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Muckraking journalists handle her with kid gloves, estranged co-stars speak of her with wistful fondness, and the masses thrum with outrage over her recent arrest. With charm and good-natured humor, Sonali Bendre commands affection from friends and strangers alike.
It started out mundanely enough: a photo shoot for the March 1998 issue of film magazine Showtime. Sonali posed in a kurta [long tunic] -- only a kurta [they are traditionally worn with baggy pants] -- inscribed with religious symbols. The cover came out, and religious conservatives cried foul. Three years later to the month, she was arrested, along with the dress designer and the photographer, on the charge of committing "deliberate and malacious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class." (India Times, March 28 2001) Though the charges were eventually dismissed, Sonali had stepped into something she'd managed to avoid for a long time: scandal.
course, she hasn't gotten off entirely scot-free. Media speculation
about her private life irrevocably damaged her relationship with
married co-star Sunil Shetty, much to Sonali's regret. "I
like Sunil and I can never forget the vibes we shared in those
good old days. He was very nice to me but the rumours of our romance
ruined things between us. Even though we're polite with one another
today, there are visible cracks in our relationship." (Desiconnection.com)
Sunil's take on the matter is almost identical: "A lot of
awkwardness and freeze has set in between Sonali and me, and howmuchever
fond I may be of the kid, even professionally speaking, maybe
it is better for both of us that we dont work together.
I guess it is for the better as it saves a lot of talk. Its
not worth it in the long run but I am happy that she is doing
well and I wish her all the best for the future." (Filmfare
Online, Aug. 1999)
In recent years, Sonali's love life has avoided close scrutiny, partly because she has been so open about it. "I've never hidden my relationship with [director] Goldie Behl," she told Rediff in a September 2001 interview. "I am dating him. If we get engaged tomorrow, I have no qualms about telling the world." Yet the inevitable industry speculation regarding her marriage plans annoyed her. "Why is the word marriage a taboo here? Does that change an actress in any way? If she can act, she can act. Period." (Filmfare Online, Dec. 2000)
Alas, not everyone agrees. The rumors cost her a film she had in the works with Manoj Aggarwal. Sonali resignedly explains, " He was worried that his film would get stuck in case I decided to get married. I made it very clear to him that I did not plan to get married in the near future. I can only do that. What decision he takes after that is his business. As far as I am concerned it is his loss, not mine." (Filmfare Online, Dec. 2000) But in one regard, Mr. Aggarwal has been proved correct. On November 12, 2002, Sonali tied the knot with her long-time boyfriend. She's claimed that marriage won't spell an end to her career. Fans across the world now wait to see if she'll act on that belief -- no pun intended!