

The vicious vamps curated by Hindi cinema were all repulsively seductive, and in short vamps were vain, symbolizing everything an ideal Indian woman was not. Instead, they profiled what dangerous women were like, in a country where women of virtue were revered equated to Almighty.

In Hindi we had vamps played by Bindu, Helen, Vaishali, Padma Khanna, Jaishree.T, Aruna Irani & Kalpana Iyer, wearing coloured wigs, contact lenses & skimpy dresses.

Talking of Helen who was a pioneer in this tribe, she was born in Burma to an Anglo Indian father & a Burmese mother, but migrated to India 1n 1942 on the invasion of Japanese army of Burma. She became a hit in Hindi screen with her item number “mera naam chin chin choo’ in ‘Howrah Bridge’ (1958). Immediately, the same year, the Tamil movie ‘Uthama Puthiran’ imported her into Kodambakkam, as she danced in the famed hit number ‘Yaradi nee mohini’, along with Sivaji Ganesan. She has since appeared in nearly seven hundred films with her item numbers in vamp roles. Her song & dance sequence in ‘Piya thu ab tho aaja’ song in Caravan (1971) is evergreen.

Here is a ‘club dance’ number from “Deiva Piravi” (1960).

The film ‘Karuppu Panam’ (1964) produced by Kannadasan had an ‘club dance’ sequence in the song ‘Aada varalaam’ filmed on Sheela, in tight (and perhaps even ill fitting) western outfits, though she already was a busy main heroine then in Malayalam. This song, set in western genre became an immortal hit.

Here is another instance of ‘club dance’ in the song ‘Uravinil fifty fifty’ where Rajeswari lays a honey trap for AVM Rajan in the film ‘Galatta Kalyanam’ (1968).

In our own Tamil screen we had an array of vamps, to name the prominent ones Jothilakshmy, Vijayalalitha, Jayamalini, Anuradha, CID Sakunthala, Disco Santhi, Silk Smitha.

Pattanathu Rajakkal

A still from the Film Pattanathu Rajakkal of SILK SMITH with Vijayakanth.
PC: From the Archives of TCRC

The vamps started donning wigs & minis as they danced, seducing the Hero in our films too, a departure from the run-of-the-mill villis with their rolling eyes & a vicious tongues, as seen in this video from the film “Sorgam” (1970) with Vijayalalitha & Sivaji Ganesan.

These vamps were either ‘one dance’ item number girls or some parallel running characters in the storyline.

Then Silk Smitha, introduced to Tamil screen by Vinu Chakravarthi, became the perennial item number girl and never came out of her image as femme fatale. Disco Shanti, Smitha’s contemporary also settled for the “item girl” tag. Here is a visual of the song ‘Nethu rathiri yamma’ song featuring the most popular vamp character playing Silk Smitha with Kamal Hassan in ‘Sakalakala Vallavan’ (1982).

But in due course, these specialist dancers meant for such vamp roles were slowly losing their relevance, partly owing to the subjects as well as the way films were made, as even new generation of actors took the center stage.

And a stage came when the heroines themselves started doing such dance numbers, sending home the breed of club dancing actors homeward, in retirement.

There was this slow acceptance that lewd lyrics & suggestive movements were no more in the exclusive realm of those who were once labeled as vamps and that the respected heroine could do it all.

This mindset of cine goers perhaps stemmed from the overall changes the current generation has witnessed & accepted arising out of education, liberated mindset, globalization etc.

As such the vamp has died a natural death in our cinemas, as the perception of them as a hugely negative clan and holding them in a water tight genre has changed along with the emergence of realizing a ‘vamp’ character is generally engrained in every ordinary living individual. That is why we see, in the soap operas on TV, normal woman characters being over dramatized as mega ‘villi’s with their ever scheming negative plans. This has becoming the major sell out of today’s TV serials!

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Dibakar Banerjee: Discovering “good” international cinema through a search for porn!

We at TCRC are always looking for fabulous written material on films and their makers, and it is during one such search that we found Jai Arjun Singh‘s absolutely delightful piece on Dibakar Banerjee, the director of films such as “Khosla Ka Ghosla,” “Oye Lucky Lucky Oye,” “Love, Sex Aur Dhokha” and “Shanghai.” All too often, we find directors giving interviews about their latest film and such interviews invariably end up including a couple of stock questions about the process of writing and making films. But Jai Arjun’s story for The Caravan magazine focuses entirely on Dibakar Banerjee – the man, his influences and his creative process. Discursive and detailed, the piece builds a fascinating, multi-dimensional picture of the filmmaker who has made some truly path-breaking yet commercially successful films. Sample this:

For the young Dibakar, “getting his hands dirty” meant being part of a street-smart lifestyle that was far removed from the cliché of the armchair intellectual. And that early life is inseparable from what he is today. Even “good” international cinema came into his personal orbit through what was an adolescent’s rite of passage: at age 17, he and four friends rented what they thought would be a porn film called Confessions of a Taxi Driver to watch in a darkened room in Jhandewalan—and ended up with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver instead. “We closed the drapes, waited for the obligatory hardcore moment but nothing happened—and by the end, here were five guys from a typical Karol Bagh setting, riveted by what they were seeing.”

Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD)  |  Hindi  |  2010

Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) | Hindi | 2010

Truth be told, this profile of Dibakar Banerjee is easily one of the best (and longest) pieces of writing about a filmmaker that we’ve come across in the recent past (click on the image above to read the full story). We at TCRC would like to doff our hats in salute to both filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee and writer Jai Arjun Singh.