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Every fledgling actress dreams of a debut like Mahima's. And every successful actress fears the predicament in which she now finds herself.
From a career in modeling, her role as the quintessential "good Indian girl" opposite Shahrukh Khan in 1997's Pardes shot her straight to fame. But Mahima's relationship with her "industry sponsor," director Subhash Ghai, was too good to be true. In April 1998, Ghai took her to court to restrain her from traveling abroad, where she planned to participate in a stage show. The judge denied Ghai's request, but the ensuing furor was Mahima's first taste of her new role in Bollywood: queen of scandal.
In an April 1998 interview with Rediff, Mahima admits confusion to how the Ghai matter got so out of hand. "He suddenly took off on me and sent me this legal notice. When I called back and tried to get in touch with him, he switched off his cellphone and refused to come on line. So I spoke to his wife. She said she will talk to him and asked me to call him back after ten minutes. That's exactly what I did. By this time, I presume on her persuasion, he had switched on his cellphone. So when I called, he picked it up and said: I will meet you in court! Then he went off the line. I tried to connect with him to understand what he meant by that short, cryptic comment, but (by that time) he had switched the cellphone off again. So, if you ask me, I still have no clue as to what went wrong."
In the same interview, the journalist explored the matter in further detail:
I presume you are talking about the terms of his contract with
you when you describe his expectations as overmuch. Or are you
insinuating something more?
why didn't you make an issue of it then? Matters may not reached
a head that way.
Don't you feel bad that such a special rishta [relationship] has
soured for no reason at all?
Why did you sign a contract where you gave away everything --
your freedom to sign other films, a substantial share of your
earnings from advertising, stage shows and future movies, and
your right to choose your own future in the industry? What did
you expect to get from this slavish contract?
Mahima's troubles do not end with Subhash Ghai. Her ongoing romance with tennis star Leander Paes, who recently bought her an expensive bungalow and allegedly opposes the idea of a working wife, has made marriage-wary producers nervous to sign her. Worse, Mahima has made an abrupt exit from four different films, and several other projects have been stalled due to date conflicts. To be fair, in an industry where a star usually works on several films at once, the allotment of shooting dates is very tricky and often leads to such problems. But some people claim Mahima is selectively reneging on committments to filmmakers based on their recent track record at the box office. The possibility does not endear her to the industry, particularly since Mahima herself has not had a runaway hit since her debut. (Cineblitz, Mar. 2002)
The negative talk circulating about her grew louder recently, when Mahima reportedly skipped out on shooting dates for several productions, including those of Nitin Raj and Vashu Bhagnani, in order to do a concert abroad with Popcorn Entertainment (run by Sunil Shetty). Rajoo Karia, one of Mahima's former secretaries (currently she's on her seventh), has quit over such doings. In the March 2002 issue of Cineblitz, he explains his decision: "She accepted the signing amount from [Nitin Raj] and later denied ever having taken it! I took Nitin and Zahid (her ex-secretary, a witness to said transaction) to her house. To our shock, Mahima's sister refused to let us enter, claiming that Mahima was not at home. I am a producer's man, I could not tolerate the anguish she was causing them and I resigned."
Some trade magazines have been prompted to speculate on whether she will be banned by producers altogether. Pahlaj Nihalani, president of the Cine Artistes' Association and member of the IMPPA (the governing authority over the film industry), admits, "Mahima has been troubling producers, which is very bad. She seems to forget that it's the films that make her a star, not the stage shows. Now she has been ordered to cooperate and she will have to. She has hurt herself by her bad behavior, more than anyone else. Now producers will think twice before signing her." (Cineblitz, Mar. 2002) For an actress renowned for her friendly nature and acting prowess, such news must be startling indeed.