Raveena Tandon a Spine of Steel
Outward appearances can be deceptive. Take Raveena Tandon for example. She is beautiful, a national award-winning Bollywood actress who has had several ups and downs in her career …. and yet she has a spine of steel, with the courage of her convictions and a sharp mind. She could well have chosen the easy life of a successful actress, leading a self-involved and charmed life. Instead, she chose to adopt two young girls when she was only 21, looked after their upbringing and is, today, a dedicated mother to her own two kids. She shares her incredible journey with MINAL KHONA and talks about her decision to adopt two motherless girls and why she didn’t make a big deal of it during her Bollywood days.
I n the early 1990s, a teenaged Raveena Tandon, wearing no make-up except for some lipstick, walked into the office of the woman’s magazine that I worked for. She had come to drop off her pictures for a feature we were doing on faces to watch out for that year. All of us women in that tiny cabin sat there staring at her with our mouths hanging open. She was drop dead gorgeous. I believe that the camera doesn’t do justice to her beauty. She is way more stunning in real life than she looks on screen. But the national award-winning actress is an intriguing mix of beauty, brains and a big heart. She has been in the news of late for her strong opinions on various issues, her web series writing and her passion for the environment through her wildlife photography. That’s not why we are talking to her though. She broke the norms of convention when she adopted two young girls when she was barely 21 herself. She recalls, “It was the year 1993 or ‘94, I am not sure, when I decided to adopt these girls – Pooja and Chhaya. They were the daughters of my cousin who was no more. Their father was alive but I kept hearing horror stories about the way they were being treated by their guardians to whom they had been handed over. I spoke to their dad and told him I had seen these girls being born in front of me and I couldn’t watch them being treated this way. He legally handed over custody to me and my parents and I became their guardian. From then onwards, my girls have been with me and they lived with me till they got married.” Pooja was 11 and Chhaya, eight, when they came to live with Raveena and her parents. She reiterates frequently during the interview that she could not have done this without the love and support of her parents. “My parents were like grandparents to the girls and were very supportive from the start; neither they nor my friends ever questioned my decision. Technically, the girls were not strangers. In fact, I learnt about giving and compassion from my mother. Since I was in class 8, she would take me with her to orphanages and we would meet the children there and donate things for them. If there was a small baby, I would always want to bring it home with me. So, compassion was instilled in me from childhood and I believe it is an important part of one’s upbringing to be able to help people when they need it the most.” Raveena’s parents looked after the everyday affairs of the girls when it came to matters of schooling, but she says she was there for every big event like annual day or if one of them was participating in a play. Pooja was admitted in Jankidevi Public School in Andheri, Mumbai. Chhaya, who had not even been sent to school earlier, had to go to a boarding school for a couple of years to catch up with the rest of the children her age, as no Mumbai school would give her admission. Raveena did not make a big deal of it and, though she was only in her early 20s when she adopted them, she just went with the fl ow. “Honestly, I didn’t think about the impact on anyone’s life and nor did I have a press conference about adopting them. They came to live with us and we started from scratch. People make a big deal out of it but I don’t think that is the case. Once you make up your mind, it automatically flows.”
Given the girls’ traumatic past, there were bound to be some scars. She agrees saying, “There was definitely some baggage, fears and hurts. As a young adoptee mother, I ensured it never became a burden. Pooja had a rebellious spirit and I loved that about her. She has the fighter-survivor instinct and she has channelised it by becoming a successful entrepreneur with leadership qualities. Chhaya was a little more nervous; she had anxiety and used to shiver in the first few months with us. It took her time to adapt to our way of life and to become confident. It is great the way they have both turned out now.” When it came to their upbringing, there were challenges, especially since Raveena was a busy actress and single mother. “Again, if it were not for my parents, I would not have been able to do it. The major challenge came from the disciplining I guess, and there would be the odd good cop bad cop kind of situation. If my mother had been tough with one of them, the girls would come to me. Realising that they were going be teenagers very soon, I would soften the blow. When I came back from shooting, they would tell me if they were upset, and we would cuddle in my bed and just talk. I would tell them about the mistakes I had also made in life. We were like friends and I was preparing them for heartbreaks, crushes, boyfriends, etc. I was not protecting them, because they needed to experience life on their own. But I wanted them to know that not everything in life was sugar-coated. If they learnt from my mistakes, I would be happy. The times I spent with them were some of the best of my life.” Since Raveena was single and very eligible back then, I wonder how her decision to adopt two young children impacted her personal life. Did it scare away any prospective bridegrooms or did it put pressure on any existing relationship? She admits candidly that this question only arose from the media and inquisitive older women who would ask ‘Who will marry you?’ “It never deterred me. If I had to find someone, I would love and respect him more if he had compassion and understood the decision I had taken and stood by me. For any man to love me, it was love me, love my girls and my dog – in that order. I came as a package deal and he had to be ready for it all.” Today, Raveena is happily married to Anil Thadani, a film distributor, and they have two kids of their own. “I am very lucky to have Anil as my husband. He has been the father figure in the lives of the girls, and gives them advice on investments and banking. They also share a very close bond with Rasha and Ranbirvardhan, my younger children. When they come home, we are all one big happy family.” Raveena married Anil in 2004 and gave birth to her daughter, Rasha, in 2005. Her son was born a few years later. Recalling her pregnancies, Raveena reveals she did not have any medical issues both times and her children were healthy babies. “The first time I was very excited I was pregnant, and I ate everything under the sun that I had deprived myself of during my years of working and being disciplined. Whether it was chocolates or cakes or ice cream, gulab jamun (Indian dessert) and every kind of sweet I had kept myself away from for so many years in the movies working non-stop … This was something I went a little nuts over during my fi rst pregnancy. So I put on a hell of a lot of weight. During my second pregnancy, I had a lot of baked and grilled foods and I put on almost the same amount of weight – maybe five kilos less than the fi rst time. I did become very, very big during both my pregnancies.” However, Raveena did not rush into losing the postpregnancy weight. “I took my time. I did not want to have any kind of pressure on myself. My first priority was my children and I nursed them for the first eight months. After that I started dieting a little bit, controlling what I ate and started to work out. Gradually I lost the excess weight.” She also describes giving birth as a miracle. “It felt nothing short of a miracle, as ethereal as it is enthralling.” As a mother, Raveena is very involved in all her children’s lives. The interview, too, was done in phases as she had to fetch her kids from school. She recalls vividly how Rasha was crying when she was born and stopped the moment the nurse placed her on her mother’s chest and heard her voice. “Her laughter lights up my spirit; she is my heartspace,” she says. Her Instagram feed is full of pictures of herself with her kids on holiday, at various festivals, even one celebrating her own mother’s birthday. There is one where her daughter Rasha is singing on stage and the proud mother has posted a video of it. When Chhaya got married, it was Raveena who walked her down the aisle. She is a hands-on mum who would like to pass on the values she learnt from her mother to her kids. In fact, she calls herself a student and says she has learnt from her three girls. “In teaching them about everything from good manners to achieving goals and the power of giving, I find myself growing with them. I am the student, not the teacher I had thought myself to be. My three girls have taught me so much about love, life and forgiveness.” Given that she herself is a spirited person, unafraid to speak up for the underdog, she has taught her kids to do the same. “I have told all of them to stand up for what is right. I have also told my son and daughter that if you see someone being bullied at school, you need to support the one getting bullied and speak up for him or her. Though they need to have a mind of their own and decide how they want to live their lives, I can only guide them and teach them the difference between right and wrong. I always tell them that being a successful human being first is much more important than material success. The latter comes and goes but what you are as a person stays with you for a lifetime.”