At Vilasrao Deshmukh’s funeral in Latur, it was once more a tableau of changing equations. Nowhere in sight was someone like Subhash Ghai who was once so close to the Deshmukhs that many of us knew Riteish — long before he became an actor — only through the filmmaker. A starstruck young man who was an architect by profession, Riteish Deshmukh (in pic) had gone along (as the chief minister’s son he was welcome everywhere) to the Rajasthan shoot of Ghai’s Yaadein merely as a spectator. We met him and got to know him well only through Ghai’s parties. However, even when he later signed on Tujhe Meri Kasam, his first film, Riteish continued introducing himself as an architect, unsure of what reception he would get as a mere actor. But he remained in awe of Hindi films and film stars, especially Shah Rukh Khan whom he openly idolised.
The Deshmukh-Ghai connection grew over the years, culminating in the curious property deal through which Subhash Ghai set up the ambitious Whistling Woods Institute (WWI). Riteish also did films like Apna Sapna Money Money for Ghai’s banner. But ever since the controversial WWI came under the scanner, the Deshmukh-Ghai equation has been greatly disturbed. Otherwise you’d have found Ghai at the forefront at Deshmukh’s funeral, conducting himself like a self-styled showman.
Also missing was Ram Gopal Varma who had gone along with Vilasrao and Riteish when the then CM visited Taj Mahal hotel after the 26/11 bloodbath. In the controversy that followed the much-televised trip, Vilasrao lost his chair once more, never to regain it again.
And so in the changing equations, Subhash Ghai and Ram Gopal were not the big Bollywood names that the TV cameras captured. Instead, there was a shift to newer figures like Karan Johar (Riteish is very close to the SRK-KJo clique) and Sajid Khan (director of three Riteish starrers including this year’s Housefull 2). The cameras didn’t show it but it was richie-rich builder and film producer Vashu Bhagnani who had organised a chartered flight that took Sajid Khan and others to Latur. As most film people know, Vilasrao’s youngest son, Dhiraj, is married to Vashu’s daughter, Honey, making the Deshmukhs and Bhagnanis one big family. Since Sajid Khan is poised to direct Himmatwala for producer Vashu Bhagnani (the long 50-day schedule, which kicks off next week, has been planned in Hyderabad with Ajay Devgn in the lead), he too has become a part of the extended family.
With Genelia D’souza joining the clan as Riteish’s wife, the Deshmukh-Bhagnani-D’souza family tree is an interesting one and still growing.
On the other hand, one hears that at least two famous directors are reducing their families by distancing themselves from their respective wives. When Imtiaz Ali, director of Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar, recently took off on a holiday to Europe with his daughter, he was excited to be taking the break. He, however, studiously avoided mentioning wife, Preeti, and looked uncomfortable when I asked him if she’d be with them too. “No, no, just my daughter,” he clarified. Imtiaz is a quiet man who slinks away from cameras whenever possible, to avoid red carpet bytes and posing for pictures. He is not one of those directors who shoot their mouths off and prefers to stay below the radar. Which is perhaps why few know (certainly nobody in the media is aware of it) that all’s not well in the Imtiaz-Preeti marriage which was a fantastic example of communal harmony while it lasted. Imtiaz himself is not inclined towards serious religion and sports a kada from the Golden Temple while Preeti, an efficient production person, was never one of those celebrity wives who keep hanging on to the spouse’s arm. In fact, she worked independently and never with her husband. What a shame that the marriage has run into rough weather.
In complete contrast to Imtiaz’s low profile personality is Golmaal, Singham and Bol Bachchan director, Rohit Shetty, Ajay Devgn’s close buddy. There’s a strong whisper that his marriage too is facing turbulence. Is this the price of undreamt of commercial success? Because there is an attendant whisper that it is Rohit’s growing — and discomforting — closeness to one of his recent leading ladies that’s putting the pressure on his marriage. It’s a surprise that the gossip-oriented dailies and glossies haven’t caught either story so far.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal