The belief that any woman, including an actress, should be married or, as some choose to describe it, “settled” before 30 has gone with the wind. 30 and single is neither a cause for worry nor a reason to scan your scalp to spot your first grey hair or for that matter strain your ears to hear the biological clock ticking. Hollywood actress-activist Emma Watson recently hit headlines worldwide when she introduced many of us to a new catchphrase, “self-partnered”. About to enter her 30s, she explained, “It took me a long time, but I’m very happy (being single). I call it being self-partnered.”
Things are definitely changing in the Hindi film industry too. Whether it is Tabu or Katrina or Kangana, they are confident in their skin, irrespective of their martial status. They may have had their share of relationships but they are not getting tangled in an emotional mess over not having tied the knot. At 48, Tabu is enjoying a resurgence of her career (Andhadhun, De De Pyar De, Bharat). Thirty-six-year old Katrina too has managed to hold her own and after years of being dubbed a pretty face, she was praised for her performance in Zero. Kangana Ranaut is 32 and invests her passion in films rather than in suitors.
Which is not to say our actresses don’t want to get married. The recent big fat Bollywood weddings of Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas, Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh, Sonam Kapoor-Anand Ahuja, Bipasha Basu-Karan Singh Grover and Neha Dhupia-Angad Bedi had one thing in common...the bride was confidently in her 30s. In fact, most of our contemporary actresses have got married on their own schedule...Rani Mukerji married Aditya Chopra when she was in her mid-30s. Vidya Balan was 34 when she tied the knot with Siddharth Roy Kapur in a traditional ceremony. Kareena was a proud 32 when she decided to get hitched to her long-time beau Saif Ali Khan. Aishwarya took the plunge with Abhishek Bachchan at the age of 33.
Now, actresses get married when they ‘want to’, rather than when they ‘have to’. Perhaps it’s partly because today leading ladies continue to find creatively satisfying work long after their twenties are in the rear-view mirror. She can now strategise her timelines to enjoy the best of both worlds. Maybe it’s also a reflection of changing societal trends. Age no longer governs eligibility.
We have come a long way from the times when most actresses followed the norm and got hitched by their mid-twenties. The late great Sadhana, one of the most glamorous heroines in the 1960s, had told me, “Actresses, like most girls in the ’50s and ’60s, shared their parents' belief that one should do films for a few years and then settle down for domestic bliss by their mid-twenties. R K Nayyar, the director of my debut film, Love In Simla (1960), was the only man I ever loved and the first man I kissed at 19. Once my parents came to know about our romance, our dating was restricted to talking to each other on the phone. I married him six years later in 1966.”
For Sadhana’s contemporary Saira Banu marrying her childhood heartthrob and screen idol Dilip Kumar was like a fairy tale come true. She was only 22 and he was 44 when they married but she was oblivious of the age difference. The marriage has weathered 53 years. Shakti Samanta’s blockbuster Aradhana sent Sharmila Tagore’s stock as an A-league star soaring in 1969...notably, she was only 25 and already married to the Nawab of Pataudi.
The classic heroines of golden age cinema — Nargis, Nutan, Madhubala and Meena Kumari too — were all married while still in their 20s. Over the years, there were some notable exceptions but the trend for early marriages continued among the heroines — Jaya Bhaduri tied the knot with Amitabh Bachchan, Raakhee married Gulzar, Mumtaz got hitched to Mayur Madhvani, Dimple Kapadia wed Rajesh Khanna, Neetu Singh married Rishi Kapoor and Kajol took the saat pheras with Ajay Devgn while they were still twentysomethings.
But today, the pressure to marry by a certain is passe among the heroes too. Grandfather Raj Kapoor married when he was 22, father Rishi Kapoor wed at 28 but Ranbir Kapoor is still single at 37. In fact, young Bollywood looks like a bachelors’ den — keeping Ranbir company are Varun Dhawan, Tiger Shroff, Arjun Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Sushant Singh Rajput and Rajkummar Rao who are all of marriageable age. They are regularly linked with women friends but the marriage certificate has not yet been inked. Long time bachelors like Randeep Hooda, Abhay Deol and Akshaye Khanna are happily in their forties but show no inclination to wed.
Among contemporary stars of either gender, age is no longer a significant Rubicon line by which time a diamond ring must be seen flashing on a finger. After all, Cupid doesn’t possess a calendar, just an arrow that strikes at will.
Dinesh Raheja is an Indian author, columnist,TV scriptwriter, and film historian. In 2017, he initiated The Dinesh Raheja Workshop in which he teaches Bollywood aspirants everything related to the media.