Reposting My Reminiscences on Rajesh Khanna
There has been superstars before Rajesh Khnna: Dilp Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor. There has been superstars after Rajesh Khnna: Amitabj Bachcan, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan. But if you haven’t been a teenager between 1969-1972, you will never know what is star hysteria really like. Well, India never had an Elvis, or the Beatles. But There was Rajesh Khanna.
I had just started seeing Hindi films and had been impressed by Manoj Kumar in Upkar, Dilip Kumar in Ram aur Shyam and Aadmi, Dharmendra in Shikar and Jeetendra in Farz. Then in 1969 came Aradhana. The songs were already a craze. But seeing Rajesh Khanaa singing Mere Sapno KI Raani Kab in the open jeep or him looking deep into Sharmila’s eyes as he sang Roop Tera Mastana was something else. Then there was the younger Rajesh with a moustache in his pilot avatar making an entry..and singing Baagon Mein Bahar Hai soon after with cuddly Farida Jalal. The nation did not know what hit it. I can’t remember how many times we switched off the light of the common room of our boys’ hostel as we played the Aradhana EP for the nth time and let the magic of Roop Tera Mastana take over.
Do Raaste came soon after, with the oh-so–namkeen Mumtaz singing Bindiya Chamkegi. But Rajesh stole our hearts once again. The mystery of him singing Yeh Reshmi Zulfe with a full beard on was cleared later when we saw Ittefaq, a songless thriller from the BR Chopra house. And wonder of wonder it was a hit. Still remember Rajesh in his black long-sleeved T-shirt giving the deep soulful look to Nanda and asking , “ Coffee nahin pilaogee?”
All hell broke loose after Haathi Mere Saathi. An absurd film with an elephant, directed by an unknown Devar, became a superhit. I still remember the Filmfare just after this period where we read about some girl writing a letter to Khanna with her blood . We could believe it, because if we guys were so crazy after this crinkly eyed , gurkha looking paunchy alien, what effect he must not be having on the girls! But I can tell you what havoc he was creating among us boys. In this residential school of ours, we were allowed to wear non-uniform, private clothes only on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. And you should have seen the riot of colurs our hostel corridor was on a Sunday morning. Everyone in their “ guru kurtas’ in colours that would put a Lakme Fashion Week designer to shame: Cobalt Blue, Canary Yellow, Bright purple…and worse. Yes we all had gone through the skin-tight drainpipes of Jeetendra, the Jewel Thief cap of Dev Anand and his Guide puff..but nothing at this scale was ever unleashed before.
And the guy must have been the celestial step child of a Gandhrava to get all those divine songs in film after film, causing the rise of Kishore Kumar and eclipse of the evergreen Rafi. Just take the songs of Aradhana, every single song of which made it to the Binaca Geet Mala’s Top 16, including “ Dada Burman singing “ Safal Hogi Tera Aradhana’. Or Kati Patang : “ Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai’, “ Pyar Deewana Hota hai’, “ Yeh Shaam Mastani” , “ Na Koi Umang Hai” , “ Khelenge Aaj HumHoli”. Remember him singing “ Wada tera wada, wade pe tera maara gaya banda mein seedha saadha’. And the crowd going berserk.
Must narrate one incident from this era. ThIs was in Raipur then in Madhay Pradesh where a typical big budget film was released in 5 shows ( 9-12, 12-3, 3-6, 6-9 and 9-12) . With Khanna’s Aan Milo Sajna, they added one extra show: 6-9! The first show starting at 6 ‘O clock in the morning, can you imagine! And this was not all. And what I’m going to narrate actually happened in the show I was in. There was an abrupt disruption of screening after the song “ Jawaniyon Dewaniyon Zindabad”. What the heck and why the hell! Soon it was clear. Some fans wanted the reel to be rewound and the song screened again! Of course this was the film that had “ Achha To Hum Chlate Hain.” I am not going into Box office statistics as Khanan was a far more interesting phenomenon that just a successful star (unlike say Rajendra Kumar or Jeetendra). Rajesh Khanna was not just the favourite of commercial czars of the day like Shakti Samanta, Raj Khoshla and Manmohan Desai, but also small arty filmmakers like Asit Sen and Hrishikesh Mukherje. His fans had no qualms about embracing him wholeheartedly in films like Khamoshi or Safar and Anad or Bawarchi. Ah Anand! What a film! And what a performance! He was really the darling of the nation as he sang , in his simple kurta –pyjama, Zindagi Kaisi Yeh Paheli Hai or Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaaye. And who can forget Amar Prem another unbelievably rich treasure house of musical gems ( Yeh Kya Hua, Chingaari, Kuchchh to Log Kahenge, Naina Bit Jaaye, Bada Natkhat Hai”. And if you notice with what elegance he carried off the starched kurta and crinkled dhoti of bhdralok Bengalis you will never forgive Shahrukh for the bhaand that he made Devdas look like. And he made serous tearjerkers like these mega hits.
His double dhamaal pairing with Sharmila Tagore on one hand and Mumtaz on the other has never been matched.
But perhaps the word ‘ meteoric rise’ was coined for a star like Rajesh Khanan…. For like a meteor he too burnt out pretty fast. Post Anand he really had nothing more to prove. He could have just retired or had a road accident like Jamsed Dean become immortal. Instead he went o to give hits like Apna Desh, Daag ( the film with which Yash Chopra started his independent banner) , Namka Haraam, Prem Nagar, Aap Ki Ksam, Prem Kahani, Roti , but the magic had gone and a spate of flops followed. The tell-tale signs were there in Namak Haraam where the Angry Youngman flame of Amitabh Bachchan was rearing to leap out and devour what was still not know as Bollywood.
Truth to tell, it would have been impossible for anyone to live up to the gargantuan expectation raised by the scale of his early success unless he reinvented himself. And Rajesh Khanna wasn’t upto it. He hadn’t had much success outside the romantic / tragic / dramatic / family films. He was pathetic in comedies like Joru ka Ghulam or action thrillers like The Train. And didn’t succeed in costume dramas / period films like Mehboob Ki Mehndo or Rajpur or Mehbooba. Soon he became a caricature of himself as the Amitabh aura took over .
And that’s’ of course another story…no less exciting.
Another time perhaps.