The dust had barely settled on Hrithik Roshan and Sussanne Khan’s divorce when along came a tornado called Kangana Ranaut and blew it sky-high again.
Even as the former lovers traded insults and legal notices, there were reports that Khan had confronted Roshan about his fondness for his co-star, and that this affair could have been one of the reasons she decided to end the marriage.
That the divorce was her decision was evident from Roshan’s press statement: “Sussanne has decided to separate from me and end our 17-year relationship. This is a very trying time for the entire family.”
Sussanne Khan is not the first star wife to have walked out of a relationship, and from the looks of it, she will not be the last. In a world in which women have for the longest time looked the other way while their husbands strayed, the current development of star wives opting out of dysfunctional marriages is a sign of some serious change.
After all, who remembers the name of the mother of Sunny and Bobby Deol, who was banished into the shadows after her husband and movie star Dharmendra converted to Islam and married the nation’s sweetheart, Hema Malini? The spunky and ambitious Babita walked out of the Kapoor home with her daughters Karisma and Kareena more than three decades ago, but held on to her title of Mrs Randhir Kapoor. The biggest wedding of the 1970s, between Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia, was over by 1983, but during his flirtation with politics and battle with cancer and until his death, Kapadia chose to remain “married.”
At the time of separating from the fading star, Kapadia had said, “The life and happiness in our house came to an end the day I and Rajesh got married.” Years later, she justified her decision to be in touch with him, saying, “He is the father of my children and a very integral part of my life. He can never be unimportant.”
The title, it seemed, and the institution, were more important than the relationship.
An unlikely trendsetter
But something changed when Reena Dutta and Aamir Khan ended their 14-year marriage in 2002. Khan had chosen not to reveal his marital status at the time of his breakthrough movie Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988 – even though Dutta made an appearance in the pop anthem “Papa Kehte Hain” in the film.
Dutta, who was decidedly low-profile even at the peak of Khan’s career, had much to lose with a divorce. The former travel agency employee could have held on to the title, leaving her husband free to pursue or marry other women. Since his religion allows polygamy, she could not have stopped him. But Dutta chose a graceful exit, closure and a divorce that was unheard of in the film industry at that time.
Sarika and Kamal Haasan filed for divorce after 14 years of marriage the same year. The good-looking and unconventional star couple had lived in for years and had decided to get married only after their first child, Shruti, was born in 1986. Sarika has often spoken about the hardships she faced as a single mother of two, while it was rumoured that Haasan’s fondness for his much-younger female co-star was the last nail in the coffin.
Of late, there seem to be more Sarikas and Reena Duttas who are not afraid of the D word. Preety Ali annulled her decade-long marriage to filmmaker Imtiaz Ali in 2012, Kalki Koechlin ended her marriage to director Anurag Kashyap in 2015, and most recently, Adhuna Akhtar split with Farhan Akhtar. Whenever news of an impending divorce hits the headlines, the grapevine goes into an overdrive trying to find the trigger. Such splits are mostly blamed on the philandering ways of the men. “For the sake of our children” has been the refrain of both parties, while insiders insist that the husbands have much more to lose if the wives decide to talk.
Trophy wives no more
Also common to these women is that most of them are independent professionals and capable of standing on their stilletoed feet.
Koechlin has always had a mind and career of her own. Adhuna Akhtar is a star in her domain (hair styling) and a successful entrepreneur. Susanne Khan, despite her name being linked with actor Arjun Rampal and the gossip about a demand for Rs 300 crores in alimony, also runs an interior decoration business.
Karisma Kapoor, who is in the thick of a messy divorce, has been working hard at maximising her stardom through endorsements. Even Chitrangda Singh, who failed to make good the early gains of her fantastic debut in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005), chose to swap her cushy South Delhi life and the creature comforts that flowed to her as the wife of star golfer Jyoti Singh Randhawa for a life of struggle in the film industry.
And finally there is Malaika Arora, whose 18-year-old marriage to Arbaaz Khan on rumoured grounds of incompatibility and incompetence (Khan’s career has gone nowhere despite the intermittent leg-up from his famous brother Salman) has come undone. The couple has confirmed their separation. Arora has had the courage to walk out of a family whose patriarch, Salim Khan, has lived with two wives for decades and evidently kept everybody happy with the arrangement.
A few years ago, a multi-faceted female star, who was allegedly in a relationship with a married A-lister, had lashed out against star wives, who she described as insecure about the younger and more successful women in their husbands’ lives. “They will always be known as Mrs so-and-so,” she had lashed out, taking pot-shots at an existence that centered on Botox parties, Birkins, spa holidays and expensive anniversary gifts.
A lot has happened since then. The star wife who was one of the Mrs so-and-so gang has gone on to reinvent herself as a fashion brand, and her friends cannot be described as trophy wives or showpieces on the red carpet anymore. These women know where and how the story should end.