I don't know how many of you remember Vimi. She was the heroine of BR Chopra's blockbuster 'Humraaz'. Some of you may have never heard of her nevertheless you might want to hear her story. It is an interesting, and perhaps one of the most unusual stories of Bollywood. To begin with Vimi was the most unconventional Bollywood heroine of her time. She was married, mother of two and made her debut under the Chopra banner opposite two of top stars, Raaj Kumar and Sunil Dutt. Vimi really had it all.
Born in 1943, Vimi had trained to be a singer. She also loved acting in plays and was a regular participant in AIR Bombay's children's program. She graduated from Sophia College, Mumbai majoring in Psychology and got married to Calcutta-based businessman Shiv Agrawal who was in the hardware business. It was music director Ravi who introduced her to BR Chopra and he immediately offered her the role of the leading lady in 'Humraaz'.
'Humraaz' was a huge box office success and Vimi became an instant star. In 1968's Star and Style she claimed that like Theda Bara and Joan Crawford a star should be like a star all the time. Vimi was held up as a style icon. Her photo shoots appeared in every major film magazine including the cover of Filmfare in March 1968. Vimi had made it very clear in the beginning that money was not the reason she had joined films.
She had plenty of it and was evident from her Pali Hill apartment, designer clothes, mink coat and sports car. She loved to golf, play billiards and go on long drives. Her husband gave her unconditional support even though her parents and in-laws had abandoned the couple because they were against her joining films. In her 1968, Star and Style interview she mentioned how her husband was going to produce a film with her in the lead and she had signed three films Rangeela, Sandesh and Appointment.
There was also a Gujarati film that she was considering. Everything in Vimi's life seemed perfect. She had money, true love and now success was inevitable. Only it was too good to be true. Within two years Vimi was totally forgotten and when she died in 1977 due to 'liver complications' no major newspaper covered her death. The obituary column in Indian Express reported how everyone had forgotten her and no one from her family, friends or the film fraternity had attended her funeral.
There was a longer obituary in ABP written by her 'friend' Krishna. In perhaps one of the cruelest obituaries that I have come across, Krishna described Vimi's death as "a great pain-reliever to her". He went on to describe Vimi as the girl "with the roving eye who went out without her husband in the fond hope that some producer or actor will make her an offer". The author's humiliation of the dead woman did not end there. He justified her suffering because she had left her home to make a career in films.
One can’t help but wonder what went so wrong.
After 'Humraaz' Vimi's next film was Aabroo (1968) with newcomer Deepak Kumar who was described as 'The most dynamic star discovery of the year'. But the movie was a Box Office disaster and even names like Ashok Kumar, Nirupa Roy and Lalita Pawar could not save it. Vimi's biggest disappointment however, was that the Chopras did not recast her.
The Chopras are famous even today because they are loyal to their stars but Vimi turned out to be an exception. In 1967 Picture Post, BR Chopra described her as "intelligent, educated and grasps things quickly". He also added the Vimi fitted the role perfectly and brought in the maturity that was needed for the role. Somehow, after the film, the Chopras completely dropped Vimi.
Films that she had talked about were never made and all the other offers too disappeared. But Vimi did not disappear completely from the magazines. She kept attending film parties and appeared in photo shoots. In 1970 Filmfare she appeared in a bikini and was described as someone who had 'charm and grace and two other assets which she does not want to publicise - sex appeal and a huge wardrobe.' Her last film was Vachan with Sashi Kapoor in 1974. But she had completely disappeared from all film magazines since 1971.
Only much later in her obituary we find out that she and her husband had separated, she was living with a cinema broker who continuously exploited her, her business in Calcutta called Vimi Textiles, was sold off to pay her debts and she had died in extreme poverty alone, uncared and unloved.
What always intrigued me about Vimi was how her life still looks like a jigsaw. There are contradictory reports about her death and the last few years of her life. While all reports agreed that she did drink a lot Cine Advance maintained that she had quit drinking and was focusing on her career. But her obituary hinted that she had taken to prostitution and was living in different hotels. There are innumerable stories about her life including endless conspiracy theories. It is indeed a major mystery and will remain one forever.
My concern is not the mystery; to me it's a poignant story of a girl who really tried hard. True, she did not succeed but she did not quit either. I know we all want to hear about 'the boy who lived' but sometimes we also need to know about 'the girl who did not live', for she too has a story to tell.
(Thanks to Aseem Chandaver for helping with some of the research)