Staff working inside a display area of the Charcoal Project store in Mumbai.–Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI: Bollywood wives were once expected to stay loyal, discreet and out of sight, but today they forge influential careers as businesswomen, designers and producers as India embraces celebrity culture.

They appear on magazine covers, present television shows, advertise everything from soap to sofas and increasingly head their own budding money-making empires, claiming their share of the spotlight.

The list of “star wives” in the Mumbai-based film industry is headed by superstar Shah Rukh Khan's wife Gauri Khan, a successful film producer and now an independent entrepreneur who is regarded as a pioneer of the redefined role.

Co-founding the Red Chillies Entertainment production company in 2002 with her husband, she has produced eight films to date; including major blockbusters such as last year's science fiction hit Ra.One.

Khan, 42, has since branched out into interior design, launching her own line of furniture in April in collaboration with another Bollywood wife, Sussanne Roshan, who is married to heartthrob actor Hrithik Roshan.

Roshan, 37, set up an imposing interior design store in Mumbai called The Charcoal Project two years ago.

She admits that she had little interest in working when she got married 12 years ago, but then discovered that she had a taste for competition.

“When I got pregnant, it just gave me a certain clarity about what I wanted to achieve with my life,” Roshan told AFP.

(L-R) Hritik Roshan and his wife Sussanne, Shah Rukh Khan with his wife Gauri Khan, Farhan Akhtar and wife Adhuna Akhtar.–Photo by AFP

More recently, in a move echoing American lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, she launched The Home Label, an interior decor website selling products endorsed by her.

Adhuna Akhtar, who is married to actor-director Farhan Akhtar, is another high-profile Bollywood wife, working as one of the country's leading hairstylists.

Her success led to her starring in a makeover reality television show earlier this year in which she offered free haircuts and styling advice to young women.

The 44-year-old Akhtar now has 17 high-profile salons scattered across India with plans to open in Dubai.

Increasing job opportunities for women

The first ladies of Bollywood weren't always such a staple of Indian popular culture.

As recently as ten years ago, few film fans paid them much heed, according to Mumbai novelist and commentator Shobhaa De.

“For decades Bollywood's star wives were kept in virtual purdah and allowed out for an airing occasionally... generally at funerals,” De told AFP.

At the time, they were largely perceived as housewives who suffered in silence behind closed doors while rumours flew about their husbands' alleged affairs with glamorous co-stars.

Since then, a younger, assertive and ambitious generation of Bollywood wives has emerged.

Sujata Assomull Sippy, a former editor of Harper's Bazaar India who put Sussanne Roshan on the magazine's cover, said the trend was “part of a wider female empowerment story in India”, as increasing numbers of women join the labour force.

“When Sussanne married Hrithik Roshan she was just a pretty girl, but the minute she opened her store, her profile shot up. Women want to emulate her because she works,” she told AFP.

“You can't become a Bollywood star at 40, but you can turn a passion for interiors or fashion or whatever into a business, into a career, even after you have had kids. And women are drawn to that when they see Sussanne,” she said.

According to a Gallup poll released last month, only 25 per cent of Indian women participate in the labour force compared with 80 per cent of Indian men.

Analysts expect that figure to grow as India's economy expands; creating job opportunities that can be accessed by larger numbers of women.

Those occupying high-profile senior positions in the corporate sector include Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of biotech giant Biocon, Chanda Kochhar, managing director of ICICI Bank and Shikha Sharma, managing director of Axis Bank.

Being married to one of India's most famous men helps to keep Roshan and her business ventures in the spotlight, as she readily acknowledges.

“It's a huge bonus, no question, but my idea of success really isn't about being married to a movie star,” she said.

“I think it's very important for any woman - especially in India - to aspire to be independent, to be your own person and speak up for yourself. Women today aspire to do much more than just look good.”

More From This Section

World leaders, writers pay tribute to Garcia Marquez

Presidents, writers and celebrities paid tribute to Marquez whose work inspired generations of story-tellers.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at 87

Widely considered the most popular Spanish writer since de Cervantes in 17th century, he died at home in Mexico City.

