Ever wondered about those extremely gifted souls who have to live under the shadow of their awesome ‘other.' A sister, a spouse, or a parent who’s already made legendary inroads into creative fields always proves a stumbling block? This thought came to me when I once spoke to a lovely lady named P.S Bharathi who has edited that amazing piece of cinema called Rang De Basanti and her husband’s other films. It took me a while to figure out she’s the very gifted director Rakeysh Mehra’s equally gifted wife quietly doing her super-work. “We never knew she was Rakeysh’s wife even though she came on the sets practically every day,” said Madhavan who plays one of the memorable characters in Rang De Basanti.
“Better that way, don’t you think?” Rakeysh answers when I ask him why Bharathi’s spousal identity is being kept under wraps. “The minute you say she’s my wife Bharathi’s talents are qualified and eclipsed.”
That’s been the case with many families of super-achievers. Take Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s gifted sister Bela Segal. She has edited all the four masterpieces by her brother. Not for one did she receive any award for editing. I was with Bela at an awards function where, once again, her work in Black was ignored. She had a sense of humour about her precarious predicament. “This was my fourth and last chance,” she whispered to me as she saw someone else go up on stage for the editor’s award. “I’m directing my own film now. So no more editing. Never mind. Today was Baqr-Eid. And I was made Bali ke bakra.”
Scapegoats? Why’s the super-achiever’s equally-talented kin reduced to being a wannabe? My friend Sanjay Bhansali feels extremely guilty. “Sometimes I feel I’m the biggest enemy in my sister’s life.” It’s like God decides, one family can have only one Lata Mangeshkar. So her sister Asha Bhosle needed to move out of her family domain to painstakingly carve a niche of her own. “I know for a fact that if I had been born in another family, and not the Mangeshkars, I’d have not been subjected to these constant no.1, no.2 kind of comparisons,” Ashaji had once said to me. No wonder she found an equally kindred and potentially smothered spirit in Rahul Dev Burman.
RD was constantly compared with his father, the mighty Sachin Dev Burman and found to be wanting. “You’ll be surprised to know that Pancham (RD) composed several well-known songs for his father’s soundtracks and let the producers pass them off as the senior Burman’s tunes. It was a manner and matter of survival,” Ashaji confides.
When you are a second-generation Burman or a sibling to the mighty Mangeshkar, you are bound to be compared and treated unfavourably. Even Lataji admits producers have been unfair to her gigantically accomplished brother Hridayanath. “I never sought work for him. He’s too self-respecting to use my name to get work. I’d say my presence has harmed him more than helped him. It’s said nothing can grow under a banyan tree. I’m that tree in my brother’s life,” the Nightingale is sorrowed.
RD was lucky. He got away from his shadows. Hridayanath couldn’t. Does it make him any less talented? It’s a hard life for those who have to live under the shadow of greatness. Ask Tanuja, the spunky spirited and spontaneous mom to Kajol. Tanuja was fortunate enough to have the legendary Nutan for a sister. But did it help her career to be known as Nutan’s sister? Not one bit! Apart from stray opportunities to prove herself (Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav, Govinda Saraiya’s Priya) Tanuja’s career remained eclipsed by the great Nutan. No wonder Kajol is so fond of her Asha-tai. Somewhere she sees her mother’s image in this spirited actress’ defiant attitude to stardom and its fugitive nature.
The success equation becomes even more spaced out when it comes to spouses. I know of so many wives in filmdom who are unhappy being in their husband’s shadows. There’s this extremely well-known character-actor whose wife actually throws his award-winning trophies in his face—literally!—each time he wins one, just to remind him how much she has given up to me his Mrs. Notice how rebellious these creatures in the shadows get? RD vented his anger and bitterness in mutinous melodies. Asha Bhosle sang naughty, saucy, sexy songs to establish an identity different from her supreme sister.
But after making one attempt at stardom in superstar-jeejajee Rajesh Khanna’s company in Shakti Samanta’s Anurodh, Simple Kapadia was happy designing clothes for sister Dimple’s friends. Aamir Khan’s brother Faizal was given a hand-up by his star-bro in Dharmesh Darshan’s Mela (Aamir played Veeru and Faizal played Jai from Sholay). Nothing happened.
Not all the eclipsed wannabes are happy being in the shadows. They forge a path away from the arc-lights. Sharmila Tagore, Madhuri Dixit, Smita Patil, Nandana Dev Sen… their sisters wisely kept away from the movies. Lucky that Farhan Akhtar’s sister Zoya wasn’t punished for her brother’s success.