What Dhanush-Aishwaryaa divorce saga tells us about the state of marriage in India

What if Aishwaryaa Rajinikanth had more time during her courtship period and not rushed into exchanging vows with a man she had barely known? What if families had not meddled the second time to ‘save’ their marriage?

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu January 20, 2022 08:08:31 IST
What Dhanush-Aishwaryaa divorce saga tells us about the state of marriage in India

Aishwaryaa Rajinikanth, Dhanush.Instagram/@aishwaryaa_r_dhanush

Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma got something right. “Star divorces are good trendsetters to warn young people about the dangers of marriages,” he tweeted, continuing, as scathingly, “Only divorces should be celebrated with sangeet, because of getting liberated and marriages should happen quietly in process of testing each other’s danger qualities.”

Now, before you jump the gun and accuse the filmmaker of being a bitter cynic of the institution of marriage — or me, probably assuming that I too am against the same — let’s face some harsh and not-so-happy facts in the context of Varma’s outrage.

He made his comments following actor Dhanush announcing his split from Aishwaryaa Rajinikanth, daughter of megastar Rajinikanth. Married for 18 years, they have two sons — Yatra and Linga. The Chennai power couple, whose relationship has been in the past has been rocked with allegations of Dhanush’s illicit affairs, however started dating on a filmi note when Dhanush acted in his brother Selvaraghavan’s first directorial venture, Kaadhal Kondein, in 2003. Famously goes the story of Aishwaryaa and her sister Soundarya visiting Albert Theatre as cine-goers. The couple met for the first time and greeted each other with a hello followed by a whirlwind, six-month courtship that culminated in their grand, 2004 wedding. The news of their hasty marriage had taken everyone by surprise, back then.

In an old interview, Aishwaryaa, who’d sent a floral bouquet to the actor as a gesture of appreciation that allegedly began their flirtations, looked back, “It all happened very fast and we were too young. By the time we realised there’s something between us, we got married.” In the same interview, she revealed how her parents were initially “apprehensive”, as Dhanush was 21 and she 23. “My parents are conservative. They really weren’t in support of us dating before marriage.”

In 2015, actor Trisha and Varun Manian announced their engagement and before you knew it, abruptly parted ways. Dhanush’s alleged involvement in this separation was well known since the actress shared a close connection with the actor. Trisha inviting Dhanush to her engagement is what caused a rift between her and Varun, leading to a much publicised breakup. During the same time, pictures of Trisha partying with Dhanush went viral.

During the shooting of 3 directed by his wife, Dhanush and Shruti Hassan supposedly turned lovers. Incidents of Dhanush walking away with an excuse of a headache during a radio show with Haasan, the moment Aishwaryaa joined them were a glaring indication that there was trouble in paradise. Dhanush allegedly had started spending more time with Shruti during the promotions of the movie and the actor even avoided being seen with his wife in public.

According to the grapevine, it was at this time that Rajinikanth and Dhanush’s family intervened and forced Dhanush and Aishwaryaa to stay together and give their relationship another chance. Haasan, on the other hand, denied her fling with Dhanush, stating that she only shared a professional relationship.

Wait! This is not a gossip column. The reason why I bring up this, is because all day today, fans on Twitter and Instagram have been going bat shit crazy over this star split, lamenting on the marriage, fractured, media agog with why it happened, thousands of pity messages to Aishwaryaa’s father for his daughter getting divorced, sharing sad emojis and speculating on why such a starry couple’s love soiree that started with so much promise and fanfare and produced two male heirs and involves a mighty, ageing scion who is no less revered than a mighty God and lucrative joint assets and glitzy public appearances, also couldn’t make the final cut.

The truth is no one quite knows why and when and exactly where a couple, once in love, fell out of it. And why love isn’t enough to sustain perfection and be hailed as immortal. The truth is modern love is as messed up as modern Indians. The truth is popular dating apps are infested with married folks, some are candid, some camouflaged. The India Today Sex Survey of 2017, placed casual sex as being more popular in India than ever—41 percent of men and 29 percent of women claimed to be open to one-night stands. Overall 26 percent have had sex with someone who’s not their partner. Another aspect of the survey, which was reported recently, was that open marriages are being talked about more often, these days. Facebook often declares “in a complicated relationship”. This is despite the person’s profile picture being a shot from their wedding day.

In 2020, about 55 percent of married Indians were unfaithful to their partner, at least once, of which 56 percent were women, according to a survey by Gleeden, India’s first extramarital dating app. In fact, 48 percent of Indians believed that it is possible to be in love with two people at the same time, while 46 percent thought that one can cheat on a person, while still being in love with them. Probably why Indians are ready to forgive their partners in case they found out about the affair — 7 percent would forgive the partner without a second thought, while 40 percent would do so, if the circumstances were extenuating. Similarly, they expect to be forgiven by their partner (69 percent).

This research was conducted among 1,525 Indian married individuals between the age of 25 and 50, across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.

The truth is monogamy is hardly proof of sexual and emotional fidelity. The truth is, nosy and over-anxious and conservative Indian families often pressure and force a young couple on the threshold of knowing one another, into a hurried marriage that ‘settles’ them down. The truth is parents are probably scared of the girl getting pregnant — the resultant badnami or the boy refusing to marry her in the end — or what if her husband-to-be gets to know she had affairs in school and college!

I think of Aishwaryaa as I end this. What if she had more time during her courtship period? What if she had not been rushed into exchanging vows with a man she had barely known? If families had not meddled the second time, around, as was widely speculated. If Aishwaryaa had spoken about her husband’s alleged linkups or taken a public stand and spoken her own truth? Was it the children or Dhanush’s reputation or hers as Mrs Dhanush or her father’s larger-than-life image, that was at stake? Dhanush, it is being said, was keen to finish the promotions of Atrangi Re before he made the official announcement.

Why divorce is still seen as taboo? When can we stop faking it? What will it take? When will commentators like Varma not be crucified or attacked for their views? When will I be able to say I am not a fan of the institution of marriage—without my single status being scrutinised as a sign of my womanly and family failure?

Another marriage, ending? Or, continuing?

Former Lifestyle Editor, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is the bestselling author of ‘Sita’s Curse’, India’s first feminist erotica, and ‘Status Single’, the first non-fiction on single women, amongst others. She is also a leading columnist on sexuality and gender. Views expressed are personal.​

The author is a former lifestyle editor and is the bestselling author of ‘Sita’s Curse’, India’s first feminist erotica, and ‘Status Single’, the first non-fiction on single women, amongst others. She is also a leading columnist on sexuality and gender. Views expressed are personal.​

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