Hindi Film 101: Jaya Bachchan, The Epilogue

Part 3! What happened to Jaya as her husband’s star waxed and waned, her children grew up, life moved on and she seemed to be left behind?

Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge, this is just my conclusion based on publicly available sources.

Jaya Bachchan was raised with love and support by intelligent parents, went on to hard work and success in her chosen career, found a loving boyfriend and married him, had two children almost immediately, watched her husband go on to fabulous success, enjoyed a happy homelife in the lovely house her husband purchased, went on nice vacations as a family, just general sunshine and happiness.

Jaya Bachchan Wiki, Age, Caste, Children, Family, Biography & More ...

There were a few clouds of course. The persistent rumors of her husband’s infidelity, and then his nearly fatal accident and the resulting medical issues that haunt him to this day. But no big drama, nothing that shook her life to it’s foundation. And yet, after the coolie incident, Jaya retreated more and more.

It wasn’t just a retreat from movie stardom, Jaya had already made that retreat. She was firmly and happily (it seems) in the “star wife” space. She went to the industry parties, her kids played with the kids of other film industry people, she was smiling and pleasant and people liked her. In the mid-80s, Jaya’s husband took a stab at politics which lead to dishonor and confusion. Then in the 90s, he left acting to try at creating an entertainment corporation, more failure and dishonor. And somehow in there, Jaya faded back farther and farther into nothingness.

As I always say in my disclaimers, I truly don’t know these people. Everything I am saying just how it looks to me. What I have seen and heard in these very vague rumors is that something odd is happening with Jaya, and has been happening since maybe the early 90s. She doesn’t smile as much in public, she seems odd in her interactions with Amitabh (hard to define exactly, but somehow their chemistry feels off), she gets uncontrollably angry at photographers who swarm her. And she hasn’t acted. She has been in 12 movies in the past 20 years. If she was fully retired, that would be one thing, but instead she comes back for a film here or there, difficult roles and complicated shoots, and then disappears for several years at a go. It doesn’t feel like she is being picky and only taking the best parts (there are some small boring things mixed in), and it doesn’t feel like she isn’t up to the work, it feels like sometimes she is mentally and emotionally able to do it, but a lot of the time she isn’t.

On Jaya Bachchan's Birthday, Daughter Shweta Shares Adorable Post ...

The cause of this behavior is generally accepted to be Amitabh fooling around, their marriage being dead, her heart is broken, and so on and so forth. But somehow that answer doesn’t feel right to me. Not with the way they still live together, host parties together, love their children and grandchildren together. And not with the way they first married in love, and the happy years of parenting their children. The other answer, that Jaya is perfectly happy and nothing is wrong, doesn’t feel right to me either. There are just too many photographs and moments that look wrong, and her career pattern is too uneven. Yes, she is in politics now, elected first in 2004 and again and again since then. But she is in a minor role, it takes up time but should not swallow her whole life. And that oddness was there with Jaya before 2004 as well.

So the answer that feels most right to me is a third possibility. You can disagree of course, none of us knows or will ever know the truth, you can believe that Amitabh is a hounddog and his cheating wore her down, or that Jaya just photographs poorly and is actually very happy. But to me, the third possibility that Jaya has some kind of socially unacceptable illness and the family (including Amitabh) is protecting her and helping to hide it, feels most true.

Jaya Bachchan Picture With Navya Naveli Nanda, Move Over Aaradhya ...

Let us try out, just as a thought experiment, the idea that Jaya might have, for example, depression. This is the kind of thing that would cause the film industry to close ranks around her, Karan Johar might tell sweet stories about her from his childhood but he simply won’t say anything about her in the present day. No one comments on her outbursts at papparazzi, everyone accepts without comment when she does or does not appear at events, and everyone understands that her famous relatives will not be discussing her or her part in their lives. And for her, the stress of hiding her feelings when in public causes her to shut down, not seem to connect with other people when in public. When she is healthy and in a good place, she rushes to work, to doing things, to feeling useful. And then the illness comes back and she has to retreat, no more acting, just the political work she can easily manage without feeling over-whelmed.

