|29.12.1942 - 18.7.2012|
This was not what I had planned for my next post. Neither had I expected to write one so soon.
The original ‘superstar’ is dead. That is the news which greeted me this morning. The man for whom the term ‘superstar’ was coined, died in the early hours of the morning. Until the juggernaut that was Rajesh Khanna arrived on the scene, no one had seen the sort of mass hysteria that he evoked. So much so, even Amitabh Bachchan would state that Rajesh Khanna was the true superstar. (In an interview, Amitabh had once stated that he became famous only because he worked with Rajesh Khanna in Anand.)
Rest in peace, Mr Khanna. You will be missed.
Rest in peace, Mr Khanna. You will be missed.
After Shammi Kapoor, or perhaps, even more than Shammiji, Rajesh Khanna embodied romance. His crinkly eyes and lopsided smile won hearts and set the box-office on fire, until the mannerisms threatened to overtake the man. I would like to remember him, however, as the actor who made my movie-watching such fun in the early years, when a ‘Rajesh Khanna’ film meant pure entertainment, great songs, beautiful heroines – and Kaka. Above all, Kaka.
As Javed Jaffrey stated in Videocon Flashback, there was a time when Kaake ne patang udaai toh film hit! This was not hyperbole. Between 1969 and 1971, fifteen of his films, all solo-hero, were superhits. This is a feat unsurpassed by any hero since. An intense period of hit after superhit followed, marking an epoch in Hindi cinema.
Born Jatin Khanna, Rajesh Khanna won a talent contest that ensured his entry into films with Aakhri Khat and Raaz. I was never a Rajesh Khanna fan, having grown up in the era of Amitabh Bachchan, but a Rajesh Khanna film, especially the earlier ones, were always watchable. Underneath all the mannerisms, Kaka was a fine actor, a fact that is sometimes lost while analysing the phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna.
Rajesh Khanna once said, “I always thought of myself as an actor. Somewhere along the way, I became a superstar.’ So, here are the films that to me, encapsulated the actor that was Rajesh Khanna. All solo-hero films that I have seen, some more than once, and enjoyed thoroughly. Films that, even if they did have his trademark gestures, showed us what he was capable of and how much more he could be if he chose to be so.
Aakhri Khat (1966)
While Raaz was the first film that he signed, it was Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat that hit the marquee first, and introduced the man who would go on to become a phenomenon. It was a subdued debut, that of a man with grey shades. Rajesh Khanna is Govind, a youth who meets and has a tryst with a hill maiden, only to leave her behind. When she comes to him in the city, pregnant and helpless, he refuses to accept that the child is his, until circumstances force him to change his mind. Will it be too late?
Khamoshi (1969)It took a great act of courage for the makers to film in black and white in an era of riotous colour, but somehow, the theme of Khamoshi seemed much starker in simpler shades. Khanna plays Arun, patient no: 24, who is subjected to an innovative ‘treatment’ at the mental hospital. Looked after by a nurse who is fighting her own demons, he not only recovers, but falls in love with her in the process. While the film belongs to Waheeda Rehman, who plays a nurse forced to act a part that is abhorrent to her, Rajesh Khanna provided able foil as the man who is so in love with a woman that he is convinced it is reciprocated.
Ittefaq(1969)A rare phenomenon in the song-filled sixties, Ittefaq was an experimental song-less film made by BR films, and directed by Yash Chopra (before he became the king of sarson ke kheth). As Dilip, a man accused of his wife’s murder, an eager-to-prove himself Rajesh Khanna rose to spar with Rekha (Nanda in an excellent portrayal), in whose house he hides himself while on the run from the police. An intense psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the last scene, much depended on the chemistry between the leads, and the atmosphere they create. The seasoned actress and the novice hero rose to the occasion.
Aradhana (1969)The film that saw the birth of the ‘Rajesh Khanna phenomenon’ and the resurgence of Kishore Kumar, the singer, as the superstar’s voice, Aradhana saw Rajesh Khanna play his first double role – as Sharmila Tagore’s lover and her pilot son. Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu crinkled Kaka at a dimpled La Tagore, and overnight, a sensation was born.
