Saturday, January 3, 2009

Memories of Rajesh Khanna

Dinesh Raheja sees the legendary side of the yesteryear superstar

I HAVE never liked anybody's work or persona (not even my own) so consistently that I became a fan. I have loved performances more than performers. However, there was a phase in the 1970s, when I was in my impressionable years, a pan-cultural phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna swept the film industry; and all roads led to cinema houses showing Khanna's films. 

The word superstar became common usage thanks to him. Amitabh had once reminisced about his early days: "I became famous purely because I was working with Rajesh Khanna in Anand. People asked me questions like 'How does he look?' 'What does he do?'" 

It is Rajesh Khanna's birthday this year on December 29 (he shares it with his daughter Twinkle, albeit they were born 31 years apart). And it's distressing to see that in the 66th year of his life, the star has been gifted with brickbats rather than bouquets for the lurid love scenes in his latest release, Wafaa. 

He may be down for the count currently; but I choose to remember Khanna as the Bollywood ishtyle film-star nonpareil in Shakti Samanta's Amar Prem (intoning "Pushpa, I hate tears") or Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand (laughing at death with a twinkle in his eyes and booming 'Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin'). 

In 1969, two non air-conditioned theatres, Roxy and Opera House, which were a stone's throw from each other, were showing two runaway Rajesh Khanna hits Aradhana and Do Raaste. The former paired him with the stylish and sexy Sharmila, while Do Raaste co-starred the pug-nosed phuljadi, Mumtaz. 

My elder brother Gopal would woo his girlfriend, whom he eventually married, by playing the romantic anthem of the day, 'Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu' so loudly in our eighth-floor balcony she could hear it in her second-floor balcony in the opposite building. One of the high points of my grandmom's life was Rajesh Khanna touching her feet to seek blessings at his friend Raj Bathija's sister's wedding.

Years later, Khanna encapsulated this phase beautifully. "I always thought of myself as an actor ... somewhere along the way I became a superstar. Super success is mind-blowing. It psyches you totally." 

For some years, the only name that ricocheted from every corner of the nation, was Rajesh Khanna. Whether he was balancing his glares on the tip of his nose and crinkling his eyes or wearing broad belts over left-untucked shirts, he was the trendsetter.

By the mid-'70s, however, Khanna's scrunchy-eyed mannerisms began to seem cheesy (he did an average of six films a year) and his career ran out of steam his directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Ramesh Sippy, Manmohan Desai and Yash Chopra swerved towards Amitabh (even old faithful Shakti Aradhana Samanta was pulled into Amitabh's magnetic circle with The Great Gambler); and a new superstar was born.

In 1990, after almost two decades of steering clear of each other, Amitabh and Rajesh Khanna came together for a cover story for Movie magazine, of which I was the editor. 

At the appointed hour, the two showed up within minutes of each other; but the air was frosty and not because of the air conditioning at the suburban five star. An unusually accommodating Rajesh Khanna willingly dressed in the bathroom, leaving the room to Amitabh's disposal. The French wine I ordered spontaneously, paid rich dividends. Soon, an astonishing bonhomie developed and the two legendary superstars, much publicised as cut-throat rivals, sat across a table and analysed their life and times and even heaped each other with praise. 

This was not the first time I had met Rajesh Khanna but since it was my most memorable meeting, I have compromised on chronology. My first meeting with Khanna was at the shooting of Aaj Ka MLA. During a party held after the day's shooting at Chennai, I was imitating Kakaji's favourite dance steps and crinkling eyes act for my fellow scribes, and when I came a full circle, Khanna was standing right in front of me. Time and I, both, froze.

Later, we broke the ice when we shared the 'tiffin' (the tiffin in a Chennai studio is meant for one but can feed a family). When he chose to use it, Khanna had charm and could have anyone eating out of his palms.

Of course I also got to see, and hear about, the famous bad moods of the superstar. After he had renewed his creds with Avtaar and Souten, I was on the sets of Brij's Oonche Log in the mid 1980s to interview Khanna. Salma Agha got a take right after 18 attempts and plonked into her chair, exhausted. Till Khanna said, "one take for me", leaving Salma stupefied. Sadhana, Khanna's heroine in Dil Daulat Aur Duniya, recounted how "Kakaji never wished me good morning or good bye during the shooting." 

