Bollywood is not a place for non-conformists. Women who live life on their own terms are seen as trouble-makers and shunned. And yet there are some who have overcome the shun and made a place for themselves under the sun.
1. Ekta Kapoor: She started her career as a television producer in her father actor Jeetendra’s garage. Ekta’s Balaji Telefilms soon grew into a multi-million corporate empire. Ekta singlehandedly changed the tele-viewing habits of Indians. For better or for worse, we are not saying. Eventually, she branched out as a movie producer as well. Opting not to marry, Ekta had a child through surrogacy last year. Headstrong and unshakeable in her beliefs she wears her multiple religious rings on her fingers with as much pride as she occupies the chair of the first female tycoon of the Indian television industry.
2. Sushmita Sen: She is a full-blown non-conformist which is why Aishwarya Rai who won the Miss World crown during the same year when Sushmita won Miss Universe, raced far ahead. Bollywood just couldn’t decide where to place Sushmita. They still can’t. Stunning, vivacious, uninhibited, bohemian and self-willed Ms Sen changes her boyfriends as frequently as her heart wills without worrying over log kya kahenge. She is the superstar of her own screenplay. She lives queen-size with her two adopted daughters and does her own thing although she has zero films on hand. More power to you.
3. Hema Malini: Indian cinema’s most successful female hero ever has always done what she liked. No compromises. Almost every major leading man of her times wanted to marry her. But Hema chose the much-married Dharmendra. They have been together and yet apart for 40 years now. Hema has maintained economic freedom and brought up their two daughters singlehandedly. She was very clear about one thing. She would never be a home breaker and never be called the Second Wife. Celluloid superstar, danseuse, wife, mother and politician…When you are as powerful and successful as Hema you can change the rule of social decorum.
4. Neena Gupta: At 60 Neena Gupta continues to be the impetuous hottie who can’t be boxed into any slot. At 30, Neena Gupta became Bollywood’s first unwed mother when she gave birth to her daughter Masaba with West Indian cricketer Vivian Richards. As she told me, Neena never thought of how she would bring up her child alone. It was tough. Bollywood had no place for her. And the Shyam Benegals whom Neena got to work with were known not to pay. Neena still managed to bring up her daughter with dignity. The second innings of her career started with Badhaai Ho in 2019 where she plays an impregnated 55-plus mother of grownup children.
5. Dimple Kapadia: At 15, when the world was at her feet after Bobby, Dimple threw it all away and impulsively married India’s biggest superstar Rajesh Khanna who was twice her age. At 18 she was mother of two. At 22, she was out of her abusive husband’s home determined to rebuild her film career and to bring up her daughters on her own. With Sunny Deol by her side, Dimple has managed the impossible. She has made a dream out of her nightmarish life.