At the peak of her acting career, Leena Chandavarkar settled for an arranged marriage with Siddarth Bandodkar (son of the first Chief Minister of Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar) only to be widowed at 25. Battling the tag of a manglik, she emerged from the depression to marry the maverick singer Kishore Kumar in 1980. And when their son Sumeet was just five, she became a widow once again at 36.
Diwali holds dark memories for Leena. “My mother died of pulmonary embolism during Diwali. My brother (Anil Chandavarkar) committed suicide in the same period. I also lost my husbands, Siddarth and Kishoreji, during Diwali. That’s why the festival always fills me with sadness.”
Leena met Kishore in 1979. “One day, his driver Abdul came home, gave me his number and asked me to call him. When I called him, he at once picked up the phone and said, ‘Leena! I’ve been waiting to hear from you’.” Kishore made Leena hear some scripts and she began working on Pyar Ajnabi Hai. “Every morning he’d call me and without introducing himself start talking. He’d make me laugh. My father began noticing a change in me.” One evening when Kishore called Leena he sounded low. “He said, ‘I’m a Leo and when my ruling planet, the sun, sets I feel a sense of sadness and loneliness.’ I sent across the Kashmiri pulao I had prepared. He said, ‘It was excellent. Please overcook it like this the next time you send it too’.’’
Leena continues, “Then one day he asked me, ‘What all have you heard about me?’ I replied, ‘That you’re a genius, that you’re talented…’ Then he made a scary face, jumped on the sofa, sat on his fours and asked, ‘What else?’ In fright I blurted’, and that you are mad!’ He started laughing. He had enjoyed scaring me.” Leena reveals that one day he even sang the song Mere dil mein aaj kya hai (Daag) for her, something which she didn’t read much into. “A few days later he said, ‘If you ever think of settling down again, please consider my proposal’. I was shocked and told him that marriage may be a ‘casual’ thing for him but I had not yet forgotten Siddarth. He said, ‘Achcha cancel it!’ After that he never mentioned marriage. It was only work between us.”
She goes on, “I didn’t fall in love with him instantly but I felt protected when I was with him. He was kind to his staff. I’d wonder why he was called kanjoos. There was no chichorapan (frivolousness) about him. He didn’t drink. But yes, he didn’t like his women working. I liked the child in him who rejoiced in the rain, who felt excited about nature. His world was a world of dreams. Once he went to a bazaar in Delhi. There he saw masoor ki dal. Immediately he said, ‘Let’s go to Musoorie!’ I loved this gypsy life. I was in need of such a life.”
She also liked his philosophic side. “Once he was watering plants in a hotel. I told him, ‘Tomorrow we’ll be leaving. What then?’ he said, ‘Wherever you are make it your own because actually nothing is yours’.”
“I also believe in what Kishoreji said, ‘Tum tourist ho, zyada expect mat karo (you’re a tourist, don’t expect too much from life)!” says Leena.
When she finally decided to marry him, all hell broke loose. “My father said, ‘He’s already married thrice. He’s taking advantage of your weak mind, I thought he was a farishta (angel) but he is a jadugar (magician)! In the evening of your life, you’ll be left alone (given their age difference which was 21 years).” Indignant, Leena’s parents went off to Dharwad.
“Kishoreji said let’s get married in a church and even enacted the entire ceremony in opera style for me. I got irritated. Then he said, ‘Let’s have a nikaah, you become Hawa Begum and I’ll become Mohammed Ali Bhai’. I was annoyed and banged the phone down. But later, he explained that we could only marry after his divorce with Yogita Bali came through. When it did he said he wouldn’t marry without seeking my parents’ blessings in Dharwad.”
On seeing them there, Leena’s brother welcomed them but her father refused to come out. “Kishoreji sat on a chatai with his harmonium. He began singing K L Saigal’s Main kya janoon kya jadoo hai (Zindagi), then his own songs Dukhi man mere (Funtoosh), Zindagi ka safar (Safar) and others. Finally, he sang Nafrat karne walon ke seene mein pyar bhar doon (Johny Mera Naam). Papa stepped out looking serious. Then he suddenly smiled and told him, ‘My daughter was right. Your greatest virtue is patience’. They became friends and began discussing Hollywood films.”
About her life with him she says, “Kishoreji never ever told me ‘I love you’. He said it’s something to be felt, not said. Even in his films he was never overtly romantic. But as I began loving him, I grew insecure. At concerts, girls would kiss him and leave lipstick marks on him. He used to call me his lagaam (rein).” She elaborates, “When Sumeet was born and I heard his car drive in at the hospital to see me, I quickly applied lipstick. The nurse said, ‘Are you lovers or husband-wife?’ I was scared of losing in life again.”
They were together for seven and a half years. “On the morning of October 13 (the day he passed away in 1987), he looked pale and as though in deep sleep. I went near him when he woke up and asked, “Did you get scared? Today is my holiday.” That day he had several meetings at home. During lunch time he told me that we’d watch the film River Of No Return in the evening. A little later, I heard him moving furniture in the next room. I went to see what was happening and found him lying on the bed. He said, ‘I’m feeling weak’. But when I ran to call the doctor he got angry and said, ‘If you call the doctor, I’ll get a heart-attack’. Those were his last lines. His eyes were wide open and he was breathing out. I thought he was fooling as was his nature. But that was the end.”
It’s been many years since then. She was firm about not re-marrying this time. “Had I a child through my first marriage, I wouldn’t have married Kishoreji also. I wouldn’t be able to bear someone even looking with a little irritation at my child, leave alone raising his hand on him. My parents suggested I marry again. I said I can’t love anyone again, so why cheat?” says Leena.
Apart from her grief, she had a whole lot of salacious rumours regarding her proximity to stepson Amit Kumar to deal with. “You can’t expect people to share your pain. Rather they add to it. Those days, Sumeet took tuitions at home from his school teacher. She made stories about Kishoreji’s death and narrated them in the school because that gave her a sense of importance. She told the staff, ‘Kishore Kumar saw something shocking when he came home. He saw his wife with his son Amit and collapsed on the carpet!’ Amit was not even here when Kishoreji died. Months after Kishoreji’s death, the teacher came home and apologised saying, ‘My son has committed suicide. I have to confess, I spread false stories about you. Please forgive me’.”
Despite a lot of pressure, Leena chose to stay on with Amit and his family. “Amit loves Sumeet very much, why should I deprive him of his love? That’s the only family Sumeet knows. Why should I let anything come in the way of my child’s happiness?”
She’s in tune with the family and is keen Amit and Sumeet make great music. In fact, she even pitches in by writing for their albums. To sum up her journey she quotes a verse written by her: “Dil ka mere haal tum na poocho, dhadakta hai ab tak yeh dil, kya yeh kam hai socho (Do not ask the state of my heart, isn’t it enough that it’s still beating).”
Source Credits: idiva