Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rajesh Khannna 1979


My first impression of him is that he’s a cold, proud man. My second, that his pride is a defence mechanism held between him and the rest of the world because he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s lonely... damn, damn, damn lonely. Doomed to be forever alone, in spite of the handful of people who have worked out the survival tricks of dealing with this sullen superstar, and are constantly around him.
There is his right-hand man Prashant: An engaging conversationalist, and diplomat who speaks seven languages from English to Bhojpuri and starts all his phone conversations with namaste and ends with ‘best of luck’. When his master is shooting, he tells you not to be punctual, because his master isn’t. When Rajesh Khanna is not shooting, Prashant cooks up mysterious meetings to keep callers away.
Then there is Munna, Kaka’s man-in-waiting, who smiles like Sanjeev Kumar but is better dressed. He wears only Wrangler shirts. And there’s Raja Ram, the make-up man who’s got a very easy job to do ever since Rajesh stopped breaking out in pimples. Raja Ram wears a belt with ‘R’ on it, and except for this sign of devotion, he speaks little.
Rajesh speaks little too. His poet-like face hides a steely person encased in freezing pride and loneliness. He doesn’t need people. I can’t understand how he consented to this diary. It took months of coaxing, months of planning and innumerable phone calls.

Friday, July 14: We are on the sets of Aanchal. It’s like being in a village, with courtyards, trees, stable, haystacks. Even Amol Palekar is in a dhoti, and Raakhee in knee-high sari. Rajesh, who plays Amol’s brother is in a kurta and holds a lathi. In the film, Raakhee plays Amol’s beautiful second wife, and Rajesh worships her like a mother. In this particular scene, Rajesh is supposed to come running and whisk her off to the fields.
There’s a timing problem between the two. Rajesh’s entry should be marked with Raakhee ending her dialogue. An assistant gives the cue from behind a door, but it still takes several retakes before the shot is okayed. Between shots, Rajesh is like an iceberg. He sits miles away from everybody. He makes no attempt to be friendly or talk.
I’m frankly confused. This is not the Rajesh who’s been described to me. This one neither throws tantrums nor humiliates his co-stars. But he’s sulky, peevish, a little starry. And he expects a lot of tolerance from others, when he creeps into his shell. Where’s the warm, tender, poetic lover of the silver screen? This one’s something that escaped from an ice factory!
Saturday July 15: Same film, same studio, same set. This shot is with Rajesh and Rekha. Good vibes here in real life, but all they do in the film, is squabble. In this scene, Rajesh is to dump a pot of milk on Rekha’s head. At the last minute, she gets fussy.‘Empty it below my neck,’ she demands.‘Not on my hair!’ I don’t mind if my clothes smell of milk, but not my hair.’ Rajesh flops into a chair.‘Fantastic!’ he says sarcastically.‘Then what’s the point?’‘Correct!’ agrees Rekha.‘No point. So, let’s do it tomorrow instead. I can’t go for my next shift smelling of milk. If we do the scene, I’ll have to go to the beauty parlour, shampoo and dry my hair, redo my make-up, redo my eyes — I’ll be three hours late for my next shift!’‘Forget the make-up,’ says Rajesh.‘I’m not Raakhee,’ says Rekha.‘I don’t have natural beauty.’
Rajesh is enjoying himself now.‘I understand. That’s Prakash Mehra’s shooting, and the hero is Amitabh, so you must be on time. I understand.’ Finally, Rekha has her way and everyone packs up. Rajesh is now sitting under a tree with the producer, director and a few visitors. He’s cool and blasep! Who would have thought that the ex-superstar would have put up with his leading lady’s tantrums! He isn’t ashamed of failure, in fact, even talks about it.‘I had my good days, I had my bad days — and I will have my good days again. I don’t envy the man on top now, because I’ve been there myself. I know how he feels — every hit, every joy, every applause. I’ve tasted it all — and it’s Wow!’
What a man! No one’s risen like he did, and no one’s fallen like he did.

