“You are the first actress to get your daughter married off…,” told Jayalalitha to veteran actor M N Rajam during the latter’s daughter’s wedding reception in Chennai in the early ’70s. Rajam was an actress of repute in Tamil cinema who managed to steer clear of scandals. She married an actor and playback singer when she was at her peak and the marriage endured for years. Even when her husband squandered her money by producing Tamil films that flopped at the box office, Rajam never complained and instead comforted him.
Rumour mills say that Bharat Thakur, husband of actor Bhumika Chawla who played MS Dhoni’s sister’s role in his biopic, invested the hard earned money of his spouse in yoga ventures that tanked. Yet Bhumika chose to remain silent.
But when the swindling becomes unbearable it is time to speak out. Veteran actress Helen too was a victim of her partner PN Arora who was many years older than her. He never married her and Helen too was never embroiled in any controversies during her tenure as a leading actress- dancer in the ’60s and ’70s. But she paid the price. She lost her peace of mind when she had to fight a bitter legal battle with her former partner. Arora had left Helen penniless. Today, Helen is contented being the second wife of Salim Khan, former actor and scriptwriter. She managed to find her soul mate at last.
Helen’s story stirs your hearts as does the story of Bollywood singer Sharon Prabhakar who never got her due from Bollywood despite hits like Meri jaisee haseena. Sharon, who was born and brought up in Delhi got married early in her life. She reminisces how her first husband invested her money in assets in his name and kept her in the dark (Shades of what happened in the movie Guide where Raju embezzles money from the bank account of his live-in girlfriend Rosy. Sharon was wise enough to call it quits. Sharon married ad man Alque Padamsee later and, sadly, this marriage also did not last.
Stories of actors who were being exploited by their families are legendary. Amisha Patel and Malayalam actor Meera Jasmine waged war against their parents. Legendary actor Nutan had to drag her mother Shobhana Samarth to court, though rumour mills insist that it was her husband Captain Rajnish Behl who was behind it all. Gossip mongers in Bollywood also whispered about Nutan’s plans of leaving her husband and marrying Sanjeev Kumar – though how much of this information is true no one knows. It is said that when Captain Behl came to know of this dalliance, he threatened the actor saying that he would harm their son. Nutan slapped Sanjeev Kumar on the sets of Gauri and put an end to all the speculation. Insiders insisted it was a ploy to appease her husband.
But interviews that Nutan has given in the early ’70s present a different picture and it is clear that these interviews were doctored by the magazines to satisfy her husband. Nutan had to face both these hassles – rumours of an affair and a protracted legal battle with her mother. Some reports also mention that Sanjeev Kumar had a roving eye. He also had this habit of feeding the rumour mill with news of his reported affairs for publicity.
By the time Nutan passed away in the early ’90s she was a woman battered by her husband – physically and emotionally. She had turned to spirituality during the last days of her life and for her death was more of a liberation. Today her niece Kajol bears a striking resemblance to her aunt – both in looks as well as in her acting prowess. Shobhana, who led a colourful life in her heydays and was linked to actor Motilal, outlived her daughter Nutan. Though the mother and actor patched up during the later years, it was too late by then. Her husband insisted that Nutan cut off ties with her family – her parents, sisters and only brother.
Tamil actor Gemini Ganeshan never gave legal sanctity to his affair with a Telugu actor called Pushpavalli. Their daughter Bhanurekha (who made a name for herself in Bollywood as Rekha) could never forgive her father for this. Rekha is however very close to her stepsisters, one of whom is a journalist. Her other sisters, Kamala Selvaraj and Jaya Sridhar, are doctors of repute. The former runs a centre for test tube babies for infertile couples while the latter has earned name as a paediatrician.
Enough has been written about the exploits of men who used legendary actors like Meena Kumari and Madhubala for their own selfish ends. In fact, Meena Kumari was equally exploited by her father and husband. Her last movie, Mere Apne, which had a 40-year old Meena Kumari convincingly playing a 70-year old woman, is evidence of her superlative histrionic abilities.
Bollywood insiders also recall the callous manner in which garam Dharam dropped Meena Kumari when he set his sights on a young, upcoming actress called Hema Malini whom Raj Kapoor introduced in 1967 in Sapnon Ke Saudagar. Thanks to her stern mother Jaya Chakravarthy, Hema escaped being drenched under the waterfall as is usually the wont in movies produced by the RK banner or movies that featured Raj Kapoor as the hero. But Jaya could do nothing to stop her daughter from falling prey to the charms of a much-married man.
Renowned classical singer MS Subbulakshmi was eternally grateful to her late husband Sadashivam, a man who was known to have had a fiery temper and was alleged to be obstinate in matters related to finance. The money that the veteran singer earned was always handed over to the husband without any questions asked.
Subbulakshmi may have been grateful that a man like Sadashivam married her knowing her family background. She was intensely devoted to him and it was unfortunate that she spent her last days in extremely modest circumstances. Salutations are due to this woman of substance. She outlived her husband but lost her soul in the process. It appears that she had also lost her will to live. For a woman who lived in a palatial home during the peak of her singing career, it was an unsettling experience when she had to move to a smaller home with meagre amenities during her last years.
