On October 8, six days after actors Samantha and Naga Chaitanya announced their decision to separate, the former broke her silence on the distasteful speculation doing the rounds. In a tweet, Samantha said, “Your emotional investment into a personal crisis has overwhelmed me. Thank you all for showing deep empathy, concern and for defending me against false rumours and stories that are being spread. They say I had affairs, never wanted children, that I am an opportunist and now that I have had abortions. A divorce in itself is an extremely painful process. Let alone allowing me the time to heal. This attack on me personally, has been relentless. But I promise you this, I will never allow this or anything they say, break me.”
Samantha is known for being outspoken, but the rumours have been very tough on her, a close friend of the actor who preferred to remain anonymous tells TNM. There are innumerable videos on YouTube and other social media platforms where the reasons for the divorce are being thrashed out, with anchors and even a retired doctor making tall claims, that the marriage broke because Samantha did not want children. Declaring these rumours as patently false, Samantha’s friend tells TNM that they are the opposite of what happened.
“After Family Man 2, her phone would not stop ringing but she did not take any of those calls because she was planning a baby,” the friend says, “She could have gone to Mumbai and done whatever she wanted with her life at that time, but she said no. This is why all of this makes me so furious, all this speculation. I don't know how she's dealing with it.”
TNM also spoke to Neelima Guna, the producer of Shaakuntalam, Samantha's upcoming film, who confirmed that the actor had indeed been planning her pregnancy. "Last year itself, when my father director Gunasekhar garu and I approached Samantha for Shaakuntalam, she loved the story and was very excited by it, but she told us that if she were to accept the role, the shooting should be completed by maximum July/August this year. She informed me that she was planning to start a family and that she wants to become a mother and that it would be her priority. She was a little apprehensive since period films take a lot of time, but we told her that due to the pre-production and proper planning that we have done, we would be able to accomplish the entire shoot within the time period and there would be no tensions whatsoever. As soon as she heard that, she was very happy and on board this. She told me that this would be her last film and that after this, she wants to take a long break and have children, plan her family. Through the schedules also, we never took a break since we wanted to accommodate this request from her side."
Samantha's friend tells TNM that the innumerable videos on the actor have been nothing short of cruel. "The Telugu social media space is so patriarchal and toxic. Every couple of hours, there's a new video that talks about what happened between Samantha and Naga Chaitanya. Every time she used to do an Instagram or YouTube Live, people would ask her when she was going to have a baby. She always joked about it and said that the baby will come on this day, at this time and so on,” her friend says. “Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, people are now claiming that she got pregnant but aborted the baby. In fact, one of the most ridiculous videos has retired senior doctor CL Venkata Rao claiming that Samantha had two abortions. He says that after the first one, Naga Chaitanya told her that they have enough wealth and there was no need to abort the second baby, but she didn't listen. He even says that Samantha wanted to go in for surrogacy and 'rent a uterus' rather than 'spoil her beauty' by becoming pregnant," says the friend, adding that these claims are absurd and defamatory.
There are several bizarre theories about Samantha's character and behaviour on the internet in the aftermath of the separation.
"Everyone calls Chaitu (Naga Chaitanya) soft-spoken and a cultured man. He has a heart like Lord Rama. He had the characteristics of Rama who practised monogamy. Sam will never get a husband neither in this life nor in the next life, many believe," Dr CL Venkata Rao declares in his video.
Many 'family counsellors' have also used the opportunity to increase their viewership by offering 'advice' on what went wrong in the relationship, laying the blame squarely at Samantha's door. Her friend says that such discourse has not only hurt Samantha but also her circle of close friends.
The Akkineni family is one of the most prominent in the Telugu film industry, and while Nagarjuna has put out a statement saying both Naga Chaitanya and Samantha are dear to him, the unceasing speculation could hurt Samantha's career in future.
"In multiple ways, Samantha is the first to do a number of things. She was the first among contemporary stars to have such an active and successful career after being married in the Telugu industry. She did a crossover to Hindi with Family Man 2 and became such a success despite the controversies. She has six films in hand, and how this pans out remains to be seen," says the friend. "Imagine the amount of negativity she's getting, it's extremely tough. People are constantly saying something or the other. She has to think about how to respond, what to say."
Samantha's friends are also being dragged through the mud, particularly singer Chinmayi, director Nandini Reddy, stylist Preetham Jukalker, designer Shilpa Reddy and gynecologist and Padma Shri awardee Dr Manjula Anagani. Aspersions are being cast on their personal lives too, to hint that they were a "bad influence" on the actor. Dr Anagani, the rumour mongers claim, performed abortions on Samantha.
The friend says that though many of them tried to patch up the marriage, the couple had reached a point of no return. "I truly hope that she's able to move past this," says the friend, reflecting the hope that scores of Samantha's fans have expressed.
While the Akkineni family hasn't blamed Samantha for the separation, the relentless speculation has pinned the divorce on her. However, this isn't a new phenomenon. Such character assassination happens routinely with women in the public eye, especially when they belong to the film industry. It's therefore not surprising that women like Samantha, who don't mince their words, come under even more scrutiny.