Pati, patni aur woh
Even after Shatrughan Sinha married Poonam, he continued his relationship with actor Reena Roy, says Bharathi S. Pradhan in this extract from her new book on Sinha
- Published 20.12.15
“It was not only a certain actress who had entered my life,” he disclosed. Like comic book hero Archie who bought “You’re the only one” cards by the dozen for each of his “steady” girlfriends on Valentine’s Day, SS [Shatrughan Sinha] was unabashedly “going steady” with more than one girl simultaneously. The list tumbled out. “I was also going steady with a tall, very well-educated corporate executive who was a south Indian Brahmin, another short little girl who is now married. I had many friends then. I have been very fortunate that most of my girlfriends were very fine young ladies. What all of them had in common was that they were willing to let me go if I was leaving them to marry Promi. To this day, some of them have remained unmarried,” he added. Their single status seemed to make him feel a couple of inches taller.
After his mother had led him by the ear, he sheepishly asked Promi, “Despite knowing all that’s happening in my life, will you marry me?”
She didn’t give in on the spot. A romantic scene had to take place and it did. He smiled affectionately, “To her eternal credit, she kept her dignity by replying, ‘I’ll give you an answer if you propose to me properly’. Finally, on the terrace of Ramayan I proposed to her conventionally, on bent knee, with a rose in my hand.”
One is not sure about the other women in his life but for Reena Roy, it was a wrench. Shatrughan Sinha and Reena Roy were a popular, celebrity couple and everybody had accepted their off-screen intimacy. So when he chose to openly wed Poonam, it was a humiliating public rejection for Reena Roy. But she too, accepted his marriage without kicking up a ruckus. “She was very gracious,” said SS. “She said, ‘If it’s Promi, it’s okay. Anybody else and I’ll kill you.’”
Reena Roy had no choice but to be graceful about it especially since she and her man were still commercially in demand. Besides, he continued to stay in the relationship with her despite the change in his marital status.
It was a reality that Poonam had accepted when she became his wife. In fact, while Bipin, Subhash and all his close friends were distributing his wedding invitation to guests in India, SS and Reena Roy were together in London doing a stage show. “Yes, I wasn’t even around for the wedding preparations,” he accepted.
Two days before he wed Poonam, he was on a London stage with Reena when Kalyanji-Anandji made an announcement that Shatrughan Sinha was going back to India the next day to get married. Reena stood by his side publicly while the bride who knew just what was unfolding in London waited for her big moment in Bombay. In this very dramatic triangle, both women stood by him with Reena Roy even driving with him to Heathrow to see him off — the ultimate ego boost for a man.
But if SS expected Reena Roy to continue being devoted to him despite his marriage to another, he was in for a surprise. “After my marriage I could see her battling confusion,” he revealed. “Sometimes she would fly off to the Rajneesh ashram, sometimes stay over with someone in America. She wouldn’t talk to me for days. I could not give her the position that she felt she deserved. I couldn’t do anything about it.”
If he couldn’t, she could. Reena Roy found cricketer Mohsin Khan from across the border and married him before she could change her mind. That move hurt everybody around, including her man in Bombay. For she had not only married a good-looking, eligible bachelor with a name of his own but she had also done the unthinkable — crossed over to Pakistan for domesticity.
Unfortunately for Reena Roy, the nikah (Muslim marriage) on the rebound didn’t last even an innings and she returned to Bombay a single woman. It was rumoured that in her later battle for the custody of her daughter Jannat, it was her former lover who helped her. Jannat was finally brought to India and Reena changed her name to Sanam.
If SS had a hand in Jannat’s return to her mother, he was circumspect about it. “I don’t believe in kiss-n-tell stories,” he said seriously, the flamboyance vanishing. “To this day I think of her with respect and affection because she gave me a lot of comfort, calm and peace when I was going through the dilemma of my marriage. I will forever remain obliged to her for that. Whenever we meet, it is with dignity.”
SS’ friend Dr Upendra Sinha explained how the actor had made up his mind. “He told me, Reena loves me but Promi worships me.”
For the occasion, Mahmood Alam, SS’ friend in Patna who had factories in Firozabad, got two dozen glass bangles made to order with the names “Shatrughan” and “Poonam” inscribed on them. “They were made especially for their wedding, I don’t think you can get such bangles made anywhere in India,” Mahmood Miya said with pride. “Bhabhi ne itni chudiyon ki kadar ki (Poonam Bhabhi valued the bangles so much) that she wore them for almost twenty-four years.”
Twenty-five years later, when the bangles had broken, one by one, Mahmood Miya got Poonam’s wrist size and made another set for the Sinha couple’s silver wedding anniversary, despatching his special gift with a pilot from Sahara Airlines. “Bhabhi wrote me a letter that the occasion on which she received them made them even more special. Sonakshi would also come to my shop in Patna, pick up all the bangles she liked, wear them from wrist to elbow and say, ‘Uncle, Uncle, maine itni baangdi pehenli hai (Look, I have worn so many bangles).’”
For Poonam, the marriage that happened after fourteen emotionally heavy years, was a vindication of her everlasting belief that her devotion would one day chasten him. She was even willing to wed him on his terms which meant that she became his wife while he was still involved in a relationship outside his marriage. Karan Johar’s father, the Late Yash Johar had a stag party before the wedding; Subhash Ghai threw one after.
The wedding itself was at the Taj in South Bombay. The emotional strain Poonam was under became evident when during the saat pheras (Hindu wedding vows), the bride fainted.
When he took her home to Ramayan as his bride, there was more in store for the newly-wed Poonam as the air-conditioner in the master bedroom on the first floor inexplicably caught fire. It was put out before it could spread throughout the bungalow but the new bride felt a sense of deep foreboding and saw it as an ominous sign. It was left to her husband to reassure her that her stepping into his house was actually auspicious because it was probably her luck that had saved the whole place from catching fire.
The marriage was Poonam’s first step to getting her man to stay by her side forever, even if it meant the kind of compromise few women would willingly accept. He was still involved with Reena Roy and for quite a few years, he shunted between wife and girlfriend, a situation Poonam had walked into with eyes wide open. As the grapevine put it, “He was married here but was honeymooning there.”
What would perhaps be an unthinkable, unacceptable position for a more progressive woman was perhaps a vainglorious situation for a man who thought that a wife at home and a mistress outside was the ideal space to be in. There could be no better proof of manhood for a man whose machismo was his pride.
Extracted with permission from Om Books International from Anything But Khamosh: The Shatrughan Sinha Biography by Bharathi S. Pradhan, foreword by Shashi Tharoor; Pages 338 (290 + 48pg picture section); Price: Rs 595