Sunday July 16: On Sunday, Rajesh Khanna (Kaka) does not shoot.‘It’s the only day I can be with my children. I take chutti.’ So he takes it easy. Wakes up anytime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. His eyes open, he reaches for a cigarette. The day begins leisurely.‘Everyone complains I’m late for work. How can they be sure that when I’m lying in bed making smoke rings, I’m not working? My mind is busy. I’m thinking.’ When he’s through with smoking and thinking, he plays.‘I love playing with my children, especially Twinkle. I have been excellent rapport with her: May be because she’s so much my opposite. Chinky’s still too reserved and young. The second child is supposed to be the complexed one, anyway. You know, when I was a bachelor, the sound of my neighbour’s kids shouting would make me boil with rage. But when your own child makes a racket, it’s music. Better than R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar!’
After play is lunchtime. Lunch at ‘Aashirwad’ is always more than a family affair, with people dropping in at all times. Wife Dimple occasionally cooks his favourite dishes.‘She’s a good cook,’ he says,‘And it’s a nice change. But I wouldn’t like her to be in the kitchen all the time, when I can afford such a large staff!’ Evening is strictly family time. The Drive-in theatre is a Khanna favourite.‘It’s ideal for couples with young children!’ says Rajesh.‘Very relaxing. Dimple may yawn half a dozen times, I may doze off, the kids may be more interested in the wafers and ice-cream, but it’s still a nice outing.’
Monday July 17: He’s dubbing for Janata Hawaldar. Outside, it’s raining cats and dogs. Rajesh is in a foul mood, and has left strict orders that he’s not to be disturbed,‘even if there’s an earthquake.’ No calls, no visitors, no snacks, no tea!’ I have no choice but to wait until the weather clears and the mood mellows. Suddenly there’s a commotion from within. Rajesh’s voice is heard loud and clear all the way to the reception desk.‘I told you not to disturb me! Who the hell gave you permission to enter the room?’ There’s pin drop silence! The unit boy who had sneaked into the room to announce a guest, emerges chalk faced. The other unit boys gather around and console him.‘Never mind,’ whispers one.‘He’s in a bad mood. You should have kept away.’‘Even if he fired you, so what?’ says another.‘He is your saab, you have to take it!’ The discussion comes to a halt when the canteen boy arrives with omelettes and tea. It’s for Kakaji. He had ordered snacks at 6 p.m. But who’ll dare re-enter the lion’s den? No one’s ready to chance it.
At 6.35 p.m. Rajesh comes out. The tea and omelettes are cold now, and the unit boys are all trying to look like part of the furniture. Kaka spots the fellow he has just blasted, and beckons him.‘Tell the canteen to send hot tea, omelette and toast.’ The fellow turns to got when Rajesh stops him.‘Wasn’t too hard on you, was I?’ he says.‘When I say don’t disturb me, I mean don’t disturb me. Now run along and get tea for me. I’ve got a headache.’ The unit boy scurries off blushing with pleasure.
So he’s got a volcanic temper. But he’s generous too. Remember, he left a palatial bungalow as a parting gift to his ex-girlfriend? He gave a brand new Mercedes to Simple, his sister-in-law, when Anurodh was released. He said,‘No comments’— for seven years consistently about his Anju chapter, despite a hundred allegations and lies. He’s got a big heart all right.


Being Rajesh Khanna means two things: You’ve to be a natty dresser. And you’ve to be a real miser about your masala box. Rajesh is a fussy dresser. Wears only silk kurtas, and has suits in every imaginable colour. The masala box, is a large silver affair with half a dozen compartments, each containing a different type of masala and supari. There’s a small spoon for dipping into these compartments and an extra red-and-black potli — the fisherwoman type with strings, for holding elaichis. Well, he’s either sentimental about it all or just plain miserly, because in the nine days I followed him about, he didn’t offer me supari even once?
Today, there are many visitors. The writer of Dushman Dost has come to fix shooting dates. Prem Chopra, Kaka’s good friend since Kati Patang, has come to say “hello”. Then there’s the writer of Aavishkar, whom Rajesh introduces as a man who’s matured from tender love stories to crime and violence.“What’s happened?” Rajesh demands plaintively,“Where has love and romance gone? Romance can be anything — an open window, flowers, poetry, rain, music. Today, there’s no romance. No one has time for anything but getting into bed and raping.”
He’s at an ebb. Probably his sinus is acting up. Probably something else. You can never say with Rajesh Khanna.
Saturday July 22: Today is a good diary day. Rajesh Khanna’s on top of the world, ready to come out of his shell and talk. I’m flabbergasted that Khanna doesn’t drink his water from a gold or silver glass.“I don’t believe in silver or gold,” he smiles.“I believe in black and white. White is lovely but black is beautiful. I like dark women, they’re sexy. I’m not particular that a woman should be gori chitti or even curvaceous. Appeal comes from mental rapport. I have to click mentally first.”
He adjusts a pillow behind his head, getting into the spirit of the conversation.“My first mate was a big tease. We’d meet behind hedges to discuss lessons. She was smarter and used to help me with my studies. Mind you, I never borrowed her notes. No copying for me. Not even in those days. When I went to meet her father to ask for her hand, he asked me if I’d be taking over my family business. When he found out that I wanted to be an actor, he showed me the door. My second relationship was in college. I never attended classes. The day I did, my professor applauded. I found the staircase and the canteen more worthwhile. Pretty girls in churidars sat with friends, on the steps. One of them was a battleaxe, and we would be at each other’s throats all the time. The whole college naturally assumed we were in love! One day, I found her sitting all alone in the canteen. I took a chair. Fifteen minutes passed, she didn’t talk. I asked her if she was well?“I’m getting engaged tomorrow,” she snapped. I asked her one question before she left.“Be honest. Were you ever in love with me?”‘Yes’, she cried and fled. I never saw her again.