Jones, Godard, Cronenberg in competition at Cannes

Organizers of the famed Riviera festival announced the much-heralded lineup for the May 14-25 event.

73rd birth anniversary of Aziz Mian qawwal

Born as Abdul Aziz in 1942, Aziz Mian remains to this day one of the most popular qawwals of South Asia.

Comments are closed.

Comments (24)

December 13, 2012 8:05 am
The likes of Shahrukh and Roshan family, already filthy rich have insatiable desire to make more money. Has any one of these done a project of public service. It is disgusting to know that their pass times seems to be thinking of, "how to make more money", when 200 mio indians are mal nurished. Pl do something for the public who made you guys icons.
December 14, 2012 9:54 am
C'mon, get a grip. This is just a news story. Nothing negative about anybody.
December 13, 2012 4:09 am
Hah you really don't know what your talking about do you?
December 15, 2012 1:34 am
Nice one
Malik Irshad
December 13, 2012 2:56 am
cynical, superiority complex on own biased approach and perspective is enlightmnt
December 14, 2012 3:42 pm
Does this article worth a news? I have been seeing this on Dawn for past 3 days.
December 13, 2012 2:37 am
You wrote 'someone' should guide them to the light of true enlightenment, so why don't you take the initiative? At least start by defining true enlightenment.
December 13, 2012 2:32 am
I know the answwer, it is Pakistani ISLAM!!
December 14, 2012 8:04 am
You are very fond of charity. Eh.....
December 13, 2012 7:45 am
Friends its a fact that this century is about all or none proposition. The one who somehow gets his hands on a good amount of money becomes God of talent in one night on the other hand we all know people who make beautiful clothes, carpets, furniture etc with their own hands independently are looted throughout their life. These countries where there is no system for distribution of wealth are full of talented rich and unemployed poor. What a joke.
December 13, 2012 9:06 am
@Syed Sach kaha, bolnay mey koi harj nahi, lekin baat samajh ne mey hai.
December 15, 2012 3:19 am
I am amazed that noone got the sarcasm in Cynical's statement.
December 13, 2012 9:07 am
Humko dar lagta hai.
December 12, 2012 4:18 pm
@ Cynical bus bol diya, bolnay mey kiya harj hai.
December 14, 2012 1:51 pm
What a cry baby you are, what did you find so negative in this article..You Indians surely are the most pessimistic people alive.
Magister Ludi
December 12, 2012 4:15 pm
Another pathetic attempt to show the idle rich as the working rich. I doubt they even have the training or the skill to manage their own wardrobe.
December 13, 2012 2:37 pm
December 13, 2012 7:45 pm
its not all about money .they have enough money for there next 15 generations at least. may be some other reasons are behind it. like there hobbies (designing). and also its best way to utilize the time. i mean its good thing that our celebrities are setting good example of hard work. its its really disgusting that pakistan and dawn has there negative view about everything related india.
December 13, 2012 6:34 pm
These people want's to immitate west in their living style but doesn't want to immitate west in regards to charity.
December 12, 2012 9:12 am
With so much independence, power and money with the Indian women, the future looks bleak. Surely they will make the society immoral and all will burn in hell. Someone should guide them to the light of true enlightenment.
December 12, 2012 1:55 pm
All of you asking me this question are inteligent, honourable people. Why don't you figure it out yourselves? Being spoon fed is not the best way to learn.
December 12, 2012 11:50 am
and that is ? .........
December 12, 2012 2:12 pm
This article will serve inspirations to all other women in the subcontinent. Believe Mr Cynical, these women besides being successful in their own endeavors are excellent wives and mothers as well. I can understand some men Using hostile attitudes towards successful women to cover their own weaknesses and inadequacies.
December 12, 2012 12:23 pm
Could you please tell us what the true enlightenment is? I am so curious.
Explore: Indian elections 2014
Explore: Indian elections 2014
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
From The Newspaper