The same pattern might work for addiction of some kind, or a complex hormonal imbalance, or even something like chronic fatigue syndrome (although that would be less of a private matter). To me, thinking about Jaya as someone who broke from the inside, who is being protect and cared for now by the family she spent years caring for, that fits better than any external explanation. If it was Amitabh’s infidelities that broke her, why would the behavorial changes come long after the peak of the rumors? If everything is fine, then why does everything feel so very very not fine?

When Aishwarya shared a warm, candid moment with MIL Jaya Bachchan ...

What I am seeing is that the Bachchan clan, lead by Amitabh, are sheltering Jaya in their shadow now. She does not go out alone, she does not go out at all if she does not wish to. Amitabh goes everywhere, and he will take Shweta, or Abhishek, while Jaya stays home. Amitabh provides tweets and blog posts about his whole life and we don’t notice that Jaya is never revealed. The Bachchan family rules and privacy, strictly enforced by Amitabh, could be a wall built up to keep Jaya safely nestled inside.

Amitabh, Aishwarya, Abhishek and Jaya Bachchan's candid throwback ...

I don’t know if this is the case, I hope it is not, I hope my second supposition is the correct one (Jaya is very happy and just comes off grumpy in photographs), but it feels true to me.

That was short! So, as a bonus, here is a timeline of Jaya’s life:

1948: born in what is now Madhya Pradash

1963: Her first movie, Mahanagar, she played the heroine’s younger sister

1971: She graduates FTII with a Gold Medal and is launched with Guddi, and meets Amitabh

1973: She marries Amitabh

1974: Shweta Bachchan is born

1976: Abhishek Bachchan is born

1981: She returns to acting in Silsila

1983: Amitabh almost dies in the Coolie incident

1984: Amitabh enters politics

1988: Amitabh returns to acting in a script Jaya helped write, Shahenshah

1992: Amitabh retires

1996: Amitabh founds ABCL

1997: ABCL collapses, taking the Bachchan family fortune with it

1998: Jaya returns to acting and receives a FilmFare and National Award

2001: Jaya acts opposite Amitabh again in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

2004: Jaya elected to Rajya Sabha

12 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Jaya Bachchan, The Epilogue

  1. I don’t think Jaya has any illness, and I don’t think anyone is protecting her. Your statement that she never goes out alone is wrong. She’s out plenty on her own to go to Delhi to attend Parliament sessions. She has made many speeches on public issues; though nothing earthshaking or particularly insightful, she is faithfully promoting her party line and has no trouble speaking up. Compare/contrast that with the behavior of other stars who were appointed to the upper house (not elected), such as Rekha or Hema Malini. Hema campaigns for her party during elections, but otherwise i haven’t seen any reports of her making speeches in Parliament. And Rekha seemed to have been there just for decorative purposes.

    I think the family crises in the past 30-40 years is enough to try anyone. Unlike you, to me it seems that Jaya has been the one to hold everyone together to get them through the crises. The business debacle of ABCL was a huge, huge hit to the Bacchans not only financially, but also emotionally. They actually had to declare bankruptcy (a huge social taboo in India), and it is strongly rumored that’s why Amitabh came back to movies in character parts, rather than insisting for lead roles as he had done before his retirement. He also didn’t exactly retire — his market completely dried up, and he had a series of mega flops before he called it quits. Then the arrival of the KBC TV show is what really resurrected their finances, and allowed Amitabh to hold up his head again. I got back into Hindi movies in 2001, and I remember reading big public statements from Amitabh about how now they will be paying off the last of their creditors, and nobody will lose because of the bankruptcy, and how relieved he feels by that.

