A cherubic face coupled with an oomphy figure; Leena Chandavarkar was the camera’s favourite. Hits like Humjoli with Jeetendra, Jaane Anjaane with Shammi Kapoor, Main Sundar Hoon with Mehmood, Rakhwala with Dharmendra, Mehboob Ki Mehndi with Rajesh Khanna, Anhonee and Manchali with Sanjeev Kumar and Bairaag with Dilip Kumar between (1970-1976) consolidated her position in the elite club. And at 25, she gave it all up for domestic bliss…
After her marriage to industrialist, Siddharth Bandodkar, sea-caressed Goa was to be Leena’s ‘dream’ home. Tragically, 11 days later, new groom Siddharth accidentally shot himself with a revolver. Eleven months later, he succumbed to the injury… leaving Leena widowed at 26. Labelled a ‘manglik’, the star plummeted into darkness. Renowned singer Kishore Kumar rescued her with laughter and love. After a seven-and-a-half-year of marriage, she derailed once again when he passed away in 1987. At 36, Leena was a widow once again.
Meditation and what Kishore unintentionally taught her pulled her out from the dim burrows. Kishore would say, “You’re a tourist, don’t expect too much from life!” That stoicism is her strength today even though she doesn’t deny the dark reminders that each Diwali brings her. “My mother died of pulmonary embolism during Diwali. My brother (Anil Chandavarkar) committed suicide in the same period. I also lost my husbands, Siddharth and Kishoreji, during Diwali. That’s why the festival always fills me with sadness,” she said in a throwback interview (Filmfare). Looking back at Leena Chandavarkar’s narrative of extreme challenges…
Born in a Konkani Marathi family on 29 August 1950 in Dharwad, Karnataka, Leena came to Mumbai to pursue her long-cherished matinee dreams. At the peak of her career, Leena got engaged to 25-year-old Siddharth Bandodkar, son of Dayanand Bandodkar and Sunandabai Bandodkar. Belonging to a high-profile political family in Goa (his eldest sister, Shashikalatai Kakodkar was then the Chief Minister of Goa), Siddharth was an industrialist.
Leena’s mother-in-law had three daughters. But she had lost seven sons before Siddharth. Siddharth was born after mannats (vows). They were engaged on September 29, 1974. A grand wedding took place on December 8, 1975, in Panaji. However, tragedy struck within 11 days. On the night of December 18, 1975, Siddharth and Leena were preparing to attend a celebration when the new groom, while cleaning his revolver, was accidentally hit by a bullet from it.
A gravely injured Siddharth was taken to the Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. The bullet had entered his pancreas, rupturing his spleen. Then on began an 11-month ordeal. But that period brought Siddharth and Leena closer. He began calling her ‘Mama’ because of the tender care she showered on him. Given her devotion, the doctors used to call her ‘Savitri’. “People said I was a manglik. So, I told Siddharth’s mother that once he recovered, we’d get him married again as I’d not been auspicious for him. But she replied, ‘Should I hold you responsible for the seven sons I lost too?’,” shared Leena (Filmfare).
After arduous treatment, an elated Siddharth returned home driving his Mustang. But soon he developed an ‘intestinal obstruction’. On October 21, his birthday, Siddharth was readmitted to the hospital. His condition deteriorated but he kept his spirits high. Unable to speak having tubes all over his body, Siddharth would scribble little notes to Leena. One day he wrote, “I will come back!” He passed away on November 7, 1976 at the age of 26. A memorial at Dona Paula has been dedicated to Siddharth.
Her parents took a shattered Leena back to Dharwad. There she was slighted for being a widow. “Once I threw a tray full of snacks at them in disgust. I’d take tranquilizers and just kept sleeping,” she reportedly confided. After a while, Leena returned to Mumbai to complete her unfinished projects.
Leena signed Kishore Kumar’s directorial Pyar Ajnabi Hai (1976). His whacky sense of humour kept her distracted from her grief. One evening, finding Kishore in a melancholic mood, Leena sent across Kashmiri pulao, which she’d prepared. A thaw set in between the two.
When Leena, after much deliberation, consented to marry him, her father was furious as Kishore had already been married thrice before (to singer Ruma Guha Thakurta and actors Madhubala and Yogita Bali). Story goes that an adamant Kishore went to Dharwad to persuade Leena’s father. He sat on a chatai with his harmonium and began singing K L Saigal’s Main kya janoon kya jadoo hai (Zindagi) and eventually Nafrat karne walon ke seene mein pyar bhar doon (Johny Mera Naam). Leena’s father couldn’t help but smile and relent.
Reportedly, Leena and Kishore got married in 1980. “I married KK, twice. One was a registered marriage and the other by Vedic rites. My mother felt that a marriage was not solemnized unless the couple took saat pheras... I was nine months pregnant with Sumeet by then… It was funny to see a very pregnant me taking the saat pheras and resting in between the pooja!” she said (in a 1997 interview on cineplot.com). About her life with Kishore, she once confided feeling possessive about him. She’d be disturbed by the ‘lipstick marks’ left by crazy fans on his cheeks at concerts. “I was scared of losing in life again,” she explained her obsession for Kishore.
On October 13, 1987, Kishore had meetings at home. After lunch, he planned to watch the film River Of No Return. A little later, Leena heard him move furniture in the next room. When she went to the room, she saw him lying on the bed. He mentioned he was feeling weak. When Leena wanted to dial the doctor, he said, “If you call the doctor, I’ll get a heart attack.” Those were his last ominous lines. Leena believed that as usual he was fooling but it proved otherwise.
Just a few years ago before this tragedy, Leena had lost her mother. Her 38-year-old brother Anil Chandavarkar had died by suicide in May 1985. Kishore’s sudden demise was the last straw. “After Kishoreji passed away, I would depend on tablets and injections to deal with depression,” she confided (TOI).
She also had to deal with rumors regarding her closeness to stepson/singer Amit Kumar. “Sumeet’s tuition teacher made up stories about Kishoreji’s death... She told the school 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 in India when Kishore died. Months later the teacher apologized saying, ‘My son has committed suicide. I have to confess, I spread false stories about you. Please forgive me’,” revealed Leena in a throwback interview (Filmfare).
She’s grateful to Amit for helping her regain her composure. “KK’s (Kishore Kumar) death shattered me. I went to pieces. It was Amit who taught me to face the world… I was treading the delicate purdah between sanity and insanity, when Amit placed Sumeet’s responsibility on me,” she said (cineplot.com). Decades have rolled on. Amit and his family, Leena and Sumeet Kumar, now a singer, all live together in Kishore Kumar’s bungalow. Leena shared a bond with Amit’s mother, the late singer Ruma Devi. In fact, Leena looked after Ruma Devi with abiding affection.
“Kishoreji was a pillar of strength who taught me that you win some and lose some. He would show his funny side to the world, but never his sad face,” she maintained (TOI). “Whenever I feel low, I close the doors, switch on the TV, put the volume loud and have a good cry. Then I have a cup of tea… and smile again,” she once revealed her survival secret.