By Maya Lalchandani
We are sometimes defined by that one major milestone in our lives. For Bhagyashree, it was her unforgettable debut role in the Bollywood blockbuster Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). Though she went on to star in 20 more films after that, launched her own media company and even had a government campaign for underprivileged girls named after her, her award-winning role as Suman opposite superstar Salman Khan continues to be etched on most Indian hearts.
In fact, the 51-year-old actor is still very much in the saddle and at work with the big guns, this time with Bahubali star Prabhas in an untitled film she signed on just before the COVID-19 lockdown. The difference is that she’s not the only one in her family to be in showbiz; last year, her son Abhimanyu Dasani won a Filmfare award for his debut film, just as his mother had done 30 years earlier for hers.
Bhagyashree’s life has been woven on a rich tapestry. Daughter of Vijay Singh Rao Patwardhan, the titular Maharaja of Sangli, Maharashtra, she was born and raised in Mumbai. It was during her schooling at the famed Jamnabai Narsee School that she met Himalay, the love of her life.
In 1984, actor-director Amol Palekar, a family friend of the Patwardhans, cast Bhagyashree and her sister in his television serial Kachchi Dhoop. Thus, the seeds of acting were sown. The next few years were turbulent and heady, as education, career, love and marriage came together and clashed, leading to many fireworks in her life.
The Patwardhans were not in favour of her relationship with Himalay, because they felt she was too young, their backgrounds were not the same and the families were culturally poles apart. Despite this, their love affair continued through their college years, though she did break up with him for a while to appease her parents.
Soon, she landed her debut role in director Sooraj Bharjatya’s Maine Pyar Kiya. Even during the making of the film, Bhagyashree requested her parents to allow her to marry Himalay, but once again, they refused.
Finally, one year after the stupendous success of the film and a Filmfare award to show for it, Bhagyashree married Himalay in a small temple wedding attended only by her parents-in-law, her film director Sooraj and co-star Salman, besides a few friends.
The birth of Abhimanyu created peace between both families and changed her life. What more could a 20-year-old ask for? Bhagyashree devoted herself to her family. In fact, she resented fame, because she would get mobbed if she even went out to shop for her baby. Five years later, her daughter Avantika was born, by which time Bhagyashree had made forays into television serials and south Indian films.
Huge box-office hits with Kannada cinema superstar Shiva Rajkumar and Telugu film icon Rajasekhar followed. “The films suited me as they were powerful roles of strong women,” she says, looking back.
She went on to act in various languages after that – from Kannada to Marathi, Telugu to even Bhojpuri – drawn by memorable roles.
As the kids grew, Bhagyashree started feeling restless again. “I felt that I was always playing these roles of the dutiful daughter, mother, wife and daughter-in-law. Though I did it all to perfection, I started to feel the need of me and what I really wanted at that stage.”
Around that time, her in-laws met with a near-fatal accident, and Bhagyashree nursed them back to health. After turning 40, she decided to venture onto a fresh new journey and went into film production with Himalay.
Soon it was time to confront the empty-nest syndrome as the children left home. “I actually went into depression for six months,” she shares. Not one to mope around, Bhagyashree accepted a role in the Star Plus serial Laut Aao Trisha (2014).
“I think I was the first choice whenever any channel launched their first serial,” she laughs, adding, “I didn’t really think choosing the medium was the endgame, also I didn’t want to do regressive roles. I only wanted to do strong, substantial roles that would excite me, whether in film or television.”
As luck would have it, she soon had to deal with a health issue, with a misalignment in her arm. It was not a serious condition but it was a wakeup call for Bhagyashree. “I have always preferred to do everything myself, whether it was my film career, my cooking or my kids. I think I spread myself too thin,” she muses, realising that she’d let her physical and emotional stresses escalate.
When doctors couldn’t help, she educated herself, learning nutrition from sources like Stanford, University of Pennsylvania and the American Fitness Professional Association. Convinced about holistic nutrition, she launched Back2Basics, her venture that helps people with similar ailments, customising their food plans and suggesting lifestyle changes. No doubt, they could not have asked for a better role model.
First published in eShe’s June 2020 issue
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