    I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there are huge family dysfunction issues from both Amitabh’s and Jaya’s side. Both of them are pretty much estranged from their siblings. Amitabh’s brother Ajitabh is settled in London, and there were financial fights between them even into the 2000’a. For a while Amitabh tried to pretend everything was hunky dory, but he finally acknowledge their problems, though insisting it hasn’t affected their relationship (I mean Ajitabh actually sued Amitabh over money, though I don’t recall the details now). You know that guy who’s a Rajshri standby as the parent figure? Forgot his name, but he played Tabu’s father in HSSH, and Salman’s father in MPK. Well, he’s married to Jaya’s sister, and I read some interview of his in the early 2000’s, where the reporter was trying to focus on his famous relatives and he just cut it short saying, “We don’t meet.” I’m not trying to blame anyone, just pointing out that overall, there are many family issues, besides the financial debacle which dragged on for a decade or so. You can’t just focus on Jaya-Amitabh and their kids. A “family” in India means more than the nuclear one. And even if you just focus on the four of them, there are plenty of problems there, too. Abhishek was forced to come back to India from Europe and go into the movies as a way to recoup their losses. Well, that hasn’t worked out the way they planned, and I am sure that has created its own stresses. Similarly it is pretty obvious that Shweta’s marriage has gone bust, and dealing with that is also a major stress. In addition, there is the fallout with their political mentor (again I’ve forgotten his name, sorry), who was stuck to their side for over 20 years, and whom Amitabh used to call his brother. This leads to more stress as they make sure to keep their political connections (aside from this one person) alive, and maneuver themselves inside the party to keep their power intact.

    All these things mean that their lives are very, very complicated, and what I see is Jaya who is keeping everything balanced, and probably also providing the emotional support that Amitabh, Abhishek, and Shweta need. So I think Jaya is carrying more than a full load and doing it admirably, too. Most of her “snapping” at photographers is about them becoming too familiar. It could just be that she doesn’t like the new style of “journalists” and pulls them up to follow the behavior standards of earlier times.

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    • I knew about the political and ABCL stuff, but I didn’t know about the family issues. The Bachchan’s were involved in Naina’s wedding is the last I heard, but that doesn’t really mean anything of course, being involved in your niece’s wedding is pretty much the bare minimum for a relationship. And thanks for the background on Jaya’s politics! I tried to research and understand the difference between the houses and the various elected roles, but it stumped me. I knew she seemed to be in Delhi a lot, and I’d heard about her actually proposing bills. I guess this also goes back to the discussion you and I were having on the last post about the difference between a woman going out and working, versus working for money. Jaya must get paid something for her political role, but it’s more about service than making money, just like Amitabh’s mother did service work but didn’t have a job-job.

      On Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 2:07 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. While being home during this Covid19 outbreak I decided to watch some Hindi films my sister recommended and I must say I’ve seen a lot of them in the last 20 days or so. Naturally, after watching some like K3G, Zanjeer and Sholay, Khabie Khabie, I decided to read about the actors and their lifes and BAM!!!

    I was bombarded with the whole Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha triangle and all the rumors about their dysfunctional mariage and everything under the sun. It was so much that at first I thought this affair was going on or at least was in the last decade or so. Absurd to think that it is still so present in the people’s mind that some ppl always comment how unfair it is that Amitabh didn’t marry Rekha and stayed with that “ugly, angry” Jaya. Or at least that is what most people on youtube thought when I came across some Videos.

    So, I decided to try and find some other sources and see what other people think. That’s how I came to this Blog. Now I’ll be reading some of your other posts and see what happens.

    Btw, I also read that apparently the Bachchans aren’t living together anymore so, as I said I felt bombarded with so many things…

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    • I am so glad you found my blog! i can’t tell if you are new to Hindi film, or just the Jaya-Amitabh marriage story. If you are new to Hindi film, be aware that there are very few reliable sources. A lot of information is completely fabricated, and then repeated and repeated until it becomes “truth”.

      Right now the Bachchan’s aren’t living together because Jaya was at their Delhi apartment when quarantine came down and Amitabh was in their Bombay house. Normally, they do very much life together.

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      • Oh, thank you for your reply ❤︎ I am new to the whole thing. Hindi films and this whole story. I think I had watched Sholay years ago and K3G (parts of it) and that was pretty much everything I knew. Lately I heard from my sister (we don’t see each other much cause we live so far a way) that she was watching some Hindi films and so I decided to watch some.

