To begin – I think that 5 feet 2 ” in the IMDb biography is bull! But do we care? No, because Jaya did not make it into cinema for her beauty queen looks and star presence. She started out as a 15 year old in Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar. Soon after she acted in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi as a teenage schoolgirl, who has a huge crush on Dharam, so much so that she cannot see any other man. This debut in a film by a master director, that centered around an unknown young actress, was a success at the box office and Jaya became a phenomenon.
In Guddi Hrishida used a schoolgirl crush to present an inside look at the movie business and his confidence in the 20+ year old Jaya was not misplaced. He would cast her again and again in films like Bawarchi, Abhimaan, Chupke Chupke and Mili. Throughout her short first phase career, Jaya worked with A-list directors which included Satyajit Ray, Hrishida, Gulzaar (twice – in Koshish and Parichay), Basu Chatterjee and Prakash Mehra and her performances were outstanding. Most of the roles were non-glamorous ones and Jaya played the girl next door to perfection – be it as the mute Aarti in Koshish (watch her in the last 5 minutes of this clip):
Or this small town girl who marries and goes off to live in a house with no privacy in Piya Ka ghar:
Or as the simple village girl who is wooed and weds a rockstar, only to turn his professional life upside down in Abhimaan:
Or the botany loving student (in Chupke Chupke) – suddenly flowers and books take on a whole new meaning!
But these were not the only roles Jaya played – she did sometimes take on glamorous roles and was a success at these too. One such rare role was in Jawani Diwani (with Randhir Kapoor):
But the best of these roles was as the mysterious woman who claims to have lost her memory in Anamika:
Her pairing with Amitabh in Zanjeer, led to an association that turned into marriage at about the time Abhimaan was made in 1973. After that Jaya worked in fewer and fewer films until she stopped acting around 1978. She came back to work in Silsila and then went into a long retirement. Jaya’s career as a leading lady, in the conventional sense, lasted less that 10 years and in that time she made an indelible mark on Hindi cinema. Her nuanced performances, that hesitant and then glowing smile that lit up her face with a mixture of joy and mischief, and her dramatically underplayed turn in the tragic roles like the widowed Radha of Sholay are still remembered. Why were none of her performances (Koshish, Mili, Abhimaan) recognized with a National award? That remains a mystery – for me she is one of the top actresses, a complete natural.
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