Bollywood wives mean business

13 December 2012 / 3 years 10 months ago

Source: AFP/AsiaOneNEW 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, 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 (above), who is married to heart-throb actor Hrithik Roshan.Roshan, 37, set up an imposing interior-design store in Mumbai called The Charcoal Project two years ago.She admitted 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.Adhuna Akhtar (above right), 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.The first ladies of Bollywood weren't always such a staple of Indian popular culture.As recently as 10 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 perceived largely 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, 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, fashion or whatever into a business, into a career, even after you have kids. And women are drawn to that when they see Sussanne."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.

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