Cinema has a history of actresses who died young. Madhubala: died of a heart ailment at age 33. Meena Kumari: died at 39 of an alcohol-induced liver problem. Geeta Bali: died at 35 of small pox. Smita Patil: died at 31 of post-pregnancy complications. Vimi: in her 30s died of alcoholism. Parveen Babi: Age 55, died of severe depression. Divya Bharti: died in a freak accident age 19. Jiah Khan: died at 25. Silk Smitha: committed suicide at age 36.
Silk, real name Vijayalakshmi Vadlapatla, had to give up her schooling at the age of 10 to support her large family. The name Silk Smitha came from the 1979 Tamil film Vandichakkaram where she played a character named Silk. From then onwards she was typecast as a sex symbol, her sizzling dances often adding sizeable box office clout to the films that she starred in.
Kamal Haasan with whom Silk Smitha danced to the number ‘Oh Babua Yeh Mahua\ in the film Sadma, spoke about her to me in an interview some years ago. “My erotic dance with Silk Smitha didn’t really belong in the film. It was a commercial concession and I had to go along with it. It was not part of the original script. We decided to put in an erotic dance, but in a way not done in any film before and without spending money. So we had just me and Silk.”
Kamal Haasan revealed that Silk Smitha, known as soft porn queen for her gyrations, couldn’t dance to save her life. “She didn’t know how to dance…at all! The dance was choreographed by Prabhu Dheva’s father Sundaram Master. He just incorporated whatever she could do. Silk was a brilliant mimic and could imbibe what she learnt.”
Though untutored in fashionable ways, Silk Smitha knew her clothes and makeup.
Recalled Kamal Haasan, “With due respects she was from a village. But she had astounding sense of fashion. She kept reading fashion magazines. She would insist on cooking for Balu and me, though she was a terrible cook.She couldn’t even identify the ingredients. I lost touch with her soon after Sadma.”
Kamal Haasan revealed Silk Smitha’s life was no bed of roses. “Hers was a very hard life. She had gone through a lot. She used to share her horrific experiences with us.”
Thankfully she didn’t live to see Ekta Kapoor’s bio-pic The Dirty Picture allegedly based on Silk Smitha’s life, cannibalizing just parts of her real life and shamelessly making up the rest. Vidya Balan looked nothing like Silk. Her performance was more self-congratulatory than immersive. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Silk died again after The Dirty Picture was released.
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