Running nude publicly, having a baby out of wedlock or living in has become a way of life in Bollywood. Sumita Chakraborty finds out more about the changing mindset of the film industry.
Way back in 1974, Protima Bedi, actor, danseuse, ex-wife of Kabir Bedi and mother of Pooja Bedi, ran naked on Juhu beach in Mumbai. This was for a film magazine cover. And boy, did it create a stir in Bollywood. Eyebrows were raised, eyes rolled and of course, it really set the tongue wagging. In fact, the incident was spoken about in the industry way too much for many, many years. Protima Bedi was dubbed by a certain section of narrow-minded haters as “wild”, “wanton” and “bold”, and even though this accomplished woman went on to garner acclaim and accolades and even set up an Odissi dance ashram called Nrityagram, somehow she could never shrug off the bohemian image.
Kabir Bedi in his memoir ‘Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Journey of an Actor’ wrote, “Protima came to me in Malaysia and said, ‘I have streaked’. Streaking is somebody running naked on a stage or street, generally protesting something. I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. She said I have streaked and somebody photographed and put it in a magazine. She wasn’t telling me the truth. Later, it turned out that she did it as a publicity stunt for a magazine.”
He added, “At that time, I was shooting for ‘Sandokan’. I was offered the lead in a European television series and I wanted to make the most of it. I didn’t want it to upset my focus, so I didn’t make a fuss about it. But people could not understand how I could accept my wife streaking. How I wouldn’t walk out on her or throw her out of the house. That was the age we lived in.”
True those were the years when Bollywood was shrouded, closeted and conservative. In fact, when Kabir Bedi announced to the world that he and his wife Protima were in an open marriage, the reaction from the super shocked fraternity of Bollywood was almost comically hinging on sheer horror. The media at that time tom-tommed this and the public tut-tutted their disapproval rather vociferously.
Kabir further wrote, “We had hoped that our open marriage would set an example. That was the openness and tolerance we were trying to achieve. But in the end, it caused more anxiety than freedom and therefore it ended.”
Kabir went on to make bigger headlines by allegedly having multi-affairs with numerous heroines including Parveen Babi and Persis Khambatta. Benny Crasto, a veteran PR averred, “Those were the times when Bollywood was waking up to the wild child of the west. The song ‘Dam maro dam‘ from Hara Rama Hare Krishna became almost like a symbol of a cult and the flower child or the hippi movement blasted into the folds of the close-minded Indian film industry.
Actors at that point like Kabir Bedi, Parveen Babi, Zeenat Aman, Vinod Khanna, Mahesh Bhatt all broke the mould and shocked the film industry to the core.” Vinod Khanna and Mahesh Bhatt, if you remember joined Osho’s ashram at that time, nasty mongers within the industry scoffed that these wanton actors were promoting free living and had succumbed to a world of free sex and drugs.
India’s most iconic film magazine Stardust during that time had even hailed Zeenat Aman as “Zeenie Baby” and Parveen Babi as the “Bohemian Babi” as these heroines openly lived life on their terms. They smoked and drank without hiding their whiskey in a coke bottle, lived in with the men of their choice and in short, broke all the unsaid rules that Bollywood had laid down for its heroines. This, if you remember, was at a time when female actors like Hema Malini and Sridevi still whispered, “Ask mummy” when asked questions… and heroines insisted they were vestal virgins even when past the age of 30.
But our bohemian gang didn’t really care that they had shredded society’s many hypocritical mores into teeny-weeny bits. In fact, even before that era when the heroine of the ‘60s’, the gorgeous Sharmila Tagore thumbed her nose at Bollywood narrowness to flaunt a bikini on screen, people were shocked to the very core at such outright boldness.
No wonder, moral policing was on an overdrive and all these stars who lived open lives suffered censorship too. The conservative society of that time sniggered and poked fun at them and disparaged their “debauched” lifestyle. The media went hammer and tongs after them and many toxic articles were written against their lifestyle.
Cut to now: Life sure has come full circle. Some time ago, Milind Soman ran naked on a beach in Goa and starlet Poonam Pandey followed this up by running in the buff. The Goa police, of course, played MCP by arresting only Poonam for the act citing obscenity as grounds.
Celebrity hair stylist, Sapna Bhavnani who herself came out in the open and confessed she is gay, averred on twitter, “You can either make a woman a victim like everyone did to Poonam Pandey or hail her as a queen like you should to Protima Bedi. …Protima far better comparison to Milind than Poonam. Only for the fact that she streaked in Juhu beach way before he did.”
The film industry too has changed quite a bit. Gone are the days when heroines were pushed in the background as mere decoration. The heroines today, are strong and opinionated, and there’s no “ask mummy please” anymore. They live life on their own terms.
Look at this firebrand called Kangana Ranaut. She has raised her voice, taken up cudgels against people whether right or wrong and has dared to even expose a prominent section of Bollywood hypocrisy. She openly calls the film industry as Bollywood mafia and during the release of her film Thalaivii, posted on her Instagram: “Waiting for Bollywood Mafia to keep our political and ideological differences aside just how I don’t find it difficult to appreciate genuine art maybe they can also rise above petty human emotions and for once let art win.”
And if you think that Kangs would be ostracized and thrown out of Bollywood for her ‘in-your-face’ comments, think again, the lady is hailed as the “Queen” and currently, has many projects in hand and is even playing the host of Ekta Kapoor’s reality show ‘Lock Upp’.
As for skin show, Priyanka Chopra Jonas who has ventured westward has openly flaunted her sexy bikini avatars like so many other heroines. In fact, Sara Ali Khan, the granddaughter of Sharmila Tagore, is so comfortable in a bikini that she keeps posting pictures of herself in them on her social media.
And like her feisty grand-mom, Sara too doesn’t give a damn about trollers or haters. You see mindsets have indeed changed!
Like for instance, Arjun Rampal and his girlfriend Gabriella Demetriades announced their first pregnancy four years back. In 2019, Arjun had shared a picture of himself with Gabriella and wrote, “Blessed to have you and start all over again….thank you baby for this baby.” Arjun at that time was still married to his wife Meher. Of course, everybody was shocked and though the media bombarded them with questions, it didn’t faze the duo a bit. They continued to live their life on their terms.
Today, Arjun and Gabriella have had their second baby but they still don’t want to get married as they are happy with the way they are. In an interview to a website, Arjun said, “It was a big step both of us had taken at that time. Obviously, it was going to be scrutinized by many people on many levels. Though it doesn’t matter since you are a public person, it does affect you sometimes.”
But Arjun and Gabriella decided to enjoy the “joyous” moment of their life instead of paying attention to “what others think”. Today, Arjun’s daughters from first wife Meher come over to play with their new stepbrothers. Indeed, it is a happy space for all.
Indeed, mindsets have changed and the earlier Bollywood narrowness and hypocrisy have been pulled apart and pushed aside. What was called bohemian earlier has become for some a way of life and nobody raises an eyebrow anymore to that. All hail the new liberated Bollywood. This is indeed a place to be in.