AVM Rajan and Pushpalatha were one of the popular star couples in Tamil cinema. Pushpalatha was a Christian while AVM Rajan was a fervent Hindu devoted to Lord Muruga. There came a time when Rajan decided to convert to Christianity and became a pastor. He also quit films even when there was enough bandwidth for him to transition to character roles.
Rajan had the opportunity to play some wonderful roles (though he mostly played second fiddle to the hero) in movies like Mannippu, Major Chandrakant and Thunaivan. Many of his movies were remade in Hindi. In Major Chandrakant, his role had shades of grey as he played a lover boy who ditches his girlfriend (played by Jayalalitha, perhaps the only movie that she acted in under the direction of K Balachander). Major Chandrakant was made in Hindi where Feroze Khan reprised Rajan's role and KR Vijaya, a popular South Indian actress, debuted in this movie. Sadly, this was Vijaya's first and last role in Bollywood.
For an actor who was so much in the limelight, how was it possible to give it all up and switch over to spirituality? It was life's bitter experiences perhaps. Rajan's daughter Sri debuted in the Tamil movie Ranitheni [Queen Bee] with well-known playback singer Deepan Chakraborthy. But the movie tanked at the box office. Sri switched over to Kannada movies with a new name - Mahalakshmi but then, later on, she too had to call it quits.
Rajan's spirituality helped him immensely in moonlighting as a pastor. Mahalakshmi had to undergo plastic surgery after an accident and understandably film offers dried up.
Jayalalitha had a brief career span for 13 years (1966 to 1979). Even in these thirteen years, Jayalalitha was at the top only for four years (1966-1970). When things soured between her and MGR, she turned to Sivaji Ganesan. Between1971 and 1975, Jayalalitha did many films but she fell seriously ill in 1976. By the time Jayalalitha acted in her last movie - Nadiyai Thedi Vandha Kadal with Sarath Babu, her acting career had dipped to abysmal levels. But Jayalalitha had already moonlighted as a writer having written novels like Uravin Qaidigal, Nenjile Oru Kanal etc and her oratorical skills were being talked about in Tamil Nadu's political circles. By 1980, MGR and Jayalalitha had chosen to bury their hatchet. Jaya also put her brief affair with Telugu actor Shoban Babu on the back burner.
Jayalalitha was a voracious reader and had a well-stocked library. Thus the end of her glorious acting career signalled the beginning of her political career. In reality, Jayalalitha is a great actress who unfortunately never got her due. She reprised Sadhna's role in Woh Kaun Thi (remade as Yaar Nee in Tamil) and her role as a courtesan in the Tamil movie - Engiruntho Vandhal is one of her most brilliant performances in Tamil cinema. This movie was a remake of the 1970 blockbuster Khilona that starred Sanjeev Kumar and Mumtaz.
Sadly, until the end of her career, Jayalalitha remained an underrated actress. However, she moonlighted as a writer and a political orator without realizing what the future had in store. The rest as we know is history.
Thus, when you start moonlighting an alternative career [Plan B] life can throw an unexpected surprise at you. There are many individuals who are writing stories, teaching, getting associated with non-government organisation (NGOs) and spiritual organizations like AOL & Isha Yoga. One thing is for sure. Most of them reach their true calling when they start moonlighting as a career option.
Advertising professionals often escape a burnout by taking a break and writing novels. Ravi Subramaniam is a banker, who discovered his true calling in novel writing.
Arjun Rampal, the Bollywood actor, has a flourishing hotel business. Acting is a part-time profession for Suneil Shetty with his hotel business flourishing. Former Tamil actresses Radha and Vichitra have flourishing restaurant businesses.
Even Dimple Kapadia started candle making as a pastime and it became a serious vocation for her. Her daughter Twinkle Khanna became an interior designer. Now she is a best-selling author.
Marathi actor Ravindra Mahajani became a builder of repute after he realized that cinematic fame is ephemeral and audience tastes can be fickle. Suchitra Krishnamoorthy turned to singing and painting after a failed marriage with the maverick Shekhar Kapur and a disastrous Bollywood debut opposite Shahrukh Khan. Shabana Azmi is a social activist. Girish Karnad was more a playwright than an actor.
Rangarajan who worked in BEL Ltd in Bangalore started moonlighting as a writer of Tamil fiction and voila! He became so famous that he is remembered more as a writer than as an employee of BEL. There are college professors who do content writing, do real estate and insurance brokerage, legal consultancy services and what not...
Look at actresses like Hema Malini and Vyjayanthimala for whom dancing is not an art, but a passion. Sharman Joshi (famous for his role as Raju in Three Idiots) is an accomplished theatre artist.
Mansoor Khan, the director of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak turned to farming and is blissfully settled in Coonoor.
Lucky Ali, actor Mahmood's son, crooned for Hrithik Roshan in Kaho Na Pyar Hai but his main interest is in organic farming. He lives life on his own terms and is a connoisseur of art. He has admitted that he is a foodie and a gourmet.
The classic example of moonlighting success is that of Chetan Bhagat. As a banker he would not have achieved even a fraction of the fame that he has achieved as a writer of pulp fiction. Even when he was working in a bank, Chetan moonlighted as a writer and today he is being invited to speak in colleges and is an accomplished columnist of repute.
Actress Kamini Kaushal who recently played Shahrukh's grandmother in Chennai Express and is seen in the "Sprite Ad" (O, O, dear...) is an expert in making dolls.
What started as a hobby eventually became a passion. She has directed movies for children and has even written short stories for children.
Neelam had a short career in Bollywood but by the time her career reached a moribund stage, Neelam who was already moonlighting as a jewellery designer, turned to jewellery designing as a full-time vocation.
Mandira Bedi moonlighted as a cricket commentator and when there were no film offers, she took to cricket commentating as a full-time vocation.
In another inspiring example, L Vijaylakshmi who grew up in Pune and Chennai and for whom dancing was a passion became an actress in Tamil and Malayalam cinema and an odd movie in Hindi (Shabnam). Her comic timing was perfect in her swan song - Ooty varai Uravu (1969). Lovers of Tamil cinema can never forget the song that she danced with MGR (Adaludan Padalai Chernthu Racipathile Dhaan Sugam Sugam). Legend has it that MGR was so scared of dancing with her that he rehearsed many times before the actual shot was taken.
When she quit movies in 1969 to settle down to matrimonial bliss with a Bengali scientist in the Philippines, it was dance that came to her rescue. In her spare time, Vijayalakshmi chose to study further instead of leading a humdrum and monotonous life as a housewife. She pursued studies to become a chartered financial analyst and when the family migrated to the US, opportunity as a professor beckoned her.
Thus there are innumerable examples where moonlighting efforts have led to great success. It is important to have a Plan B in your career. You never know what the future has in store for you. Rather than cribbing about what you cannot achieve with your current job, why not find out something that you can do at leisure? For all you know, this may open doors of opportunities in the future.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80’s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)