“Everyone knows the next chapter (Anju Mahendru). But have I ever commented on it?” There were some beautiful moments in that relationship. Too bad it went sour. And then my wife, Dimpi. Dimpi and I fell in love after marriage. Nothing anyone says can break our ties. She’s matured with motherhood. She’s developed constructive habits like reading. She’s read all the best-sellers.
There’s an interruption. Rajesh is summoned downstairs for the shot. It’s a scene for Dushman Dost and Rajesh and Shatru are in C.I.D. uniforms. Rajesh gets up to change.“With the young lady’s permission, of course,” he says. I excuse myself, marvelling at his sudden radiant charm. I told you, today he’s in a good mood.
Monday July 24: He’s shooting at the airport for Prem Bandhan. The entire cast is present — Moushumi Chatterji, Vikram, Lalita Pawar, Rippy Singh and A.K. Hangal. It’s the usual homecoming scene. Tears, laughter, hugs and the inevitable garland! Everyone seems to be happy. Except me. It’s just not my day. I’ve had to fight my way through the massive crowd outside. When I finally land inside the building, the crowd is larger. Men, women and children are falling over themselves to get a close look at the stars. The light boys are going crazy trying to keep the mob under control and away from the lights. Suddenly the headlight boy yells at a little kid who’s standing on the wires.“Do you know you can die of an electric shock in two seconds?”
Thankfully, Kaka’s man, Munna, spots me and manages to drag me out of the crowd. I’m on my way to Kaka when Moushumi shrieks,“Hiiiii!” She makes me sit beside her and asks,“How do you like my earrings?” After that, there’s no stoping her. She tells me about her husband, her house, her daughter, her trip abroad. From the corner of my eye, I notice that Kaka’s watching us coldly. Moushumi finally lets me go and I’m walking towards Kaka, when Vikram and Hangal stop me.‘In South India,’ says Vikram,‘we call our tea boys ‘Kaka’. But in Punjab, Kaka is used as a term of affection!“Ha, ha, ha!”
I can’t get close to Rajesh now. There are some kids from Delhi who want his autograph; a middle-aged couple who request him to pose for a photograph and done and pack-up announced, the police have to be called in to clear the way for the stars.
Tuesday July 25: Good things never last. Today, my last day for this diary is a real tough one, with silence, restraint and formalities. He’s switched off and is aloof again. At the photo sessions, he loosens up a bit and flashes a whole range of adorable expressions — a consummate actor. But what a strange man! After nine days, I feel as though I’ve been circling a closed shell with no doors or windows. Expecting to get a peek inside by some miracle. But that happened oh-so-few-times. He’s a closed book to most people. There are flashes of a warmer human being trapped in his star image. Today, he’s unapproachale, moody, aloof, a world unto himself.
My last impression of him is the same as my first. He’s lonely. Damn, damn, damn, lonely.
“The best judge of an interview is always your most intimate ones. They know everything about you — your thoughts and feelings — and if what you say in print, can retain their interests, it means you have not stagnated. I remember the reactions I received for this diary. It had the ability to surprise me and those around me. Interviews are quite similar to screen performances. One identifies only with the recent ones.”
(Rajesh Khanna)