There is no better measure of how much the Hindi film industry has changed over the decades than its attitude to love affairs. In the good old days, no movie star would ever admit to being in a relationship. Lovers were routinely dismissed as “just good friends”; no actress would ever confess to having a boyfriend or being less than virginal; and actors hid their wives away from public view lest their married status detract from their desirability as heroes.
Dharamendra’s affair with Hema Malini may have been common knowledge but the couple never spoke honestly about their feelings. Not once did Zeenat Aman refer to Dev Anand as anything other than her mentor and guide in her interviews, even though they were romantically involved. And more recently, Aamir Khan was already married to his childhood sweetheart Reena Dutt when his debut film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak released, but he pretended to be single for public benefit.
It was taken as a given that stars never spoke honestly about their relationships or gave away too much of their emotional lives in interviews. The whole world may know the truth but the stars themselves were committed to being as noncommittal as possible.
No longer. The tide has well and truly turned in the world of celebrity love affairs. These days you can’t open a newspaper or magazine or watch an entertainment television channel without being bombarded with too much information about the love lives of our stars.
And no, it’s not gossip columnists who are dishing the dirt as it was in more innocent times. Now the actors and actresses themselves bare their souls in tell-all interviews about their romantic lives, with no detail spared. Where they met; how they fell in love; their hopes for the future; it’s all there, laid out obligingly for public consumption.
This generational divide is best seen in the example of the Kapoor family. When Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh were the reigning romantic pair of the film industry on-screen, they always dutifully denied the fact that they were lovers off it. Right up to the time they got engaged and then married, both parties coyly refused to discuss their relationship, falling back on the usual denials and half-truths.
Contrast this with the way their son Ranbir Kapoor’s love story with Deepika Padukone has played out in the media. The newly-minted couple never tires of giving joint interviews in which they can sing each other’s praises and tell us how much in love they are. They are happy to be seen cuddling up to each other in public, they appear together on television programmes to talk about their relationship – and oh yes, to plug their movies.
Sorry to be a tad cynical here but the desire to drum up good publicity also seems to be a significant factor behind this new-found honesty. Nobody disputes that Ranbir and Deepika are madly in love with one another (God knows they say so often enough) but the truth is that they are a much bigger story together than they would be individually. And both Ranbir and Deepika – who have been linked to Sonam Kapoor and Yuvraj Singh earlier in the gossip columns – are canny enough to capitalise on this.
As the saying goes, the whole world loves a lover. But everyone loves a good love story even more. Why else would Salman Khan who has always kept schtum about his girlfriend Katrina Kaif, finally come clean just before the release of their latest film? Suddenly the man who threatened violence if anyone as much as mentioned Katrina is confiding in all and sundry about his marriage plans.
Such cynical considerations aside, there is no denying that the stars of today are far more forthcoming about their private lives. A pretty classic example is Kareena Kapoor, who has never kept her love life under wraps. She always spoke candidly about her feelings for Shahid Kapoor, discussed her break-up with him dispassionately, and is now happy to reveal that she is madly in love with Saif Ali Khan and hopes to marry him a few years down the line.
And Kareena is fairly typical of this new generation of film stars who refuse to hide their relationships behind bland denials. Bipasha Basu and John Abraham have been completely upfront about their relationship, as has Preity Zinta about her involvement with Ness Wadia (the two are even business partners in the IPL franchise they own jointly). And Sushmita Sen’s long list of boyfriends / live-in lovers is now legend.
In some ways, this honesty is a reflection of the confessional culture that characterises our times. This is a generation that doesn’t believe in holding anything back; that revels in letting it all hang out. So, why should our film stars be any different?
But sometimes when you’re inundated with all this information about the love lives of our celebrities, don’t you long to escape to those simpler times when stars refused to go much further than ‘no comment’? While there is no denying that honesty always trumps hypocrisy, sometimes familiarity does nothing more than breed boredom.
Say what you will about the stars of yesteryear. They may have perfected the art of lying through their teeth but in the process they managed to surround themselves with a certain mystique. There’s a lesson in there somewhere for the stars of today.