There is an interesting story about the making of Aradhana. Originally, Rajesh Khanna was to only play the lover. Just before the first day of shooting, Shakti Samanta was invited to a preview of Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati. Shocked to see that the ending of the film was similar to the movie he was going to shoot, Shakti Samanta nearly scrapped the whole thing. Until writer Gulshan Nanda persuaded him to reconsider, suggesting that both roles be played by Rajesh Khanna. They reworked the ending of Aradhana in a few hours, and as they say, history was made.
Anand (1971)As the cancer-stricken eponymous hero, Rajesh Khanna played Anand with the minimum of melodrama. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s protagonist never cried; he made the audience shed tears by the gallon. His death speech became iconic; his character laughed at himself just as much as he made others laugh. Anand’s inner anguish is only to be guessed at, as Rajesh Khanna played him with a subtlety that went missing when the ‘superstar’ overtook the ‘actor’. It was one of Rajesh Khanna’s finest performances.
Amar Prem (1972)Sharmila Tagore once described Amar Prem, her favourite amongst her Shakti Samanta films, as sheer poetry. That it definitely was. Anand (Rajesh Khanna) is an unhappily married man, who is at once cynical and romantic. His pragmatism helps Pushpa (Sharmila Tagore) come to terms with her life, even as Anand becomes (it is suggested) her only client. What was interesting (at least to me) was that Amar Prem depicted an unconventional relationship between a man and woman. Is it necessary to be married to feel an emotional connection to another person? As Anand says Agar koi apna na hokar bhi apna lage to use kya kehte hain? A remake of the Bengali film Nishipadma starring Uttam Kumar, Amar Prem came at the height of Kaka’s and Sharmila Tagore’s careers, and cemented their box-office stature.
Based on yet another Bengali film (Galpa Holeo Satyi by Tapan Sinha), Bawarchi saw Rajesh Khanna don a chef’s cap as he tries to broker peace in a squabbling joint family headed by the irascible Daduji (Harindranath Chattopadhyay). With unfailing good cheer, Raghu (Rajesh Khanna) takes on every task in the family, and seems to be a poet, musician, storyteller – in other words, too good to be true. Bawarchi was an unpretentious film, heart-warming without being too-sweet-to-swallow, and under Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s firm handling, Rajesh acts out the part with seeming ease.
Namak Haram (1973)Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s adaptation of Becket pitted Rajesh Khanna against the man who would prove to be his nemesis – Amitabh Bachchan. A film about the clash of opposing ideologies, it was also a rendering of the relationship between the two protagonists. Rajesh Khanna played Somu, conflicted by the choices he has to make – on one side is his friend, closer than brother; on the other is his conscience which questions the rightness of what he is doing. At the trial of the film, Rajesh Khanna turned to Hrishida and said ruefully "Here is tomorrow's superstar."
In Basu Bhattacharya’s hard-hitting examination of man-woman relationships (part of his Amar-Mansi trilogy, the other two being Anubhav and Grihapravesh), Rajesh Khanna teamed up with one of his favourite heroines – Sharmila Tagore – to play Amar, part of the disillusioned married couple. It was a far cry from Mere sapno ki rani as the couple savage each other as their relationship lies in ruins around them. Avishkar was a revelation as the leads left their baggage behind (his mannerisms, her trademark bouffant and false eyelashes) as they play a couple struggling to save their marriage. It won Rajesh Khanna a well-deserved Filmfare award for Best Actor.
Aap ki Kasam (1974)A remake of the Malayalam hit Vaazhve Maayam, Aap ki Kasam saw a stunning performance from Kaka as the suspicious husband. Ably complemented by Mumtaz as Sunita, the anguished wife, and Sanjeev Kumar as Mohan, the unfairly-accused friend, Rajesh Khanna brought subtle nuances to a character that could have unredeemably black. It is one of Rajesh Khanna’s ‘unconventional’ choices as hero; a character with grey shades, and with the audience sympathy going firmly to the other two. With great songs, and wonderful chemistry with other Khanna-favourite Mumtaz, Aap ki Kasam took a closer look at how unfounded suspicion can sound the deathknell of a relationship.