Is shaadi no longer ‘barbadi’ in Bollywood?

If Hollywood – our revered Baap – can do it, why can’t we? While it sounds right, the just-married actresses of Bollywood will face the real test when they appear on screen with their new co stars

Monojit Lahiri

The times, they surely, are changing! With Sonam, Anushka, Deepika and Priyanka ecstatically leaping on to the matrimonial applecart (post a full-on public affair) and Kareena joyously flaunting the hottest paparazzi-friendly bachha this side of the Suez, Bollywood’s erstwhile, rigid, unspoken rule of keeping boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/ wives/babies strictly under wraps has clearly gone with the wind! Today’s new gen stars appear super comfortable about easing the voyeuristic hysteria of their fans by allowing them to have a nice long look into their happier moments.

I recall a comment veteran star Jeetendra once made to me years ago, relating to a young debutante annoyance at hordes of fans collecting outside their hill town’s hotel window, demanding a darshan. “I told her, Madamjee, unlogo ko kabhi nahin ignore karna or annoyance dikhana. Yeh hamara maibaap hai. Yeh humko star banayenge. Jis din, mooh mod le, hum raaste pe aajayenge.” Are today’s stars taking Jeetu’s solid, grounded thinking forward, understanding that in today’s social mediadriven times, it makes good marketing and PR moves to co-opt their fans as participants in their more eventful moments?

As always, the views are polarised. While cinema does serve as a lens to examine societal change, especially sexual behaviour, moral codes, taboos and mindsets, the question always raised by the purists is– How much is too much?

There are stars who firmly believe that distance lends enchantment and over-exposure kills the charismatic and elusive aspect, which is critical to the idea of stardom. Others opine that since stars are no longer made by production houses, PR agencies or filmmakers, but by the public, it’s important that their life be an open book with nothing to hide.

While the pros and cons are endless, let’s zero in on some hard facts. Unlike yesteryears, media explosion today is a reality with magazines, TV and now social media, allowing for two-way mass communication through digital platforms in a flash. Fake news is as much in the public domain as real news in these info-overkill times. The genie is, indeed, out of the bottle and that fiercely protected ship named anonymity has sailed! Today’s stars – joyously, enthusiastically, smartly or reluctantly – realise it and leverage it as part of their job.

Further, changing social mores too come into play. Link-ups and break-ups (real, planted, got-up, imagined) make spicy news and assuredly plonk stars on Page 1, attracting huge buzz – something yesterday’s stars wouldn’t dream of indulging in! Social commentators believe that in today’s morally permissive times when ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it’ rules and ‘Love Me, Hate Me, Don’t ignore me’ bogeys alongside, letting it all hang out is generally perceived as uber-cool!

Strategically also, unlike earlier times, marriage for new-age heroines does not automatically translate to the kiss-of-death or perceived as soiled goods, with total deficit on the fantasy, sex-appeal and desirability factor, ripe n’ ready for Bhabi-territory! Today’s new age audiences understand both the dynamics and reality of the new-age woman and applaud their journey into a new space. Whether Sonam, Anushka, Dips and Peecee will continue to be as popular after marriage as they were before will depend neither on their sindoor nor wedding ring, but performances on screen. Interestingly, history is not on their side.

From Nargis to Nutan to Waheeda, even more recent screen-scorchers like Sridevi, Madhuri and Ash, no Bollywood heroine has been able to really break this jinx. The only two exceptions have been Dimple and Kajol. Dimple married and had kids at a rather unearthly young age. When she returned after sanyas, she was still very young, with looks and a figure that could wake up the dead! Kajol intelligently chose her roles and ensured that content blended with masala to power her talent and the film up. Ditto with Rani. While Mardani was corny, Hichki rocked because of intelligent profiling. However, at the end of the day, the question is: Can Sonam, Anushka, Dips and Peecee manage to successfully turnaround this regressive template? Smart, intelligent, talented, ambitious with excellent track-records, can this bold n’ beautiful breed prove to the world that marriage is not bad news for fans, and looks/performance need not suddenly be perceived through a different lense?

If Hollywood – our revered Baap – can do it, why can’t we? While all this is right theoretically and sounds totally sane, the real litmus test will only arrive when these just-married ladies will come on screen, post-marriage, with their new starrers. Will inhibitions – no kissing! No intimate scenes! No expletives or foul language! – come into play? Will audiences be unable to discover the earlier thrill and move toward the younger, hotter, exciting - Shraddha, Tapsee Pannu, Kirti Sanon, Alia, Sara, Jahnvi, Kangana and gang – unmarried bunch of actresses? Your guess is as good as mine.

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