Is this a reflection of what has happened in real life between directors and their heroines down the ages? Let’s take a journey into the past to find out some famous director-actress liaisons that have made history.
Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) is one of the most moving self-reflexive films made in India. It is a fine tribute to the glorious days of the studio era, using bits of history from about the 1930s to the 1940s as its backdrop. The film is an introspective journey of Suresh, a once-celebrated film director who is going through a bad patch. He is estranged from his wife and daughter, while Shanti, the leading lady who he had groomed to fame and subsequently fallen in love with, has drifted away. He discovers that the studio floors are his last recourse, and seeks refuge there, tracing back his journey. He finally comes to terms with the reality that fame and success are as ephemeral as life itself. By then however, it is too late.
Kaagaz Ke Phool has strong autobiographical elements. It is almost like a celluloid elegy Dutt wrote for himself with his screenplay, his images, his music and his lyrical pacing of the film. He is said to have had an intense relationship with Waheeda Rehman, one of his leading ladies, as shown in the film. This brought about phases of estrangement with his wife Geeta Dutt from time to time. He suffered from long periods of depression and became a chronic insomniac. It is said that his premature death by suicide was foreshadowed in the film. The film was a failure but now enjoys a cult following in India and France.
Rituparno Ghosh’s recently released Abohomaan, produced by Reliance Big Pictures, explores similar issues. “Abohomaan explores the nuances of relationships. Aniket (Dipankar De) is one of Bengal’s finest directors. He is married to Deepti (Mamata Shankar), an actress he fell in love with when she was young and they have a young son (Jisshu Sengupta). Later, he falls in love with Shikha (Ananya Chatterjee), an actress as young as his son, when he chooses her to play the role of Binodini, the famous theatre actress of the Bengali stage.This sets off a chain of incidents that tends to upset the equanimity of what was, till then, what one would call a happy family,” says director Ghosh.
The Western world offers endless examples of director-actress liaisons. French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard discovered Karina when she was a model and in the early 60s, cast her in a series of masterpieces and near masterpieces, including Vivre Sa Vie. They married in 1961, but the marriage was over by the time the English version of the film was ready. Still, their collaboration, even in their last film together, was alive.
Federico Fellini met Giuletta Masina in 1942. In 1943, they were married, marking one of the greatest creative partnerships in world cinema. Fellini and Giulietta hid in her aunt’s apartment until Mussolini’s fall in 1943. Fellini died on the day after his 50th wedding anniversary while Giuletta died six months later. Their personal tragedies after marriage are said to have inspired La Strada (1954). It is one of Fellini’s most accessible works, a film of understated beauty and profound insight.
Roberto Rossellini, the Italian filmmaker, received a letter in 1948 that changed his life. Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman had written to him saying that she wanted to be in one of his films. Rossellini was writing a script at the time with Anna Magnani in mind, but rewrote it for Bergman. The script was for the film Stromboli (1949).
During the filming, Rossellini and Bergman fell in love, though both of them were married at the time. Rossellini had his marriage annulled, and Bergman divorced her spouse. She worked exclusively in Rossellini’s films between 1950 and 1955. Among these was Europa 51. But Ingrid returned to the US in 1956 and in 1957, the two divorced. Interestingly, Ingrid’s best works came after she left Rossellini.
In Indian cinema, a classic example was the relationship between Kamaal Amrohi and Meena Kumari, although it ended in tragedy. Amrohi met Meena Kumari at a shooting when she was 19 and he was 34. They fell in love and married in 1952. The marriage ended in 1964. They remarried, but Meena Kumari had become an alcoholic by then. She died in 1972 and Amrohi died in 1993 in Mumbai. He was buried next to Meena Kumari in an Iranian graveyard.
These actresses, after marrying the directors, either worked exclusively in their husbands’ films or separated in course of time and made great films embellished by great performances.