The second-wife syndrome has gripped Bollywood and Tollywood since the days of Kamal Amrohi, Meena Kumari, N T Rama Rao and his second wife. Somehow, the second wife has always been seen as the traditional home breaker, not deserving the respect or the dignity of the first wife.
Two Second Wives who have changed this perception are Hema Malini and the recently deceased Vijaya Nirmala, the second wife of veteran actor Krishna and stepmother to Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu who passed away on 27 June.
The tears that flowed for her from Mahesh Babu’s family were genuine. According to a source close to Mahesh Babu, “Mahesh Babu was deeply grieved. His father Krishnaji was inconsolable, and Mahesh and the other members of the family just wanted to be around Krishnaji to offer him a shoulder. There was never any resentment towards Vijayaji from any member of the family. There is a difference between being a second wife and a home breaker. Vijayaji was too independent financially and emotionally to let anyone in Mahesh Babu’s family feel that she was an intruder. She never depended for her livelihood on her husband. She was a successful filmmaker and a celebrity in her own right.”
According to sources close to Mahesh Babu, the superstar intends to honour Nirmala Vijaya’s memory in whichever way his father deems proper. “As far as the family is concerned it has lost a mother, not a stepmother,” says the source.
Hema Malini, who commands a similar dignity in her marriage to Dharmendra, says it is all about maintaining one’s own position as a woman and an individual. “When I got married to Dharamji we didn’t think about the repercussions. We got married for love and only for love. But once we married I made sure his first family did not suffer in any way. To have his children go through any kind of hardship because of me was unacceptable to me. Also in a situation like this a lot of credit must go to the other lady. It’s not an easy situation. But I managed to sail through because I made no demands at all. I was just happy being his wife.”