Remember when Hollywood superstars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt announced an end to their 12-year partnership, the world — and social media — went ballistic about not just the end of brand Brangelina, but also speculated how his former wife and actor Jennifer Aniston would react. That Brad and Jennifer have been divorced for 11 years, that she was married (to actor Justin Theroux) and has maintained a dignified silence on the matter made little difference.
In an era where relationships and marriages increasingly come with short shelf lives, the dizzy speculation has brought into sharp focus how couples, particularly celebrities, deal with a breakup and tangled family ties. India, too, is no stranger to several high-profile marriages going kaput.
But do Indians, given the complex socio-cultural matrix and traditional societal framework, deal with this any differently? This has been brought into sharp focus by the recently-released memoir, Regrets, None, of veteran theatre person Dolly Thakore. Written with equal parts wit, humour and candour, this autobiography follows Thakore’s life and career — theatre, radio, television, advertising and cinema. It not only brings alive the glitz, glamour, and struggles, but also speaks candidly about love, sex, infidelity, motherhood, commitment and heartbreaks. While embodying a strong, empowered, vulnerable and courageous woman, Thakore takes care to see that she keeps the victim narrative out.
Psychiatrist and relationship expert Dr Pavan Sonar explains, “Indian marriages are still largely arranged by families. There’s always greater pressure to keep it going with the 'how-will-the-kids-be-affected' mentality. This can be particularly true if the woman is a homemaker. Then, compulsions can be financial. It is only after we've begun to move away from these paradigms that people have started exploring separations and divorces.”
Dolly Thakore, who was divorced from theatre person and adman Alyque Padamsee years ago when their son Quasar was only two-and-a-half, says in hindsight she thinks it's better for couples stuck in unhappy marriages/relationships to go their own ways. “It’s definitely better than people stuck in miserable marriages who then carry that negativity onto other spheres of their life,” she says, admitting to being initially hurt and angry with Alyque. “I was doubly protective of Quasar and tried very hard to shield him.”
Dolly rubbishes talk of an exulting ex. “I think this is a creation of the gossip mongers. If those involved are grown-ups they might hardly mull over these things.” Reminiscing her separation, she says, “That feeling of loss and acrimony doesn't totally go away but over a period of time, one learns to live with it and move on.”
She remembers how she would spend all her time by her late ex’s bedside when he was sick. “We had not reached a zone when all the bitterness was a thing of the past. He needed me and I was happy to be there.”
Xavierite and adman Alyque was born into a traditional Kutchi Khoja Muslim family in the furniture business. He married the much elder divorcee Pearl Padamsee, who had two children, Ranjit and Rohini, from her earlier marriage. The couple had two children, Raell Padamsee (who runs her own theatre company) and Rahul Padamsee. The couple separated following his extended and committed relationship with Dolly. Then, Alyque separated from Dolly and married Sharon Prabhakar, with whom he has a daughter, Shazahn Padamsee.
Quasar, who schooled in Rishi Valley, remembers “being cured from all notions of victimhood because I came from a broken family”. According to him, things got better when he turned 14. “I’d credit a lot of that to Sharon, who went out of her way to be friendly. That changed my mother's attitude too. The arrival of Sharon and Shazahn changed things completely,” he remembers and laughs, “You can hate the creator but not his product. This was my sibling and I felt a really strong bond.”
He admits the 16-year gap between him and Raell hasn’t allowed him to be as close to her as he is with Shazahn. “But I felt very special that Pearl made me a part of her last production. She was very generous and patient and often gave me sound advice.” While the family meets for get-togethers and dinners regularly, Dolly says neither she nor Alyque brought up the past. “We were always consciously warm and polite.”
Nearly 1,000 km from the tony South Bombay neighbourhood of the Padamsee residence in the salubrious HMT Layout in Bangalore, Bharatnatyam danseuse Vani Ganapathy has always maintained a dignified silence about her break-up with actor Kamal Haasan. The celebrated filmmaker and actor, of course, has been quite open about the five women in his life.
Repeated break-ups have led him to stop believing in the institution of marriage, he has said. “I prefer live-in relationships to marriage,” he once told a reporter and added, “Marriage gradually starts tasting like food gone bad.”
Vani says she moved on and devoted her life to dance. “Wherever Kamal is, I wished him well.” That was till Kamal claimed that her alimony had left him bankrupt. The danseuse was furious. “Why bring this up 28 years after? I would've understood if he had said what he did soon afterwards when the hurt was still fresh, but why talk when we had moved on?”
She says she only spoke once to set the record straight. “I didn’t want it assumed that anything in my house was bought with his money. I’ve worked really hard to put my house and life together.” Vani has only met Kamal once, purely by chance. “He was promoting a film and I saw him at a hotel, walking along the pavement. It felt surreal.”
As a beginner in moviedom, Kamal began seeing yesteryear actress (and several years older) Srividya, with whom he starred in several Malayalam and Tamil movies in the ‘70s. But the affair (leading to a movie, Apporva Rangangal, based on their radically non-conformist affair) resulted in so much gossip, that it ended.
He then married Vani, a distant relative. This lasted a decade till he met Sarika on the sets of the multi-starrer, Raj Tilak (1984). The light-eyed actress gave up her career to move to Chennai, devoting herself to her two children from Kamal, setting up home and designing costumes for Kamal’s films (her designs for Hey Ram got her the National Award).
After the couple married years later, Kamal fell for co-star and Sarika’s close friend, Gouthami. There are conflicting reports on whether Sarika knew this or not, but Gouthami, tired of this ménage à trois, went to find love and marriage elsewhere. Later, film magazines had field day chasing him about his intimacy with the much younger co-star Simran Bagga. This was the proverbial last straw that saw Kamal and Sarika divorce in 2004. When Simran, moved on and got married, Gouthami returned to Kamal’s life with her daughter from her first marriage. He supported her in her battle with cancer and she now lives with Kamal, her daughter and his two daughters from Sarika — actors Shruti and Akshara.
While Sarika refuses to speak, those close to her remember how the divorce impacted her initially. “She had not had the best of childhoods and was left to fend for herself in the big bad world of Bollywood by her mother. So when she fell in love with Kamal, she had given it her all,” says a close friend and senior journalist who prefers anonymity. “She has since been able to make her peace with the way destiny played its cards.”
He recounts how warmly Sarika greeted Kamal at the audio release of Shamitabh (which starred their daughter Akshara, along with Dhanush and Amitabh Bachchan). “She is now in quite a tranquil space and doesn’t need the pettiness of taking pleasure in her ex’s misery.”