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Brief history of Bollywood break-ups


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FOR many decades, divorce was such a taboo in Bollywood that many couples remained unhappily married – but that has all changed in spectacular fashion in the past 15 years.

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Asha Bhosle and RD Burman

With actress Esha Deol recently separating from her husband of 11 years, Bharat Takhtani, Eastern Eye decided to dive into the fascinating history of Bollywood divorces and separations.

At one stage, divorce wasn’t legally an option, only permissible under very limited circumstances. In the 1930s, married actress Devika Rani had eloped with costar Najm-Ul-Hassan, but had to reluctantly return to her producer husband, Himansu Rai, because it was impossible for women in India to divorce their husbands, even in abusive relationships. She was only able to officially exit the marriage after Rai passed away in 1940.

In subsequent decades, there were many cases of deeply unhappy stars trapped in loveless or abusive marriages because divorce was not socially acceptable or legally viable.

In the 1950s, Bollywood icons Raj Kapoor and Nargis were deeply in love, but their relationship ended because he was unwilling to divorce his wife.

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A similar story unfolded with legendary stars Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, and it was the same with Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant. In both cases, the married actors were not willing or able to divorce their respective spouses.

In 1952, a teenage Meena Kumari tied the knot with the much older filmmaker Kamal Amrohi.

By the 1960s, she walked out of her deeply abusive marriage, which included widely reported physical abuse. Despite having a series of high-profile relationships with co-stars, including Dharmendra, she never formally divorced. Even though some claimed the couple had undergone an Islamic ‘triple talaq’ separation, she remained legally married to him until her premature death in 1972.

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Esha Deol and Bharat Takhtani

When iconic Bollywood beauty Zeenat Aman married failed actor Mazhar Khan in 1985, she also found herself in an abusive marriage, but stayed with him until his death in 1998. She famously said, “During the very first year of marriage, I realised I had made a huge mistake, but decided to live by it and make it work. I tried to make it work for another 12 years. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me. There was not a single moment of happiness or joy during those 12 years. But I still tried making it work.”

Other leading ladies who bravely walked out of their respective marriages did not get officially divorced.

Popular actress Babita left her husband Randhir Kapoor, with her daughters Karisma and Kareena Kapoor, but the celebrity couple remained legally married. Randhir said, “Divorce for what? Why should we head for divorce? I don’t intend to get married again, and nor does she.” The couple would reunite years later, after living separately.

There were many cases of leading men reportedly cheating on their spouses and getting caught, but not divorcing, with Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan being the most famous.

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Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari

But all that has changed in recent years, with perhaps more celebrity divorces in Hindi cinema than ever before.

Actors and actresses who have divorced during that time include Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Arbaaz Khan, Sohail Khan, Arjun Rampal, Dia Mirza, Imran Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mahima Chaudhry, Konkona Sen Sharma, Isha Koppikar and Manisha Koirala.

Karisma Kapoor, who had previously had a broken engagement with Abhishek Bachchan, divorced her husband Sunjay Kapur in 2016 after 13 years.

Director Anurag Kashyap divorced actress Kalki Koechlin in 2015.

Meanwhile, Aamir Khan divorced his second wife, filmmaker Kiran Rao, in 2021, after 15 years of marriage.

In 2023, Rani Mukerji tried to explain the rise in divorces in Indian society and suggested that her 2006 film, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which revolved around an extramarital affair leading to separations, may have played a part.

“I think what happened with Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was that, after the film (was released), there were a lot of divorces. There were a lot of people going to the theatre and watching the film in extreme discomfort. And I think that is the feedback Karan got for his film, and I think it opened the eyes of a lot of people and they took the decision of being happy,” she said.

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Hrithik Roshan and Sussanne Khan

Meanwhile, actresses like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Shilpa Shetty, Raveena Tandon, Bipasha Basu and Rani Mukerji married divorced men, which previously would have been unheard of.

The latest star to divorce is Esha Deol. The actress married businessman Bharat Takhtani in 2012 and put a pause on her career to devote herself to family life.

But now, after having two children together, the two of them have separated.

Ironically, when Esha’s legendary actress mother Hema Malini married her superstar father Dharmendra, he didn’t officially divorce his first wife.

Their marriage in 1980 still remains mired in mystery and controversy because getting married twice without a divorce is illegal in India.

Legend has it that Dharmendra had converted to Islam for the marriage to be legalised because Muslim men are permitted to marry more than once, but both have denied the accusation.

Esha’s elder half-brother Sunny Deol has reportedly been estranged from his wife for decades, but never officially divorced. Sunny has famously been in a relationship with Dimple Kapadia for decades, and she remained legally married to Rajesh Khanna until his death in 2012, some 30 years after they had separated.

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Randhir and Babita Kapoor

Asha Bhosle recently questioned why there were so many divorces and revealed that after her first marriage broke down, she didn’t file for divorce.

She said, “I am a 90-year-old woman. I got married, had three kids. I’d take the kids to my mother’s house when things became difficult in my marriage, but I never filed for divorce. But nowadays, every month I hear about divorces. Why is this happening?”

The legendary singer remained married to the much older Ganpatrao Bhosle until he died despite the separation and then later married for a second time to music director RD Burman.

He had married a fan (Rita Patel) in 1966 and took the rare step of divorcing her five years later before eventually marrying Bhosle in 1980.

The rise in divorces has shown that Hindi cinema stars now have the freedom not afforded to previous generations and are perhaps inspiring others to leave unhappy marriages, which means more separations are likely on the way.

Actress Neena Gupta tried to sum it up when she said, “Today, young girls are financially independent and thus won’t take anything from a man. This is why divorces are happening. Earlier they had no option but to silently suffer.”


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