        I very much liked Jaya’s performance in Zanjeer and wanted to know more about her…that’s how I ended up feeling overwhelmed.

        You wrote that there aren’t many reliable sources, and from the little I have seen I agree. From the little I have been able to read, theres this feeling of ‘sensationalism’ in the media.
        So, what sources are considered reliable?

        And I know about Jaya being stranded in Delhi, but there are accounts from a former friend or sth about them not living together. I don’t know, I saw a couple of interviews and I remember thinking that Amitabh seemed very reserved and distant and she seemed more affectionate and more natural with her responses. What happened between then and now?

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        • For reliable sources, wikipedia honestly. It gets a bad reputation, but studies show over and over again that it is one of the most reliable sources you can find. Beyond that, books. It’s not that there aren’t good places to read about Hindi film, The Quint is excellent and so is Caravan magazine for instance, but they don’t like to deal in gossip. FilmFare is the respectable source for celebrity news that bases things on real interviews, but you can only see their newest editions, so you may not be able to find the story you need write now. For gossip stories, you really can trust very little. Especially avoid Quora and Youtube. It’s that lack of reliable sources that inspired me to start writing these 101s. I own a lot of those reliable book sources, and have been reading FilmFare for years and ran across a lot of old stories, so I like to pull them together and provide simple online summaries of the information.

          The most important thing to know is that certain Hindi film celebrities are also political lightening rods. Which leads to coordinated disinformation campaigns by political IT squads. Amitabh is one of those political lightening rods so when you read about him being a womanizer, or rude on set, or cheating on his wife, that is information that is artificially magnified by political tools online. Again, this would not affect the sources I list above, which is why I trust them. But anything crowdsourced (besides wikipedia) is corrupted.

          Amitabh and Jaya are not separated. Jaya is an elected politician, so she has to spend a lot of time in Delhi. Amitabh usually stays in their Bombay house. But Jaya is with him, in Bombay, most of the time. Their daughter is separated from her husband, it is possible you are running into stories about that. She and her husband have been married about 20 years, he lives in Delhi, she quietly moved in with her parents about 5 years ago when their kids went to boarding school. It seems to be a very loving separation, and there have been no moves towards a divorce, everyone still respects each other, but they are definitely not living together any more. If you see something about a secret Bachchan family separation, it is Shweta Bachchan Nanda, not Jaya and Amitabh.

          Amitabh is always reserved and distant in interviews. Again, political lightening rod. The press has been just terrible to him and he has responded by keeping firm rules for interactions and not letting anything slip in interviews. One of my books is by a scholar who wanted to write about Amitabh’s acting career and how it affected Hindi film. She approached him for an interview, and he was wonderful to her, warm and open and invited her to stay at their house. There are similar stories from other scholars, or filmmakers who come to meet him for advice, or fans. The cold dignified reserved Amitabh you see in journalist interviews is just the version of himself he lets the press see.

          If you want to learn more about the Bachchans, check out these posts: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2018/08/02/hindi-film-101-amitabh-2-0-abcl-to-kbc/

          https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2018/08/02/hindi-film-101-rajiv-gandhi-and-amitabh/

          https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2018/08/02/hindi-film-101-the-chopras-and-amitabh-part-1/

          https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2018/08/02/hindi-film-101-amitabh-and-rekha/

          https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/03/02/hindi-film-101-one-off-amitabh-from-abcl-to-mohabbatein-by-way-of-kbc/

          On Sun, May 3, 2020 at 8:39 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Off the top of my head, I don’t know of a very good Amitabh interview. I assume there is one out there, just not sure where it is. However, if you want a sense of Amitabh as person, his social media presence is a freakin’ delight. He has been on twitter and blogs and facebook since the beginning and posts obsessively, and is basically your Grandpa. Here is a post he just put up about the death of his friend Rishi Kapoor last week, you can see he is really torn up about it:

      And here’s a post from a couple years back of him goofing with his youngest grandchild:

      On Mon, May 4, 2020 at 10:35 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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