Happy Thursday! It’s too bad this family is so nice, makes for a kind of dull Hindi Film 101 series. But at least now we have gotten to the interesting people, Tanuja and Kajol. Well, exciting might be a better term. Nutan was plenty interesting too. (don’t forget to go to the end and vote for what you want to read about next!)
Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know these people or have any special knowledge, everything I am about to say may or may not be true. But this is the generally accepted gossip and speculation about them, and if you are new to the films or somehow missed this part of the story, it might be helpful to learn it.
In my last section, I talked about Nutan, the Great Actress of the Samarth family. Bigger than her mother, because Shobhna was working back before the industry was really established. And also bigger because she just took it more seriously. So seriously that it was hard for the rest of her family to understand her. Her mother had loved to act, and been ambitious and wanted to do well. But she had also enjoyed it and enjoyed her life, going around with her co-stars, laughing and joking in dressing-rooms, parlaying her connections into a production house and a couple of grand debuts for her daughters. Nutan, on the other hand, would have long discussions with her directors about the motivation of her characters and so on. And she became known for her sensitive portrayals of dignified damaged characters.
Shobhna had 4 children, 3 daughters and a son. Nutan was the oldest by 7 years. Tanuja came next. Then Chatura came along when Nutan was ten. Nutan essentially raised Chatura, taking care of her while her mother worked. And then Jaideep, the only son, born shortly before Nutan was launched at age 14, and by the time he could remember things, at age 4, Nutan was already overseas at her Swiss finishing school (where her mother sent her so she would fatten up and get “pretty”).
Nutan had 7 years of being the very very spoiled only child. Not a big surprise that she had a hard time with Tanuja, taking away her status. Maybe they would have become closer over the years as Nutan matured and came to feel responsible for her younger sister, but Chatura ended up taking that position. And by the time Tanuja was old enough to build a real bond with her older sister, as equals, Nutan was already working and at school. She came back just in time for Tanuja’s launch and life as a young woman, and then married and left the home and cut off contact with the family.
(Tanuja on the left, Nutan on the right.)
It’s possible that if the timing had been different in their lives, the two sisters would have been close. Maybe it there was a smaller gap between their ages, or a larger gap between Tanuja’s birth and Chatura’s. Or if Nutan had been around more during her teenage years, when the two oldest sisters could have bonded as the “two oldest”. But maybe not. Their personalities were just poles apart. And both of them becoming actresses just made it worse.
The thing about Tanuja is, she’s fun! She was when she was young, and she still is now. She gives fun interviews and goes to parties and events. And when she was young, she would play light-hearted fun characters onscreen, and then go out drinking with her co-stars afterward. She was the only woman that Raj Kapoor saw as a drinking buddy, not a potential conquest or a female ideal.
Tanuja started working young, just like Nutan, and was launched by her mother, just like Nutan. Her first movie as a heroine came out when she was 17, meaning she probably started working on it at 16. She hit it big at 18. Well, “bit”. While Nutan came to be appreciate as one of the all time great actresses, with whole movies based solely around her characters, Tanuja stayed pretty much in the “fun pretty love interest” kind of character. But that’s a harder character to play than it looks. And when she occasionally branched out, like in the character drama Anubhav (watch if you want to see Cassavetes done in South Bombay), she impressed the critics.
Tanuja could have probably had the same career as Nutan, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun. If you are a Great Actress, you can’t go drinking with Raj Kapoor after work. Although Tanuja did branch out in a different way, taking a leap into the new Bengali cinema scene. I say “new”, because there was an established Bengali cinema scene pre-Independence, and then it kind of got shaken up and reformed in the 60s-70s. Tanuja came in on this new era, and learned and spoke her own lines, which is pretty impressive considering she had no Bengali in her background.