Reading about the tragic life of the beautiful actor Vimi is even more heart rending. Vimi was exploited by her husband Shiv. Vimi was no great shakes as an actress but she was exploited by Bollywood too. When she died in 1977, no one knew that she existed and there was no money for the funeral. Movie offers had dried up. She had become a pauper and an insolvent by then. This was Vimi’s fate despite the fact that she had two lovely children.
Vimi had reached abysmal lows in her life having succumbed to the bottle. A girl who started as a Radio Jockey was disowned by her parents once they learnt of her inclination towards Bollywood. Her recalcitrant attitude proved to be her undoing. No one remembers Vimi today except when songs of Humraz are played on satellite television. Real life appeared to have imitated reel life in Vimi’s case. She rubbed BR Chopra the wrong way by demanding more money to shoot the last sequences of Humraz and her career was aborted even before it began.
The list is actually endless. There were so many actors who remained silent all through their life never speaking about their troubled marital lives in the open. Not everyone was as lucky as Devika Rani to lead a regal life in Tataguni estate after retiring as an actor. Udita Goswami married her heart throb Mohit Suri and Geeta Basra married Harbhajan Singh in what seemed like picture perfect marriages. Unfortunately, there are not many examples that one can think of when it relates to the successful marital life of a former actress.
In fact, many of the actresses who quit movies in the early ’70s and ’80s have had to find alternate careers. Rajashree Shantaram, Alka, Neeta Mehta, Bhavna Bhatt, Ranjeeta and Radha Saluja are still working in the US in careers far removed from the glitter of Bollywood. Actor Anupama, who married a doctor and migrated to the US, stages plays for the Indian diaspora there. Namita Chandra who was introduced by Rajshri in Paheli in 1977, married a doctor and shifted to the US in 1984.
Some actors were lucky to have found the right soul mate. Many were not. Some chose to end their lives like Ziah Khan and Nafisa Joseph. Tamil actor Devika (she was the Kareena Kapoor of Tamil cinema in the ’60s) had a disastrous marriage with a man named Devdas. Devika died early leaving her young daughter all alone.
If actor Srividya, who died of cancer, was duped by Kamal Haasan who promised marriage and later backtracked from his commitment, actress Lakhsmi, who acted in the super hit Julie found solace in her third marriage with a fellow actor.
Srividya was the daughter of classical vocalist ML Vasanthakumari, who herself had had a broken marriage. Srividya acted in two Hindi films in the mid-’70s – Jaise Ko Taisa Mila and Arjun Pandit. She had a great career in Tamil and Malayalam movies, both as a leading actor and as a character artiste. But her reputation got sullied with multiple affairs with multiple actors.
Srividya married in haste only to repent at leisure. She married a man from Kerala who exploited and harassed her by refusing to grant her a divorce. Later, Srividya was forced to pay large sums of money for freedom from a tyrannical husband. This is according to rumour mills in Chennai.
An actress like Asha Sachdev who starred in B-grade films but is most notably known for her role as the dumb friend of Neetu Singh in the movie Priyatama recalled how her entire family, comprising step brothers and step sisters, lived off her sole earnings. She later made a fleeting appearance as Jaya Bachchan’s friend in Fiza but one has not seen her lately. Asha escaped marriage and the brutalities or harsh realities associated with an actress’s marital life.
Tanvi Azmi’s mother Usha Kiran had a happy and peaceful marital life with her husband Dr Manohar Kher till her death. Usha Kiran had an affair with a much older director, Amiya Chakraborthy. But a visit by the latter’s wife changed Usha Kiran’s heart and she realized it was futile to break a family. She quietly moved on and married Dr Kher. The latter, the actor claims in her autobiography, was such a noble soul that he permitted her to visit Amiya’s home when the noted director passed away. Now how many actors can boast of a husband like Dr Manohar Kher?
It would be noteworthy to end this article with a comment by former actor Naina Sahu. Naina, daughter of director Kishore Sahu (who played Marco, Waheeda Rehman’s husband in Guide) was introduced in 1967 in the movie Hare Kanch Ki Chudiyan. The movie was later made as Kya Kehna, which introduced Preity Zinta to Bollywood. It was the story of an unwed mother. The movie had great songs but was an average grosser. Naina acted in one more movie, Pushpanjali that released in 1970 and that was the last one heard of her.
After close to 47 years, Naina has gave an interview. Asked why she chose to disappear from movies, she replied, “If something that happens in movies, like a girl marrying a man of her choice, happens in real life then that aspect becomes the dominant influence in the girl’s life.”
Naina married Jai Rao and eventually settled in Goa, away from public gaze. Mother to Gautam Rao, Naina presents a picture of a contented homemaker having obliterated the image of the actress forever. Now how many actors can claim to have had such a peaceful life?