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Star wives with working lives
celebrity circus

Everybody has heard of filmmaker Mani Ratnam but only those in the South know his wife Suhasini is a National Award winning actress and a filmmaker in her own right. As in all opposites- attract cases, Mani is the one who is difficult to interview because he answers in monosyllables while Suhasini is articulate, talkative and has an opinion on most things related to her craft. She graduated from a film school and she broke rules even then by qualifying as a cinematographer. But with actor Kamal Hassan’s genes in her (she is his niece) she soon found herself facing the camera and went on to win national awards and much acclaim for her performances.

So has she put away the make-up kit to be Mani Ratnam’s wife? It transpires that along with her husband, Suhasini may run Madras Talkies, Mani Ratnam’s production house which made the recent Raavan, but that does not mean she has given up her acting ca-reer. Again, a fact known only to those in the South.

“Who says I’ve given up acting? I do at least four films a year,” she laughed as we met over breakfast at the hotel she was staying in. “Mani laughs every time he hears someone ask me, ‘Don’t you miss acting?’ Because he sees me with make-up on every morning and leaving for the studios.”

It’s wonderful that at least some successful men make way for their wives to blossom instead of the archaic Rishi Kapoor thought of, “Neetu doesn’t need to work.” Recently, when Rishi and Neetu did Do Dooni Char, a sweet warm film, it was stressed upon in every interview that she didn’t need to work and had done this only as a one-off experience because it caught her fancy. Otherwise, Neetu’s more than content being at home, we were repeatedly told. Yeah, fine, nobody doubted that because nobody thought Rishi or Ranbir Kapoor was broke and that Neetu “needed” to work.

That’s why it’s heartwarming when you meet a woman like Suhasini who has a life of her own, besides being the wife of a much-feted man. Mrs Mani Ratnam was in Mumbai as a member of the all-women jury for the Mumbai Film Festi- val organised by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (Mami), a Reliance initiative. One mentions that because Reliance, which funded Raavan, figured in Suhasi- ni’s interview that morning when we talked of the debacle of Raavan. It is ap- parently still too raw a wound as she pertly declared that the failure of Raavan was a media perception. “If the collec- tions were really that bad, we wouldn’t be working with Reliance again for our next movie. Yah, we are working with Reliance again.”

Fortunately, apart from those celebrity wives who claim to be working women when they become “designers” (for interiors, clothes and jewellery), a few couples in Mumbai don’t look at a woman’s career solely as something she “needs” to do to keep the kitchen fires burning. Two names straightaway would be that of Rajku- mar Hirani (yes, the man rolling in crores after two successful Munna Bhai films and one 3 Idiots) whose wife Manjeet con-tinues to be a pilot. She didn’t get grounded because Raju is doing well and now she doesn’t “need” to work. Similarly, Raju’s constant producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, also an immensely successful man, has never come in the way of wife Anupama Chopra’s career as a journalist. Anu is a familiar face on NDTV.

Where the husband’s work profile does make the wife stumble is when it comes to reviewing a film made by the spouse. Suhasini hosts a very successful programme called Hasini Peshum Padam (Hasini Talks Movies) on Jaya TV where she brings all her experience as actress and filmmaker to the table and dispassionately reviews films every week. But no, when it came to Raavan, she stepped aside and gave the job to a senior film critic. “It wouldn’t be fair,” commented Suhasini, “because I have been with Raavan from its inception. It would be like evaluating my own child.”

Anupama Chopra had a similar experience. When husband Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya was released, she got Suhel Seth to review it for her programme. He not only critiqued the film but also lambasted it. And since it was her weekly show, Anu had to keep a straight face, say “Thank you, Suhel” and continue with the rest of the programme!

Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal

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