Marriage: The colossal death of ‘Heroine’

Shomini Sen

Bollywood may have come of age in terms of its stories and movie-making but when it comes to accepting married heroines with open arms, the film industry is still apprehensive about it.

The recent report of Sanjay Leela Bhansali ousting Kareena Kapoor from his ambitious project ‘Ram Leela’ on the grounds of Bebo’s impending marriage, reiterates the fact that when in Bollywood, only ‘single’ and young heroines can rule the roost. The moment they get married, they have to bitterly bid goodbye to their careers, so what if they are the reigning queens of the industry.

Domestication and career never go hand in hand in Bollywood. The rule is simple - if you are a top heroine, you cannot be married. And if you are married and do wish to pursue your career, you will only be offered certain type of roles - of a married woman, of a young mother, of a middle-aged woman trying to find her identity etc.

While the industry harps that things have changed and it is not conservative anymore and accepts married heroines, reality seems to be a bit different. For most filmmakers, casting a married heroine is still a big ‘risk’. As Bhansali stated, post marriage audience would not be able to identify with Kareena’s portrayal of Juliet (‘Ram Leela’ is allegedly based on Romeo-Juliet). Even if a Madhuri does make a comeback in films post wedding and motherhood, she has to settle playing a divorcee and a mother of a 10-year-old in ‘Aaja Nachle’. Or as a dutiful wife supporting her husband like Aishwarya did in ‘Guru’.

Aishwarya Rai, who has been consistently working post her marriage to actor Abhishek Bachchan, hasn’t delivered a super hit in the past five years. Jodha Akbar and Sarkar Raj could only be called average hits and the rest have all failed to make a mark at the Box Office. She may have been offered the best of the roles, some international projects as well, but none could do wonders at the Box Office. Aishwarya was also unceremoniously dropped from Madhur Bhandarkar’s ’Heroine’ after her announcing that she was pregnant. Ash had assured that she would complete the film in 45 days and then go on a maternity leave, but the filmmaker stated that he felt betrayed at not being told about Ash’s pregnancy when she was signed up for the project.

Earlier on, many actresses shied away from declaring their marital status as they felt their career would be in jeopardy owing to the committed status. Many had secret weddings and denied the news as long as a baby did not come into the picture. But over the years, with changing mindset of the society, many of the actresses came out and accepted that they were in a relationship and were intending to get married soon. Kareena has from the beginning been very open about her relationship; be it with Shahid Kapoor or with Saif Ali Khan. She even declared on national television that she intends to get married to Saif in 2012 when Karan Johar had probed the couple about their marriage plans on his chat show.

Kareena may be fine with her new status, but filmmakers are making sure that she finishes all her projects before becoming Mrs Saif Ali Khan. And the marriage date is being postponed every other day so that Bebo can complete all her projects.

Funnily, while the industry scurries away from casting a married heroine in a college girl’s role, the same industry is okay casting 40 something superstars in roles meant for much younger actors. And the audience also seems to accept it. They will happily applaud a heavily botoxed Aamir playing an 18-year-old in ‘3 Idiots’ but would not be okay if Kajol or Madhuri Dixit (Aamir’s co-stars from the 90s) are cast opposite him. 45-year-old Shah Rukh Khan can play hubby to Anushka Sharma in ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’ but can’t work in a mainstream film opposite his business partner Juhi Chawla. And Saif, who is in his forties, can romance Deepika and Diana in ‘Cocktail’, who are both in their 20s, even if he does not pass off as a 32-year-old man.

Marriage or age tag never matters to men in the film industry. They can play whichever character the filmmaker envisions them in, so what if the lines on the face do not go with age of the character being portrayed on screen. They don’t even have to worry about the ‘married’ tag. No actor is asked if he would continue acting post wedding, but a Riteish Deshmukh has to assure that he wouldn’t have a problem if wife Genelia D’Souza works post wedding. Likewise, Saif himself has to assure that Kareena’s career should not be affected post their wedding.

Many of the actors, in fact, have seen an upswing in their career post marriage, e.g. Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. But it is the exact opposite case when it comes to heroines. Barring a ‘Fanaa’ or a ‘Guru’, most actresses have failed to make a mark post marriage. Be it Karisma Kapoor, Raveena Tandon or even Madhuri Dixit - all their comeback ventures have been Box Office duds. Even though Kajol and Aishwarya Rai are still offered films, most of their films have failed miserably to create a storm. There are always younger, unmarried actresses who rule the hearts of the audience.

Some have been smart enough to re-invent their image post marriage. Known for her bubbly girl next door image, Juhi Chawla starred in some of the biggest hits of 1990s opposite the Khans but post marriage shifted focus to off-beat cinema or settled to play author backed roles. After tasting failure in the form of ‘Aaja Nachle’ Madhuri took to TV and is now a popular celebrity judge for a dance reality show. But for others, they wait patiently to regain their lost glory in cinema.

Yes, actresses like Sharmila Tagore and Hema Malini have had a successful career even after they got married, but they are clearly an exception. Most heroines of their time had to abruptly cut short their career post marriage. Some were asked to leave the industry by the family, some left voluntarily knowing that Bollywood is usually not kind to married women.

So, the world may be eagerly waiting for Kareena to become the ‘Begum of Pataudi’, but the lady, who is at present having a dream run at the Box Office, will have to tread a careful path in terms of films. Let’s hope this actress does not fall into the same trap as other ‘married’ actresses did.