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Love, romance and intrigue...

In the past, film stars did not flaunt their affairs in public. But now, faced with flops and a sense of insecurity failure brings, they make sure that their exploits are made into sizzling cover stories, observes V. GANGADHAR.

Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai, and (below) the actress with Vivek Oberoi... they made news with their antics.

ON SCREEN, the images are the same. The hero sings and chases the heroine around the trees. Duets are sung with half a dozen costume changes. And since the days of blockbusters like "Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun" and "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge", the wedding scenes are enacted with more gusto.

Lavish settings and costumes, songs by the dozen, riveting rituals — Punjabi style... these are the key factors in the family socials. In fact, these reel sequences are enacted in rich North Indian real-life weddings.

Of course, not all love themes can be happy. Even here, the approach has not changed. In the case of obstacles in the path of their love, the hero and heroine sing sad songs. In extreme situations, the hero takes to alcohol but continues with the sad songs. Such is the popularity of this approach that we have had several versions of the "Devdas" theme.

Cut to real life. Here the approach to love has changed dramatically. Screen heroes and heroines continue to fall in love, either within or outside Bollywood but see to it that their romantic exploits are made into sizzling cover stories in film magazines.

Pages and pages were written about the romantic exploits of action hero Akshay Kumar, his affairs with Raveena Tandon, Pooja Batra and Shilpa Shetty before he tied the knot with Twinkle Khanna.

There was enough masala in this story. But if there is no `masala' it can be created and churned out in large doses. When Aamir Khan separated from his wife, his name was linked to co-star Preity Zinta despite frequent denials from the actress. He-man hero, Sunny Deol, was supposed to carry the torch for star Dimple while Sunjay Dutt's name was linked to every heroine he worked with.

But the most (in)famous of all current Bollywood romances has been the one between Salman Khan and the beauteous Aishwarya Rai, which made news even in the mainstream media.

Muscle boy Salman was always big news. Didn't he pour bottles of Thums Up over the heads of former girl friends, Sangeeta Bijlani and Somy Ali? A 38-year-old brat who never seemed to grow up, Salman held Aishwarya in a kind of thrall giving her nightmares.

`The Fatal Attraction' syndrome was repeated here with gusto. Sick of Salman's tantrums of two-timing charges, Aishwarya wanted to break off the relationship. But Salman would not take `No' for an answer.

In the glare of media publicity, he forced his way into her shootings, crashed his car into the wall of her bungalow, kept midnight vigil and made endless phone calls. When Salman found fast-rising star Vivek Oberoi getting friendly with Ash, he made 41 telephone calls in one night to the actor, threatening him in abusive language. Well, Vivek went public and revealed all this at a press conference.

Strangely enough, Bollywood sided with Salman accusing Oberoi of washing dirty linen in public. ``He is immature,'' chortled Salman's cronies and Vivek's father, senior actor, Suresh Oberoi, had to intervene.

It was then that Ash decided to go public obviously sick of being fought over by the two male stars. She issued a press statement, blaming Salman for causing her mental anguish and torture. Everything between them was finished, Ash asserted. No, she would never work with him. Not even in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's prestigious film, "Bajirao Mastani." Salman's friends saw the hand of Vivek Oberoi in this press statement.

For the media, it was bonanza time. The Salman-Vivek-Ash war vied with the real war in Iraq for space on the front pages of newspapers. The press took sides. The film glossies wrung their hands in anguish. Mostly monthlies, they had lost out in this daily war to the mainstream dailies and weeklies. With developments happening fast, whatever they wrote was stale news.

Veteran Bollywood watchers were dumbfounded at the turn of events. ``Love, intrigue and jealousy were always part of Bollywood,'' one of them told me. ``But the stars from the past would never think of going to the media with their personal problems. The men would do everything to protect the reputation of the women with whom they were involved.'' A long list of Bollywood romances from the past readily came to mind.

Aamir Khan's name was linked with co-star Preity Zinta.

Dilip Kumar was constantly in and out of love with his heroines, beginning with Kamini Kaushal. The most famous of these was of course, beautiful Madhubala who could not escape the tyranny of her father to marry Dilip.

The most popular romantic team in the history of Bollywood was of course, Nargis and Raj Kapoor, who played it cool for nearly eight years before they split up. Nargis did not hold a press conference to explain why she decided to marry her "Mother India" co-star, Sunil Dutt.

Young and handsome Dev Anand, it was alleged, was desperately in love with singing star Suraiya. She was zealously protected by her grandmother, who was definitely not in favour of a controversial Hindu-Muslim wedding in the family. The struggling Dev even bought an expensive diamond ring for his beloved but quickly reconciled to marry co-star Mona Singh (Kalpana Kartik). Suraiya remained a spinster, mooning for her `Gregory Peck'! Thus it went on.

There were whispers about Ashok Kumar being in love with Nalini Jaywant. Since both the stars were married, the affair petered off.

Did Naseem Banu manipulate affairs so that her daughter Saira Banu could overcome her infatuation for Rajendra Kumar and marry childhood idol, Dilip Kumar, who was 22 years her senior?

Why, for long we only knew that Hema Malini had managed to marry Dharmendra who was already married.

How true were the rumours that Jeetendra and Sanjeev Kumar were also keen to marry her, but were put off by the `Garam' Dharam?

Where and how did Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi woo and win Sharmila Tagore? What made middle-aged Rajesh Khanna drop long-time girl friend Anju Mahendru and tie the knot with teenaged Dimple?

Well, there were answers to these queries and some of them were discussed in the film media without any quotes from the stars.

An aging, dispirited and often sozzled Meena Kumari tried to revive her youth and fading charms with a passionate affair with young Dharam.

The actor, gentleman he is, never talked about it.

The men and women concerned did not flaunt these affairs in public.

They were keen to be known for their professional, on-screen achievements and the media was decorous enough to abide by their wishes.

The actors played Devdas, Romeo and Majnu on the screen but those who played the same roles in real life, had the decency to keep quiet.

Today, stars are insecure, living in a world of flops.

They have to be in the glare of publicity.

If their roles cannot put them in the spotlight, then why not the scandals in their private lives?

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