I assume it was that Bengali experience that made her close to Shomu Mukherjee. As I talked about in the Mukherjee post, Shomu was the grandson of a producer and the brother of two successful actors. He himself ended up as a director/producer type. The whole family was quietly modestly successful. But Shomu was even more quiet and more modest in his success than others. Worked in Bengali and Hindi films, never had a huge hit, but made a living at it. Part of that general film fraternity family, one of the people you never saw in a fan magazine, but all the people in the fan magazine would have known. So there’s Tanuja, a person who likes people, moving between the Bombay and Calcutta film scenes, and there’s someone she would have known from the Bombay scene popping up in Calcutta where she doesn’t know anyone, it’s not surprising that they became close.
Tanuja was in no hurry to get married, just like Nutan. Nutan kept her navy officer waiting for 2 years, Tanuja didn’t get married until she was 30. But as soon as she was married, baby! Baby Kajol. And just like Nutan, post-baby she took a good long break. 4 years, until Kajol was in school. And then another break after Tanisha came along, just two years this time.
(The family, around the time Tanuja was seriously back to work. Doesn’t seem to have bothered her daughters much, they look happy)
After marriage and babies, Tanuja didn’t work as much, no multiple heroine parts in the same year. More character roles. But she kept working, straight through. In the 80s, her marriage kind of fell apart, in a non-spectacular manner. Suddenly she and her husband were living apart, and if she was asked, she would say they were separated, no “oh no, it’s just because the house is being fumigated” nonsense. So far as I can find, Tanuja never had another romance. She was just done with being married like that and ready to be happy with her work and her daughters. She still is happy with her work and her daughters, at age 73 she still has the occasional movie coming out, and you hardly see her in public without one if not both of her daughters smiling on her arm.
And then there’s Kajol! I assume we mostly know Kajol’s story? The big thing I want to point out about it is how much she fits a pattern. I said back at the beginning that this was one of Hindi films few matriarchies, and it’s true. And as a matriarchy, the women tend to plan their own lives, and to plan their own lives on similar patterns.
Shobhna-Tanuja-Nutan-Kajol. All of them chose to act, because they were ambitious and wanted to. All of them got married in the middle of their careers. All of them (except Shobhna) took 2-4 year maternity breaks after each child, and then went back to work. All of them combined a great naturalness onscreen with performances so skilled as to be invisible. Nutan and Kajol are tied for the most FilmFare awards ever won by an actress. Shobhna and Tanuja both happily separated from their husbands and lived life as single-women. I suppose Kajol still might, but it seems unlikely. Nutan never came close.
The thing I am most interested in with this “matriarchy” is that they all started so very young, with the support of their mothers. Kajol was only 15, had to take a break from high school for her first shoot. And then she got addicted and never really came back. She was a major star by 18, and engaged by 22. Married at 25, and then in the one big public heartbreak, had a miscarriage at 27. The press found out she had gone into and out of the hospital, and suddenly all the world knew what had happened. But then Nyssa came! 2 years later. And Kajol took the traditional break from filming. Returned, got pregnant again, took another break, and then returned again.
Nyssa is 14 now, and I saw an interview a couple years back where Kajol talked about how she wanted her to start working soon. That she thinks it is the right thing, the good thing, for her to start her career early and learn the value of hard work. I don’t know if I have heard another actress say that. Including Sridevi, who similarly started young and has two daughters soon to be launched. But Nyssa would be the 4th generation of actresses in this family, and they all started young and worked hard and built good strong independent lives for themselves. So, why not?
One thing that will be different for Nyssa is who her father is. Kajol married within the industry, as did all the Samarth women except Nutan. But she is the only one who married a man whose fame equals her own and whose power exceeds it. Ajay Devgan is from another one of those film families that is unknown to fans, but well known to insiders. But a less glamorous one. And a much less old one. His father, Veeru Devgan, started out as a stuntman. And eventually migrated to the more respectable position of “stunt coordinator”. Ajay remembers a childhood of being sometimes hungry, sometimes without a roof over their head, sometimes without money for school fees. You can see that now, if you look at his smile. The man has the worst teeth I have ever seen! Not just bad like you get if you don’t have braces as a child, but bad like you get if there is some minor malnourishment in there too. Shahrukh’s family wasn’t rich, he didn’t have capped teeth or fancy orthodontist work. But you can see he never went hungry.
