I wrote this piece for a website but it didn't get accepted. Publishing it here.
A top heroine gets married to the Indian cricket captain. She had acted opposite superstars in some of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema as well as some offbeat films.
A top heroine gets married to a top hero in a series of ceremonies, including one in her hometown. Among others, they had acted together in a high-profile historical film about a queen.
While these stories sound like they have been picked from 2018, they are actually from 1969 and 1979 respectively. Sharmila Tagore married Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi in one of the most high-profile weddings India had seen. Hema Malini tied the knot with Dharmendra in a secret ceremony in Madras (and their historical film together was Razia Sultan). And yes, we have grown up on high profile weddings of heroines!
When people discuss Bollywood’s patriarchal ways, heroines stopping work after getting married is usually cited as an example. The Kapoor family bahus are ‘not allowed to work’, the legend goes. The rest of Bollywood follow, they say. There’s another crazier view… married heroines lose their allure as a male fantasy and their box office drops, ‘industry insiders’ claim.
The point of heroines not ‘being allowed’ to work is not always based in fact. Top heroines have always got married to top heroes, often at the peak of their careers and it didn’t change anything.
Saira Banu had a dream debut (in the superhit Junglee), did some major films immediately afterwards and got married to the legendary Dilip Kumar within five years. And continued to deliver hits… Shagird, Padosan, Gopi, Purab Aur Paschim came within a few years of her marriage. She was a lead heroine till the mid-1970s and a major star all through.
Sharmila Tagore too married within five years of her Hindi debut and her strike rate of hits improved. Some of her most memorable hits (Safar, Amar Prem, Daag, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Chupke Chupke) and critically acclaimed roles (Mausam, Namkeen) came after her marriage.
Rakhee debuted in Hindi films in 1970 and got married in 1973. That year, she did several high-profile films like Heera Panna, Daag, Blackmail and Joshila. All were not hits but the confidence of big banners in her indicated that her box office wasn’t likely to be spoiled by news of her marriage. Post marriage, she delivered major hits like Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kasme Vaade and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar.
Like Rakhee, Hema Malini too acted in a slew of big-budget extravaganzas right after her wedding – Kranti, Naseeb, Kudrat – indicating that she was still top of the heap even after a decade in the industry.
While some heroines retired after their marriages – Nargis, Vyjayathimala, Jaya Bhaduri – there were many who continued to work, achieving commercial and critical success. It was only in the 1980s and 1990s that a number of top heroines – most notably Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi – left films after their marriage though Juhi Chawla did several big-budget entertainers like Daraar, Yes Boss and Duplicate after her marriage in 1995.
The longevity of Hindi film heroines is certainly a lot lesser than heroes (and reasons are a story for another day), which means most heroines exit leading roles in their mid-30s. This age barrier sometimes coincided with marriage but that was not necessarily a diktat from their families. Or the audience.
Even the Kapoor family – supposed originator of married-girls-don’t-work rule – had at least two exceptions to it in the 1960s. Shammi Kapoor married Geeta Bali, who continued to act in films till her untimely death. Shashi Kapoor’s wife, theatre actress Jennifer Kendall – after marriage – acted in a few memorable films with top directors like James Ivory, Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen and Satyajit Ray. It was only Neetu Singh and Babita who left films after their marriages to Rishi and Randhir Kapoor respectively.
If the grapevine is to be believed, Alia Bhatt will be marrying Ranbir Kapoor in 2019. Anyone betting that she will give up her career and become a homemaker?