Unlike Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman, today’s heroines seem to know where to invest – both their emotions and their monies
Later this year filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s memoir will hit the stands. The book will be devoured, not just for Bhatt’s evocative storytelling, but also for the chapter that is dedicated to one of the most enigmatic and beautiful women of the Hindi film industry. Bhatt writes about his love affair with Parveen Babi and the downward spiral of the star desired by every man but whose body lay unclaimed for two days after she died in anonymity. Babi’s troubled life has inspired many a filmmaker, including Bhatt himself. Sometimes it is a cautionary tale, and often it just serves to titillate – everyone loves to watch a gorgeous and successful woman disintegrate. One of films seemingly inspired by Babi’s life, had Kangana Ranaut play the tormented and tragic star. Eerily enough, at one point, Ranaut’s life veered dangerously close to the star she had portrayed convincingly.
Kangana rose in notoriety – refusing to go for silicon implants, dating a much married, much older and much controversial Aditya Pancholi, getting into a public and violent brawl with him, drawn into a disastrous affair with yet another married A-list star and facing a severe industry backlash when a film magazine published the most intimate details of the affair. Despite her obvious talent, her baffling life and career choices took a toll on the young actor, who was forced to go underground, until a recent film and her resolve to fight back, turned her fortunes. Kangana celebrated her birthday the other day, with everyone, from Amitabh Bachchan to Aamir Khan, dropping by. She is no longer the pariah destined to wither away in the gutters of popular imagination.
Evidently, the Bollywood woman today is of a different breed. A young Alia Bhatt for instance, does not think twice before telling a senior journalist, that she enjoys her flings with some of her co-stars and he is too old to understand what that means. Alia may have pedigree to fall back on, but there are also the others who choose their relationships, their partners, their films and know how to secure their future once the films fail to draw in the audiences. Yes, there are the odd instances of a Jia Khan succumbing to the pressure, but there are also the other girls who know how and where to invest – both their emotions and their monies. Rani Mukerji for instance, is well out of the box-office reckoning, and in an ambiguous relationship with the scion of the largest film production company. But she has invested well in real estate across the city and today lives in a well-appointed Juhu bungalow, far away from her modest apartment in a middle-class neighbourhood from where she rose into prominence. It has been a while since Sushmita Sen faced the camera for anything other than a photo shoot. But she is a sharp businesswoman who runs her own company, is happy to date some of the most eligible men and is a proud mother to two adopted girls. Madhuri Dixit-Nene, who is enjoying her second stint with stardom, returned to India and promptly ‘fired’ her ‘manager’ of decades. She has since then hired professional brand and image managers, at the suggestion of her colleague Anil Kapoor. The results showed – she is now the face of several international brands and a fixture on reality shows. Priyanka Chopra, who may have had her string of controversial relationships, today is at the top of her game with property in Bombay, Goa and Dubai, international fashion and music contracts. Deepika Padukone, who has had a string of high-profile relationships, prefers to unwind by herself at her uber luxurious apartment in South Mumbai, one of the most expensive parts of the city. Whenever she gets homesick, she flies home to be with her parents in Bangalore, whose lives are far removed from her high-octane world. She too has a PR agency to manage her media interactions while her brand endorsements are handled by another team of professionals who negotiate her remuneration and revise it after every box-office success.
Abusive relationships, financial constraints, failure or exploitation – the new crop of women in Bollywood is unwilling to suffer any of this gladly. And the confidence with which the women negotiate the muddy waters of the film industry stems from this resolve. Unlike say a Zeenat Aman, who exploded onto the scene with her unabashedly glamorous and bold outlook. She could have easily leveraged the success and adulation she received at the height of her career, but chose to give it all away when she fell in love with a married filmmaker, who turned violent on her in public on his wife’s insistence, and stripped her of her beauty and her fortune – for life.
Whether it is a Preity Zinta (who has had a disastrous affair with a leading industrialist and has failed as a producer but runs her own IPL team), Kareena, Deepika, Priyanka or Kangana, these women may portray broken, vulnerable, suicidal characters on screen, but they have begun to live differently off it. There was a time when even the most beautiful stars sometimes died of heartbreak, faded from public memory or lived the sunset years in penury. That reality seems to be changing, one story at a time.
(Chandrima Pal has been writing on society and lifestyle in Mumbai and is the author of ‘A Song For I’)