We here at for shame! like to err on the side of tragic. And sexy, I mean, always sexy. But when the two coincide, what have you got? Well, yes, dear reader, you do have an Ingmar Bergman film, BUT, you also have the tale of that tragic candle in the wind, Hansa Wadkar.
Originally intended for Diversity Week, she a) didn’t make the cut (too much diversity already!) and b) it was decided that since y’all people seem to hate that shit, we’d have to give you your dose of non western either by force (like a college requirement) or in secret (like kids eating vegetables smothered in cheese and/or bacon). So hence, Hansa’s placement in our repertoire.
Aight, now shit’s gonna get a little real with this one, so brace yourself, but I mean, look at Slumdog Millionaire: the Indian Subcontinent is no stranger to trying times. Hansa was born in 1923 in Mumbai (or as my grandmother would say, “Mumba-yumba-whadayacallit. Why don’t they just call it the Bombays anymore?”), with the original name of Ratan Bhalchandra Salgaonker (or as my grandmother would say, “Is it fatal?” BA-DUM chiiiiiii…..). Her father was an alcoholic and abusive man in the upper Brahmin caste, so she had a wealthy upbringing, but it tweren’t all curry and roses.
Her father died when she was fairly young and her mom (possibly the greatest of all Indian stage-moms, just watch and judge for yourself), who had been a fairly famous singer in her day, had her learn singing, dancing and English then steered her right to the Bollywood lot faster than you could say “jazzy-henna-hands.” (just kidding, there is no ‘Bollywood’ lot, it is merely a blanket slang term coined in the 70s to describe the Mumbai-based Hindi-language film industry, which was also incidentally one of the first native Indian film studios to incorporate English into their productions. And that’s your fun film history fact for the day! So much culture!).
At age 13, in 1936, Ratan starred in her first film and her name was shortened (And less ethnicized, since at the time Hindu women of a certain caste were meant to be wholly separated from Hindu women of other castes, not to mention Muslims and Christians.) to Hansa Wadkar, and it stuck. Wish that had happened to me, ’cause then I wouldn’t be called JAF, I’d be “T. Frubon.” No joke. That’s the name that came on the packages of my middle-school band fund-raising cookie dough. Shiiiit, but my handwriting was terrible then. …and now, still now.
Anyway, it became a hit and bitch was a preteen star, but she was still humble and shit, and here’s where we hit some problems. You see, there was a family friend/relative who was helping her mom coach the young squirt to be a star, Yeah, as soon as I typed “family friend/relative,” we all knew where this was going. To be fair, marriage to a much older man in many cultures, including India is not all that strange, and her husband, Bandarker, couldn’t have been much into his 30s. And true, even though she got married at 15, which was slightly below the average in India at the time, it was not all that unusual. Certainly no scandal.
But what was a big fucking deal was BITCH WAS PREGNANT.
Whoa. Slow the fuck down. Let’s review: in her autobiography published nearly 40 years later, Hansa sort of possibly alludes to the fact that she felt indebted to him for his loyalty/help, as well as pressure from her mom, cause, yah know, she had a human inside her, she was fiffuckingteen, and it was 19fucking38 in Indifuckingah. So there was that quickie marriage, a coverup, all that jazz. But I mean hell, those crazy kids might make it right? RIGHT? Wrong. Dead fucking wrong. Worst decision ever. WrongwrongwrongwrongWRONG.
Hansa became a huge star of Indian cinema, and was a great influence on actresses of the period. She was charismatic on screen and off, had lots of famous friends and acquaintances, was young,beautiful and talented, won multiple Indian acting awards, broke box-office records, and even had a movie based loosely on her life (it won a bunch of awards and shit, whatever, I’m over it.). I mean, she’s pushin’ boundaries, she’s breakin’ rules, she’s takin’ names. This was a time in India when women singing and acting, especially on screen was activity more suspicious than a third nipple in Salem. But, as with all great star marriages, it was all creme-fraiche and caviar on the outside, but rotten shit and poop on the in.
Now one of the reasons I love his greatass woman was (aside from all her regular ‘accomplishments’) she banged A LOT of people. Yes, it was most likely to try and fill the void of pain in her heart and lack of meaningful relationship in her life (In her poetry she describes ‘husband’ figures as committing crimes against women and killing them with pregnancies. Heavy shit there Hansa.), but she didn’t earn the retrospective title “the Joan Crawford of the Marathi stage and screen” for nothing. I mean, the Indian authored sources I read are still reluctant to talk about her multiple MULTIPLE (I’m talking Warren Beatty polygamy level) affairs. India, as a society at the time was more conservative than a Tea-Party townhall meeting in Kansas, and she was undoubtedly a shameful lady. But also one who probably got some way more than any of her oh-so-chaste biographers.
Sadly though, despite making it big (and MAKIN’ it BIG, if you know that I mean!!), Hansa got old and hit the plight of the middle-aged actress we know so well—nobody wants to hire and old bag, no matter how respected, cause she’s not gonna draw the same crowds to the grindhouse (Actually, the term ‘grindhouse’ refers to the independent theaters of the 1940s through 70s in America that succeeded financially through playing films outside MPAA ratings standards, such as exploitation, proto-splatter and shit about Nazis. Hey, we can’t all be as fucking ‘high-brow’ as Schindler’s List. Wait for it… and THAT’S your fun film history fact for the day, bitches!!!). So she turned to drink, solitude and writing a shitload of poetry. She was broke by the 1970s, so she wrote an expose on all the dudes she banged, but India was too uptight (come on people, you gave the world the Kama Sutra, how bad can her shit be??), and she died a destitute alcoholic. Damn, just want to pour one out for her. Should we view this as a cautionary tale about creating meaningful connections and a true support system in our lives through stable relationships? That the price of success and fame is always more than you think?