Jaya Prada the politician, is moving on. In a surprise move earlier this week, the Samajwadi Party (SP) loyalist actress Jaya Prada crossed floors to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). Jaya Prada is so into politics now that her chequered career as an actress is nearly forgotten. What would Jaya Prada’s film long and fruitful innings as an actor have been if Sridevi was not around? Throughout her career, and not just in Hindi films but also in Tamil and Telugu, Jaya Prada was pitched against the much-missed iconic Sridevi and found to be lacking… in what, one can’t say.
Because Jaya Prada could dance as well as Sridevi and Jaya also had the classic chiselled features of a perfectly carved Durga idol which prompted Satyajit Ray to call out Jaya’s exquisite face as one of the most beautiful he had ever seen, Jaya could have been another Waheeda Rehman. But she always wore a mask… and I don’t mean just the garish makeup which hid her immaculate features. There is always a sense of incompleteness in Jaya Prada’s performances. As though her aspirations were constantly stopped by distractions.
Somehow, Jaya never reached the zenith that her all-round combination of talent beauty and grace promised. Starting out in Telugu cinema in 1974, she quickly garnered a reputation for being both saleable and assailable with blockbuster films Manmatha Leelai and Seetha Kalyanam. Renowned directors like K Balachander, K Vishwanath and Bapu cast her repeatedly. “There’s something very pure, very graceful and poised about Jaya Prada,” Bapu had once raved. Unknowingly, he pinned down the lack of oomph in her personality that all female superstars are known to possess. When Jaya Prada moved to Hindi cinema, she was an instant hit in the underrated blockbuster Sargam. The film and its songs were super-hits. And Jaya Prada was soon approached by every major filmmaker in Mumbai.
Jaya Prada in a scene from 'Sargam'
However Sargam remained her career’s highest point in Hindi. Sadly Jaya Prada’s most ambitious film Sur Sangam, a striking spectacular homage to Indian classical dance and music sank without a trace. The Telugu version of the same film was a game-changer in Andhra Pradesh. Hindi cinema didn’t seem to respect her virtuous personality. Jaya Prada was heartbroken, as she was quickly typecast as the typical long-suffering Sita-reincarnated wife in forgettable family dramas produced in the South with street-side arrow-pointers like Swarg Se Sundar and Ghar Ek Mandir as titles.
A very successful leading man of the 1970 and 80s who worked with both Sridevi and Jaya Prada compared the two rather ebulliently. “Jaya was more the domesticated wifely type while Sridevi could be anything she wanted. Jaya was restricted and typecast.”
The constant comparisons with Sridevi soon got to her and her career. A string of Bachchan-starrers in the 1980s where she had little to do except wait while the hero fought all odds, including the mega-hit Sharaabi only reiterated Jaya Prada’s beautiful-but-dull image. She soon gravitated to politics where she found a mentor and guiding force in Amar Singh. Jaya Prada never relinquished cinema. It was more the way. Hindi cinema could never properly fit Jaya in. This applies to politics also where she always seems a little uncomfortable as though caught in the boogie of an express train.
What she lacked in her film career was a guiding force like Sridevi’s husband Boney Kapoor. Jaya’s scandalous marriage to producer, the already-married Srikanth Nahata in 1986, plummeted her stocks in Bollywood even further. I remember sitting with Manmohan Desai in his office when news of Jaya Prada’s marriage came in. “Oh Damn, why did she have to get married ? Now she will get pregnant,” Desai couldn’t hold back his anger.
He was worried about his Bachchan-Prada starrer Ganga Jamuna Saraswati which on release, was an ambitious flop. Jaya Prada was never lucky in love or career. Let’s hope the change to saffron will bolster her so-far bleak innings.