Vidya Sinha– In a league of her own

She was the girl next door for an entire generation of Bollywood fans. In an era when the Bollywood heroine was known for her glam quotient and oomph, Vidya Sinha was the sari-clad Bharatiya naari who exuded resolve and resilience on screen. 

She was unconventional in her choices in life as well as career. She was already married when she shot to stardom in "Rajnigandha" in 1974. Her first marriage happened in 1968, to Venkateshwaran Iyer, and the couple remained married till his death in 1996.

Which means Vidya remained married all through her heyday, something unthinkable back in the seventies, when actresses were known to marry in secret, since a marital status could affect stardom.

The quintessential Indian woman she represented became her USP, and she found ready roles in the middle-of-the-road cinema of the seventies equivalent to the new-age multiplex movie, made on medium budget and flaunting no superstars, but banking entirely on content.

Basu Chatterjee, a connoisseur of the genre, frequently cast her in his films. Chatterjee's cinematic idiom blended humour with gentle drama that was a socio-cultural comment on the times and its people.

Vidya, with her believable image as a girl next door, became a talisman of sorts for the filmmaker's works, along with actors as diverse as Amol Palekar and Sanjeev Kumar, who also exuded a similar image of realism through their acting. 

Vidya and Palekar saw hits such as "Rajnigandha" (1974), "Chhoti Si Baat" (1976) and "Safed Jhooth" (1977). With Sanjeev she had two major hits in 1978 -- the family drama "Tumhare Liye" and BR Chopra's comedy "Pati Patni Aur Woh".

The seventies in fact witnessed Vidya's top form. In 1977, she balanced a realistic entertainer in Gulzar's "Kitaab" (1977) with Raj N. Sippy's action thriller "Inkaar", starring Vinod Khanna and based on Akira Kurosawa's High And Low. 

Vidya Sinha is still recalled for her natural style of acting, in an era when being over-the-top with histrionics was considered the badge of success in commercial Hindi cinema.

She owes her ease before the camera probably to two factors -- she was born in a film family, and had a brief stint of modelling before entering films.

Her run-up to modelling was an outcome of being crowned Miss Bombay. It was during this phase that Basu Chatterjee spotted her and cast her in his 1974 film, "Raja Kaka," opposite Kiran Kumar. By the time he cast her again in "Rajnigandha" later the same year, Vidya was already a star.

Not many know Vidya had a small role in Satyajit ray's 1962 classic, "Kanchejungha".

By the eighties, trends were changing, and she had to experiment. An interesting departure was in Raj N. Sippy's 1981 action drama, "Josh", which cast Vidya in a negative role.

By Vinayak Chakravorty