In the recent release De De Pyaar De, ex-spouses Ajay Devgn and Tabu re-enter each other’s lives when their daughter is planning to get married. Much water has rippled under the bridge since their separation and the ex-spouses are now amiable towards each other. In fact, in a remarkably contemporary take on relationships, Ajay and Tabu are almost friends, despite the presence of Ajay’s youthful girlfriend, Rakul Preet Singh. Tabu even stands up for Ajay against his own hostile family, glosses over his flaws and highlights his virtues. Talk about a modern family!
The film posits that a post-divorce relationship between a couple is possible; it can mutate into a different form of caring. A glimpse of this was also seen in the ending sequence of Karan Johar’s extramarital drama Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). Shah Rukh and Rani Mukherji cheat on their respective partners (Preity Zinta and Abhishek Bachchan) and embark on an affair. But the ensuing guilt drives them apart even though their marriages crumble. In the climax, Preity and Abhishek have moved on in life, and they (surprisingly and generously) encourage Rani to seek out and reconcile with Shah Rukh.
In Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) too, ex-spouses are shown to have taken their relationship to the next level, albeit with some residual bitterness…but with unfailing civility. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is with her current lover Ranbir Kapoor when she bumps into her ex-husband Shah Rukh Khan at a party. He harbours both love and regret (he admits to stalking her on Facebook) but he does greet her with flowery prose. The lady advises: “Maine tumhari mohabbat dekh li…Ab tum bhi meri dosti aazmake dekh lo.”
In most Hindi films of the past, however, the relationship between ex-spouses is often depicted as strained, if not outright acrimonious. In Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (1983), Shabana Azmi is devastated when she is delivered her divorce papers (which she clings onto during the song Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho, but when the straying husband finally returns to her, she refuses to take him back. Asking pertinently: “Jo kuchh tumne mere saath kiya agar wohi main tumhare saath karti aur issee tarah laut ke aati toh kya tum mujhe wapas le lete?” (Would you have given me a second chance if I had done to you what you did to me?’)
When reconciliation is off the table, a qualified detachment is the best response. In Aakhir Kyon (1985), Smita Patil walks out of her marriage to Rakesh Roshan when she discovers he is having an affair with her cousin. When the straying spouse comes grovelling back in financial need, she finds it in her to help him but to distance herself at the same time.
In Nikaah (1982) too, Salma Agha refuses to accept back a husband (Deepak Parashar) who has treated her callously. When her present husband (Raj Babbar) suggests that she return to her ex-husband and offers to divorce her, Salma has a major outburst in which she reprimands him: “Tum chahte ho main wapas chali jaaon? Jaise main koi palang hoon, jab chaha, istemaal ke baad bahar nikal diya.” Incidentally, Dr Achla Nagar won the Filmfare award for the best dialogue writer for Nikaah.
Sometimes films did show a reconciliation between warring exes (Ek Hi Bhool, 1981). But a meeting with a separated spouse can also be time for catching up and assessing life’s many missed chances. In Gulzar’s Ijaazat (1988), Rekha chances upon her ex-husband Naseeruddin Shah at a railway waiting room. Misunderstandings are cleared but again there is no reconciliation…Rekha walks off the railway station with her new husband, Shashi Kapoor.
Reconnecting with an ex-spouse after decades can be a time for penance and forgiveness. In Aap Ki Kasam (1974), suspicious husband Rajesh Khanna separates from his wife Mumtaz and lives to regret his rash immaturity. Fate contrives, decades later, to bring an aged and bedraggled Khanna to his daughter’s wedding, and he redeems himself and dies at his now-remarried ex-wife’s feet. Poignant.
In contemporary films, exes are more casual and their interaction is even played for laughs…like in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. But while Kangana may have snappily thrown over strait-laced hubby Madhavan, when she finds him remarrying (Kangana again, in a double role), she yearns for him to the heart wrenching strains of Geeta Dutt’s classic torch song, Ja ja ja ja bewafa, kaisa pyaar kaisi preet re. Times may have changed and relationships are depicted differently onscreen today; but even now there is no denying the raw emotion that imbues the aftermath of an unsuccessful marital relationship.