Vimi became a household name in the late 60s after debuting in the Raj Kumar and Sunil Dutt starrer, Humraaz. Made under B. R Chopra’s banner, it also featured the stunning Mumtaz. With an assortment of stars, made by the Chopras, the film released to rave reviews, earned massively at the box office and landed the debutant Vimi among the stars.
Vimi’s accidental entry into showbiz was surprising, unconventional, and also unfortunate, for this one move proved to be the beginning of her tragic end. Hailing from a non-filmy background, Vimmi had graduated from Sophia College, Mumbai, with a degree in psychology.
She was a trained singer who would frequently participate in All India Radio Bombay's programs. Introduced to B R Chopra by music director Ravi, she bagged the role in Humraaz effortlessly. Speaking highly of her in a 1967 interview, BR Chopra praised his new find as, "intelligent, educated and grasps things quickly.” This leaves us wondering why the filmmaker never cast her again, despite the blockbuster status of their first and only film together.
Chopra’s detachment prompted her existential crisis in the industry. She lost her credibility and her career saw a downward spiral after the release and tanking of the big-budgeted and highly anticipated Aabroo. Even artists like Nirupa Roy and Ashok Kumar could do nothing to salvage it. Vimmi signed a few more films opposite Shashi Kapoor, but failed to establish herself as a bankable actress.
In the less than 10 films she did, Vimi manifested herself as a leading lady with charm and artistic skills. While Patanga released in 1971 barely did moderate business, her 1974 release with Shashi Kapoor again, Vachan, failed to ring any bells.
Though movie offers were drying up, Vimi would keep herself relevant through her style sense which was on par with stars of old Hollywood. She was dressed to the nines, on and off screen, and captured a sizeable portion of her audience’s memories by posing in glamorous avatars for filmy glossies. A rarity of the age, she had even dared the bikini for a photoshoot, a bold move that set tongues wagging.
With almost all films failing at the ticket window, she declared she wasn’t doing films for money, she had plenty of it, which was evident from her lifestyle that included a vast wardrobe, luxury drives and expensive jackets.
But truth is often far from what meets the eyes.
Her personal life was stuck in a whirlwind too. Unlike most actresses of Bollywood, Vimi entered the industry when she was already married and a mother of two. The pretty girl from a Punjabi Sikh family had strained ties with her parents after falling in love with a Calcutta-based Marwari businessman, Shiv Agarwal. She never got their blessings when she tied the knot with him against her parents consent.
Her in-laws were the only family she had left, but she ended up spoiling these remaining relations with her decision to enter showbiz. Her husband, she claimed, supported her and was producing movies for her, but the films she listed never saw the light of day. Was she lying or was she hallucinating: guess we'll never know. What we got to know long after she was gone, is, the couple had separated long back.
Within 7 years into the industry, Vimi found herself jobless, and was living with a small-time film broker who had been exploiting her in all ways imaginable. As the riches depleted, the once proud owner of designer dresses and sports cars, stood penniless, forced into prostitution.
To seek respite, she took to alcohol; the cheap and toxic kind, as the means were scarce. Excessive and incessant drinking decayed her body. Gradually she developed fatal liver complications and succumbed to it at the age of 34. Already lost in oblivion, no one in Bollywood remembered her, or mourned her death. She died a pauper in the general ward of Nanavati Hospital, and her dead body reached the cremation ground in a thela, attended by none.
It was later revealed that she was a victim of domestic abuse; and her husband was regularly hostile with her, before leaving her for good. Not forgiven even in death, she was character assassinated by a friend who slandered her in an obituary published in the Ananda Bazar Patrika. Calling her death a great pain reliever, the writer addressed her as one "with the roving eye who went out without her husband in the fond hope that some producer or actor will make her an offer" and justified her agony and suffering for the “sin” of not complying with societal norms and trying to create a world of her own.