Marriage no bar
Ajay Devgan and Kajol, star couple for the New Age
A TIGHT, quiet hug was all that star-watchers and shutterbugs could extract out of Kajol and Ajay Devgan at the Screen Videocon Awards function last month. After powering their way to a double whammy at the awards by picking up the best performance trophies for their roles in Dushman and Zakhm respectively, the offscreen couple let their guard down oh-so-briefly to share a moment. And just as quickly slipped back to being what they’ve earned a reputation for: discreet.
Not that Kajol and Devgan have ever bothered to be coy about their relationship. In a notoriously fickle industry, the star pair is set to seal a three-year romance by exchanging wedding vows on February 24, according to industry buzz. Characteristically, the marriage seems to be on as low a key as their relationship was. Kajol signed on another film, Dil Kya Kare, produced by Devgan and directed by Prakash Jha. She is also tentatively slated to act in Karan Johar’s next film with Shah Rukh Khan. And has squeezed in a commercial for a cola drink where she, with the same quiet aplomb, charms a goggle-eyed gangly teenager.
Not so silent were the will-shewon’t-she-will-he-let-her questions gripping the grapevine. The knot is being tied between one of Bolly wood’s sensitive’ actors and potential producers and the actress who, after Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit, is credited with having what it takes to make the box-office counters jingle. Kajol has dazzled audiences and critics in her ascendancy to the very top last year, shoving the Karishma Kapoors and Raveena Tandons aside. Plus, she is sharing the honours with top male stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Anil Kapoor for hits like Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, Pyar to Hona Hi Tha, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and the karva chauth special Hum Aapke. Dil Mein Rehte Hain, released late last year. Even in the turkey, Dushman, where she plays her twin who gets raped and killed, she is being remembered for her histrionics.
Kajol began to rake in rave reviews for a combination of good looks and even better performances right from her first film, Bekhudi. She hit the big league with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, but has really came into her own over the last year. Her performances in films like Yeh Dillagi, starring Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan, Sapney with Arvind Swamy and Prabhudeva and Gupt, with Bobby Deol and Manisha Koirala —where she’s the ‘villian’ of the piece — established her reputation for being able to hold her own on. screen. In what is sweet irony the actress who. after the mandatory jig in the rain, seemed incidental to the plot in DDLJ, stole the show from under the noses of the redoutable Shah Rukh Khan, the glam Rani Mukherjee and two chochweet kids in Kuch Kuch...
The screen persona of tough steel wrapped in soft satin has been offset by an offscreen do-I-look-like-I-care aloofness — in the tradition of her mother, actress Tanuja, aunt Nutan and grandmother Shobana Samarth. News of Kajol's impending marriage was then greeted with considerable trepidation, as producers, no doubt, recalling visions of top actresses in the past refusing plum offers and signing away fame and success for marriage to the reigning superstar of the day. A film magazine even recently conducted a survey on whether Kajol should continue films after marriage. The results were overwhelmingly in the positive.
However, the importance of not being married in Bollywood has hardly been lost on its stars. Marriage may have a sacrosanct sheen to it in the make-believe world, but outside of it, it has been a cross few stars seem to have been able to carry, If an actor like Aamir Khan tried to shove their much married lives under their carpets so as not to upset a breathless fan following, ton actresses quietly chose the home over the film set. Jaya Bhadhuri chose to rein in her acting powess to harness her husband and superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s; Dimple Kapadia became a star overnight and Rajesh Khanna’s wife just as quickly; and popular stars like Rakhee, Mumtaz, Sridevi, Rati Agnihotri and Padmini Kolhapure stepped off the ladder and out of the reckoning for marriage. Some of them did try to make comebacks, but by then, the magic had been lost.
Even now, Juhi Chawla still coyly shrugs off talk of her being married to Jai Mehta. Tabu has been reportedly been putting off matrimony with producer Sajid Nadiadwala with every successive hit. And when gossip columns are not talking about Madhuri Dixit’s flops, they’re talking about her impending wedding plans. But, defying the deja vu, Kajol and Devgan, like any ambitious modern couple, seem set to work’ after marriage as well.
After all, this is the not-so-naughty Nineties, where it’s desirable (and safe) to be happily married and fashionable to be a proud papa. Heart throbs Shah Rukh, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Sunil Shetty flaunt their wives’ achievements and pose happily for photo-ops with their children. The sacred cow of family values has been revived with zest and style by the new sex symbols in films to suit a security-conscious new generation. Thus, like any New Age caring boy-friend who understands his woman’s needs, Devgan has merely said, I leave it (the decision to continue) to her.
Devgan’s own career has hardly seen the meteoric rise that Kajol’s has. He hit pay dirt with his very first film, Phool aur Kante, with Madhoo, but was soon faced ‘with a string of misses. Now, his choice of projects has got more discerning, with projects like Kachche Dhage, with Manisha Koirala and Saif All Khan and Takshak, Govind Nihalani’s first full-blown commercial venture co-starring Tabu and Rahul Bose. Devgan has also earned critical, if not commercial applause for his role as a music composer in Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakhm. While he is never quoted in the same breath as a Shah Rukh or a Salman, his acting prowess makes him a ‘thinking’ actor, at least within the framework of Bollywood.
Kajol and Ajay Devgan have all the makings of a power star couple on par with Nargis and Sunil Dutt and Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi. And Kajol may very well be the first to scrub off the taint of undesirability that has marked several talented actresses after marriage. After four hits and an impending wedding, she may get to keep her man and job as well. Nineties style.