The glitz of the film world and unrealistic expectations can often lead to depression and mental trauma among actors and actresses. After tasting heady success, many people cannot handle obscurity resulting from the failure. Stardom places you on a pedestal and before you realise, your fate gets decided by the next Friday when your movie releases.
The late Vinod Khanna was unable to meet the never-ending expectations from the film world, which led to a burn-out. It was unfortunate that he chose to leave his wife Gitanjali who belonged to a famed family of lawyers in Mumbai. Theirs was a whirlwind romance which culminated in a divorce when Khanna chose to leave for the US to find peace in the ashram of spiritual guru Rajneesh. Khuda Kasam (1981) was his last release and one did not hear much about him until his return to Bollywood four years later with Insaaf. His second inning was nowhere close to the first one wherein he was considered a threat to Amitabh Bachchan’s hegemony and hold over Bollywood.
Anu Agarwal appeared in a television serial in the late 80s and was cast opposite Mazhar Khan. The serial also featured Kiron Kher in an important role. Serials then had a limited number of episodes unlike the soaps of today that cause you irritation and resentment with their stupid twists and turns. Anu was introduced in Aashiqui (1990) but that was her one and only major success. Films like Ranjeet’s Gazab Tamasha (1992) that tried to capitalize on her chemistry with Rahul Roy tanked at the box office. Even being cast opposite Jackie Shroff in King Uncle (1993) did nothing to boost her career. After a few forgettable roles, she did make people notice her in Khalnayika (1993). She also did a bold bosom-bearing act in Mani Kaul’s Cloud Door (1994) that did the round of festivals in India and abroad.
Then Agarwal vanished without a trace only to resurface years later. Apparently, in the mid-90s Agarwal suffered a near-fatal injury in a car accident when she was proceeding towards South Mumbai. She had a miraculous recovery. Spiritual healing played an important role in her life. She has even shared her experiences in a book. Anu’s story is truly heart-rending – the once dusky and beautiful actress now looks a pale shadow of her former self – but her indomitable courage and survival instinct are truly exemplary.
Dev Anand’s wife Mona Singha, a Punjabi Christian, who was born in a large-sized family of brothers and sisters, chose films when her close relative Uma Anand (Chetan Anand’s first wife) insisted that she accept the leading role in a film that starred Dev Anand. The petite Mona did create a flutter in the few films that she starred in. Dev was then recovering from the emotional trauma of his break up with Suraiya. He married Mona on the sets of Taxi Driver as if on a rebound. Despite the fact that the marriage endured for long, Mona and Dev had mentally parted ways long ago.
Mona turned her attention to spirituality even as her husband began producing a multitude of flops for the next few decades. Dev’s innovative idea of luring NRIs to star in his films (without any remuneration) may have saved him a few rupees but all the films were colossal disasters. Mona’s spiritual inclination was driven by the unhappiness that resulted from Anand’s love for a much younger Zeenat, her daughter’s nasty divorce and her son’s failure in films. Anand’s son Suneil who did only two movies – Anand Aur Anand and Car Thief was not star material.
Natasha Sinha with whom he debuted in Anand Aur Anand (1984) eloped with lyricist Shailendra’s son even before her debut film released. Sinha is now a well-known TV actress (Buniyad, Jodha Akbar) who takes a liking for feeding street dogs near her home in Mira Road. Natasha did accept character roles (she played Ajay Devgn’s sister in the 1993 release Divya Shakti) but it was TV where she made a name for herself. Dev Anand had, in 1984, declared that Natasha would be the biggest star of the decade but sadly his prophecy failed.
Interestingly, Suneil Anand’s second movie Car Thief (1990) was released six years after his debut. Vijeta Pandit who played the lead opposite Anand eloped with her director Sameer Malkan. The marriage soon ended in a divorce. Strange coincidence indeed! It was Malkan who gave Sinha a character role in Divya Shakti, which he directed.
South Indian actress Mohini who had her moments of fame in Kollywood debuted with Akshay Kumar in Dancer. She quit films to get married and settle in the US but suffered from mental agony and depression. This prompted her, a Tamil Brahmin, to convert to Christianity and become a preacher after she returned to Chennai. Tamil actor AVM Rajan married a Christian actress Pushpalatha. The actor was a devout Hindu having acted in many mythological movies in Tamil. But when his actress-daughter Mahalakshmi suffered a near-fatal injury, he converted to Christianity and became a preacher. Mahalakshmi debuted in Rani Theni, a Tamil movie where playback singer Deepan Chakravarthy played the lead opposite her. But Rani Theni (Queen Bee) failed at the box office. Mahalakshmi turned to Kannada movies with a vengeance before her flourishing career was cut short by the accident.
Former Miss India Tanushree Dutta made her debut in Ashiq Banaya Apne (2005) and fell in love with its director Aditya Dutt (grandson of lyricist Anand Bakshi). Smitten by love, Tanushree did not hesitate to do daring bedroom scenes with Imran Hashmi who is known for “kissing” scenes in Bollywood. During the shooting of Horn Ok please in 2008, Tanu was involved in an ugly squabble with Nana Patekar who apparently made a pass at her. Tanushree had already faced heartburn when Dutt dropped her like a hot potato. This was a tipping point. Tanushree quit films to embrace spirituality and in the last ten years, she has been an avid traveller, reading books and practising healing therapy.
Babita who had a tough time in the Kapoor household also found solace in Christianity (her mother was Christian). Her father was a little-known character actor called Hari Shivdasani.
Suchitra Sen, the legendary Bengali actress, became a recluse but was a firm believer in Aurobindo’s principles. She often visited the Pondicherry Ashram.
Unable to bear her husband’s torture, Bollywood legend Nutan embraced spirituality. Even Sanjay Dutt had to turn to astrological advice when one calamity after another hit him. Rhea Pillai and Nagma became followers of Art of Living. Rajinikanth’s spiritual inclinations are well known as is Kamal Haasan’s atheism.
Fame, fortune and glamour are fickle. Unless the frustrations are channelised in a positive direction, things can become intractable. A spiritual sojourn is the next best option.
(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.)