The actor has struck a mahagathbandan of sorts, albeit at home, that is seeing Congress nominee from Patna campaigning in Lucknow for a SP-BSP nominee Poonam Sinha (née Chandiramani).
The Shatrughan Sinha –Poonam story has not been a fairy-tale love story that blossomed during the making of Sabak (1973). Shotgun Sinha was having another relationship that would bloom for years. The romance between Shatrughan and his leading lady Reena Roy, who went on to pair with him in many more films, was torrid and one of the most talked about romances in the 1970s.
Shatrughan and Reena Roy appeared in sixteen films together as the leading man and the leading lady. Their reel-life romance soon spilled into their real lives as they were deeply in love. Shatrughan was a bachelor when his relationship with Reena took off.
But soon after a brief split with her, following his marriage to former beauty pageant winner Poonam Chandiramani, the actor began seeing Reena again. Alarmed, the actress’s family stepped in to intervene, but she herself remained unfazed. She started neglecting her work, prompting her parents, her sister and her brother to move out of her fancy bungalow and into a poky apartment.
In all fairness to Sinha, some of his fellow actors from that era claim that he had made no false promises to Reena. According to Pawan Kumar, who was Shatrughan’s secretary for over fifteen years, his former boss’s ties with the actress were ‘complicated’. Going by Kumar’s account, it was Reena who clung to Shatrughan in spite of his marital status.
But eventually, in 1983, Reena Roy went ahead and married Pakistani cricketer Mohsin Khan – an alliance that would lead to her husband’s unsuccessful attempts at making it big in the Bombay film industry and ultimately end in divorce. Although Khan was awarded custody of their daughter Jannat (now named Sanam) immediately after their divorce, she lives with Reena of whom we have heard little after her various attempts to make a comeback in films proved futile.
As the ’80s were ushered in, Sinha’s career began going into a decline, despite the fact that his core competitor Vinod Khanna had left the industry to join Osho Rajneesh’s ashram in Pune. In 1987, however, Shatrughan delivered a surprise hit in Khudgarz. Even through the ’90s, he continued acting in films, although his appearances were now few and far between. He was slowly becoming more absorbed in politics, which would eventually become his mainstay.
Flamboyance might have taken down some personalities like Rajesh Khanna, but it was the very trait that would help Shatrughan Sinha scale new heights. That he came from Bihar, where films weren’t as big a deal as in the rest of the country, might have been something of a drawback for him, at least, initially. But he was confident and determined to make it big.
It was this attitude which would help Sinha become ‘Shotgun’ and bring him fame on the small screen as well. In 2008, he joined The Great Indian Laughter Challenge show, Season 4, as a judge on Star One TV. On 3 October 2009, he appeared on Sony Entertainment Television Asia’s show Dus ka Dum, Season 2 as host for a special episode.
He also hosted the Bhojpuri version of the popular game show Kaun Banega Crorepati on the Mahuaa channel and continues to be in the public eye with his regular ‘Rapid Fire’ column in Filmfare magazine.
Dull respectability, however, has never been the defining feature of this actor’s life. Few will forget the ripples that were created in 2010, when Sinha’s daughter stepped into films with the blockbuster Dabangg, reviving rumours of the actor’s romantic past with Reena Roy; the focus of all the gossip was Sonakshi Sinha’s apparently uncanny physical resemblance to her father’s former leading lady and love interest.
But Reena, in a series of interviews in 2012, dismissed the speculation and cleared the air by stating to Vickey Lalwani of Mumbai Mirror that according to her, Sonakshi looked very much like her mother Poonam. Reena argued that the very typical Indian look Sonakshi had sported in Dabangg on the advice of her leading man Salman Khan – quite similar to her own popular onscreen image so many years ago – had probably led to speculation.
‘When I did Zakhmee,’ Roy said in conclusion, seeking to quell the unsavoury rumours, ‘I was called Asha Parekh and Nasir Hussain’s daughter. Film industry mein toh yeh silsila chalte rehta hai. Kuch din baad khatam ho jaata hai. (This keeps happening in the film industry. The rumour dies out in a few days).’
Asked about his affair with Reena at the launch of his biography in Mumbai in 2016, Sinha reflected, “About love affairs the things which you see and feel, all those things, as I’ve said, are our experiences of life… Taking into consideration women’s dignity, my upbringing and family values, [the] feelings of my wife, daughter and sons, it is my responsibility to not say anything about anyone which will hurt the person…”
Sinha’s actress daughter, whom he is exceedingly fond of – so much so that he plans to have Sonakshi and her future husband live together with him in Ramayana, his Mumbai house – feels it is her father’s political life that has helped him tide over his failures. Sharing her views with his biographer Bharathi Pradhan, she is reported to have said, “Even if he faces a low, he’d see something positive in it and work on it. Like when the BJP lost [the] elections in 2004, he lost his ministerial portfolio. But we never saw him crying over what happened.”
Sonakshi’s loyal testimony to Shatrughan’s resilience as a survivor may be attributed to a daughter’s non-judgmental affection, but it is, perhaps, a more accurate assessment of the man’s never-say-die spirit than his opponents would ever care to acknowledge. It remains to be seen what May 23, 2019 Lok Sabha verdict has in store for Sinhas.
(Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Views are personal)