The Rhea Pillai affair

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  • Published 23.03.08

Does claiming to be spiritually evolved, courtesy Art Of Living, automatically absolve you of being hard-headedly materialistic?

That’s what must be asked of Sanjay Dutt’s Wife No. 2 Rhea Pillai, who has thus far carried off the act of the upper crust society girl, on a higher spiritual plane than the mortals around her. She wore this image well, not allowing it to crack even when Mahima Choudhry had protested that she had come between Leander Paes and her. Despite that transgression into another woman’s love life, by simply maintaining her exclusivity, Rhea had managed to prolong the charade to the extent that when fingers were pointing at Sanjay Dutt-Manyata, nobody even thought of questioning the legality of Rhea’s actions. She just seemed oh, so above it all.

Today, when it tumbles out that former model Rhea Pillai used her star-husband for a life of comfort, the squeaky clean, spiritual image loses some of its sheen. Details of Sanjay Dutt’s alimony settlement before he got his official divorce from Rhea (which came through only this February) were scooped last week by Mumbai tabloid Mid-day, and soon Rhea’s image was demolished.

Forget the three-bedroom sea-facing apartment and a Honda, the fact is that Rhea had moved on to another man, tennis ace Leander Paes, quite a long time ago (before Manyata came into Sanju’s life) and had a baby with him but, right until her divorce in February, she merrily had the actor foot all her shopping and mobile bills. Sanjay Dutt did the right legal thing by supporting her till the divorce was official. But what moral right did she have to his money when, as she claims, she had moved on in life?

Imagine sending whopping mobile and credit card bills (which included shopping in America for Leander’s baby) to your husband simply because he is vulnerable enough to pay up!

What is worse is that Rhea Pillai reacted to that tabloid story with viciousness, doing what she really shouldn’t have — blamed Sanjay Dutt’s current wife, Manyata, for leaking out details of the settlement.

The truth is, when the tabloid contacted her for her statement before publishing the settlement details, Rhea had self-righteously declined to comment. So when the story was published why did she go running to a rival paper to vent her spleen on Manya who was not mentioned as the source by the tabloid? Simply because the la-di-dah image had got a bashing? What is to be noted is that Rhea could only try to pull down Wife No. 3, she could not refute any substantial part of the tabloid story.

When Sanjay Dutt chivalrously rose to Manyata’s defence the next morning, the actor, who had never once talked about footing Rhea’s bills, had to reluctantly endorse the tabloid story and all the details of the settlement it had published. As Sanju has pertinently asked, if as Rhea preens, she gave up the Dutt title that Manya so desperately seeks, why didn’t she let go of the goodie bags that came with his name until this February?

Apart from showing Rhea as materialistic, in this celebrity-studded episode, the father of her daughter, Leander too, does not come off smelling of roses. After all, what kind of man allows his ‘wife’ to bill her ex-husband simply because an official divorce is still to come through?

Forget about the morality, the whole sordid affair throws up one pertinent legal question too: if the divorce came through only in February (and therefore Dutt had to bear all of Rhea’s expenses until then), and people have been talking about the legality of Sanjay’s marriage(s) to Manyata, how about the Rhea-Leander wedding? What is the legal status of that marriage where there is a child to boot? Now that the teflon coating has been rubbed off, these are uncomfortable queries that must be making the ‘classy’ Rhea Pillai/Dutt /Paes squirm uncharacteristically.

By the way, it is Sanjay Dutt who has really moved on in life. At least he has been man enough to stand by Manyata, whatever the discoveries about her past. Professionally too, he has made a clean break from the Sanjay Gupta stranglehold and has even ducked out of Alibaug, the film he had shot for last year. Irrfan Khan has replaced him. Sanju has moved on to doing films with Ashtavinayak, the banner with the big bucks. In another break from the past, his half-done Mr Fraud with Ashtavinayak has been shelved — Sanjay has a spanking new contract with them with an enhanced fee — one is on scuba-diving called Blue (co-starring Lara Dutta) and the next one is an adventure film called Lucky. He has begun life anew on a clean slate — but with his penchant for trouble, will he keep the slate clean forever?

Bharathi S. Pradhan is managing editor of Movie Mag International