But with the passage of time, I prefer to push these memories under the carpet and remember the mellow Khanna who was a charming host. At one of his parties in the 1990s, ex-girlfriend Anju Mahendru, was the charming hostess while separated wife Dimple, played the relaxed guest. I was impressed by the way he had maintained a cordial relationship with his ex-girlfriend and ex-wife.

I would like to airbrush out the Wafaas and Woh Phir Aayegis of recent times and remember Rajesh Khanna for making my teen years so much fun at those art-deco sanctuaries we now dismiss as single-screen theatres. For introducing me to the jumbos in Haathi Mere Saathi; for holding me at the edge-of-my-seat in the songless thriller, Ittefaq. 

For livening up such adventure fare as Sachha Jhootha (he makes Mumtaz take a truth serum, would you believe). For making my spirits soar when he rode a bike while crooning, 'Zindagi ek safar hai suhana' with a scarf-sporting Hema as the pillion rider; and for bringing a lump to my throat by locating the never-say-die spirit of terminally ill patients in Safar and Anand.

Khanna is no longer in the rat race today; but he was the Marathon Man. 

The Bumper Year 
10 superstars from Kaka's days who have benefited from multiple hits in a single year

Rajesh Khanna 1970 
Khanna was the box office behemoth for five years after breaking through with two blockbusters Aradhana and Do Raaste released in the last two months of 1969. In 1970, he consolidated his position with a further string of successes The Train, Sachha Jhootha, Safar, Kati Patang and Aan Milo Sajna.

Dharmendra 1973 
Jugnu was a smash hit. But this Jat had an appetite for more in 1973; Kahani Kismet Ki, Loafer and Yaadon Ki Baraat also broke the bank. 
Amitabh Bachchan 1978 
Amitabh has had multiple successes several times from 1973 (Zanjeer, Abhiman, Namak Haram) to 2005 (Sarkar, Bunty Aur Babli, Waqt and, arguably, Black). But 1978 was an exceptional year. He was the star of three clear blockbusters Muqaddar Ka Sikander, Don and Trishul released within a span of six months! Crowds also thronged to see him in Kasme Vaade and Ganga Ki Saugandh in this annum mirabilis.

Vinod Khanna 1977
Vinod had a hat-trick with his hit jugalbandi alongside Amitabh in Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish and Khoon Pasina that year. But he proved he was also a star on his own steam with Inkar and Hatyara. 
Jeetendra 1983
He was on the vanguard of the 1983 southern invasion with three thumping ceetee-evokers Himmatwala, Justice Chowdhary and Mawaali. The films may have earned 'pans' from the critics but they made 'pots' of money.  
Salman Khan 1999
In 1999, Salman was a brash philanderer in Biwi No 1, shyly domesticated in Hum Saath Saath Hain, brittle and romantic in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and a crowd pleaser in all three.
Aamir Khan 2006
Stars these days do fewer films than earlier actors; even a couple of megasuccesses pack a one-two knock-out punch. Though the impact of Aamir's two benchmark films from 2001, Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai (a qualified success), was seismic, Aamir enjoyed huge grosses in 2006 with Rang De Basanti and Fanaa.  
Hrithik Roshan 2006 
Hrithik has not had even a single film releasing in some years (2005, 2007), so for him to have a two-pronged successful appearance in 2006 (Krissh, Dhoom 2) was a big deal.

Akshay Kumar 2007
After years of being on the fringes of the A-list, Akshay burst into prominence in the new millennium. And his rapidly ascending career imitated a space shuttle in 2007 with four winners Welcome, Namastey London, Heyy Baby and Bhool Bhulaiya. 
Shah Rukh Khan 2007 
Shah Rukh has had a couple of hits on several occasions 1993 (Darr, Baazigar) 1995 (Karan Arjun, DDLJ), 1997 (Dil To Pagal Hai, Pardes), 2004 (Main Hoon Na, Veer Zaara), but an escalating business atmosphere and the huge grosses for Chak De India and Om Shanti Om in 2007 saw him cutting a wide swath.


  1. Good writings....

    ...everybody has good and bad moods....

    unfortunately...the bad moods of Rajesh Khanna creates news to some....