(Thank you twitter!)
Ajay started acting at 22. And his first release (Phool Aur Kaante) made waves as the first film to beat an Amitabh movie at the box office since 1974. He started out on top, and he’s never really fallen below that. Sure, there were periods when his movies were less popular, but he was always A Star, always someone to be noticed, always a power in the industry. And with his branching into production a few years back, he now has the kind of power that no Samarth has had since Shobhna in the ’50s. Even the Mukherjee side has fallen behind, the studio hasn’t had a house star or a house director since the 70s. Ajay can produce and star in his own films, and guarantee a decent opening. Maybe not a major record breaking opening (that was the problem with Shivaay, it was a good opening, but it needed to be major), but a good one. And Nyssa is known equally as Kajol’s daughter and Ajay’s. Her father has been bringing her to premieres and on film shoots her whole life.
Kajol’s marriage breaks the pattern in another way, for once the rumors aren’t about the Samarth woman leaving her husband, but the other way around. I will repeat the rumors, but I have no way of knowing whether or not they are true. Because it’s too recent, with the older gossip you either have people who just don’t care any more and will tell the truth about happening (Raj Kapoor and Nargis), or people who have no reason to lie any more so we can assume nothing really did happen (Rishi Kapoor and Dimple), or we can all just give up and decide that we will never know the truth for sure (Amitabh and Rekha). But with the recent stuff, it’s all so hazy-crazy! Could be anything really. Rumor has it that Ajay stepped out on Kajol with Kangana, and possibly others. But even the rumors don’t say he was in love with those women, the most it was ever rumored to be was an affair of convenience. Which he ended immediately once the woman asked for something serious, because he is never ever ever leaving Kajol.
And then there’s Tanisha! Kajol’s younger sister. She had a bit of an odd launch. Well, Kajol did too, but that was back when everyone had odd launches, random films that they signed and shot all in a bunch. But Tanisha came out in the era when launches were planned and first-second-third films were carefully chosen to build on it. But not Tanisha! Her first movie, Ssssssshhhhh, was a horror film with great songs and Dino Morea, a well-known b-grade actor on the way up. Her second movie, Popcorn Khao! Mast Ho Jo was a terrible rom-com with no name actors at all. And her third movie was Sarkar, a brilliant artsy Ram Gopal Verma film in which she had a fairly significant and interesting role.
(I also think Tanisha looked great in Ssssshhhh. She lost a lot of weight before her next role, and ended up looking very different, which I thought was a shame)
Oh, and Neal ‘n Nikki of course. Which I encourage you all to see. It’s got some stupid sex farce elements, okay, it’s got A LOT of stupid sex farce elements. But it’s also got some really clever meta-commentary about Indian film. And a super catchy soundtrack. For the Mukherjee-Samarth family, it was important because Tanisha started seriously dating her co-star, Uday Chopra. Which just shows how incestous the industry is, since Uday’s older brother ended up married to Tanisha’s second cousin Rani. Uday and Tanisha didn’t last thought. Neither did Tanisha’s career, they both just kind of fizzled. Tanisha had a brief resurgence in 2013 when she was a contestant on Bigg Boss (Big Brother type show with celebrities). She even had an onscreen romance, with her co-star Armaan Kohli, much older failed actor with abuse allegations in his past. That fizzled out too, once filming was over. And now she seems to be just working for the family, as needed. Helping Ajay with producing, accompanying her mother to events, and so on. Which matches better with the Samarth-Mukherjee way of doing things. They were never really the kind of people who went on reality television and built their careers on scandal. But they were always the kind of people who pitched in behind the scenes and helped out the family.
Okay, I need ideas! This is one of those fill in the blank type deals, I’ll give you the categories, and then you have to pick one and tell me what I should write about:
- “I want to read about a scandalous actress, like ___________”
- “I want to read a big concept history of an issue in the film industry, like ___________”
- “I want to read about a multi-generation family in the industry, like __________”
- “I want to read a story about Amitabh, like __________”