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21 September 2022

My Favourites: Rajesh Khanna Songs

Photo: India Today

Rajesh Khanna's undeniable charm, his screen presence and his soft, boyish looks made him the idol of millions, no doubt, but he was also a supremely gifted actor who not only took risks with the roles he chose but didn’t mind giving his heroines the lion’s share of the spotlight. There was also his ease of manner – the slight tilt of his head, the softly spoken well-modulated dialogues, the twinkle in his eye that made us feel that he was enjoying himself thoroughly. Certainly, there was more to ‘Kaka’ as he was affectionately called, than mere chocolate boy, romantic hero, or his superstardom. Within those constraints too, he was a great performer, and as we noted, a very good ‘song-actor’ – someone who not only lip-synced so well that it seemed like he was singing himself, but who also emoted so beautifully that a viewer could understand what the lyrics intend to convey even if they didn’t understand the language.

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In his heyday, on a winning streak of 15 hit films, Rajesh Khanna  was as synonymous with romance as he was with success. Entering the industry at a time when there was a paucity of purely romantic heroes, he both personified and enshrined romance. Indeed, one cannot celebrate romance in Hindi cinema without acknowledging his contribution to that genre. If there was one hero, after Shammi Kapoor, who was so closely connected to romance and who could make each woman feel like he was speaking or singing only to her, it had to be Rajesh Khanna. 

Photo: Film History Pics on Twitter

And where would romance in Hindi cinema be without songs? Rajesh Khanna had the good fortune to have some of the best songs of the period picturised on him. Like Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna also knew the immense contribution of music to his soaring popularity. His interest in his film’s music meant that he would often sit in on recording sessions. This, in turn, led to a long-lasting friendship with two men who would play a crucial role in shaping the phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna.

Growing up, my memories of a Rajesh Khanna movie was that of a sure-fire entertainer with great songs – and Kaka, always Kaka with his crinkled eyes and lopsided smile. So, a musical journey through some of my favourite Rajesh Khanna songs to listen to and watch (though not all are romantic), in no particular order. 
Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye
Anand (1970)
Singer: Mukesh
Music: Salil Choudhury
Lyrics: Yogesh
I love the score of Anand – all the songs, but my favourite is Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye. The reason I chose  Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye is because of the evocative lyrics and the gentle melancholy – not self-pity – in Mukesh’s voice. This song comes at a crucial point in the film’s narrative – Anand (Rajesh Khanna) is the jovial eponymous character who knows he’s dying from cancer. But he doesn’t want to die without seizing every precious second that’s granted to him. And so, naturally gregarious by nature, he’s preternaturally cheerful. Except when he’s alone, and then, only sometimes, when he expresses what he truly feels through his poetry – Dil jaane mere saare bhed ye gehre / Ho gaye kaise mere sapne sunahre / Ye mere sapne, yahi to hain apne /Mujhse judaa na honge inke ye saaue…
Aur kuch der thehar
Aakhri Khat (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Khayyam
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
Aakhri Khat saw Rajesh Khanna’s debut on the silver screen. It was an unusual story for a debut – that of a young man who has a temporary dalliance with a village girl and then abandons her as he leaves for a better future. The character of Govind was shaded with grey – when Lajjo first comes to the city with their son, he refuses to accept her, and the poor woman leaves, with only an ‘aakhri khat’ to waken his conscience. This song, sung in a happier time gives us the glimpse of the romantic hero waiting to be unleashed a couple of years later. Kaifi Azmi’s poetry did not shy away from expressing a sensuality that was both erotic and romantic – Raat baaki hai abhi, raat mein ras baaqi hai / Paa ke tujh ko tujhe paane ki hawas baaqi hai... Mohammed Rafi’s rendition was pitch perfect and Khayyam’s music gave us the sounds of silence. I’ll say it again – what a great ‘song actor’ RK was! Watch at this point, where Rafi's voice expresses the sudden embarrassment that overcomes the man and onscreen, RK emotes that very shyness with every fibre of his being. Though Rajesh Khanna played second fiddle to a 15-month old baby, the script also gave him enormous scope to perform. Watch him react in the scenes where Lajjo’s letter is being read out aloud.  
Amar Prem (1971)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Amar Prem is the story of three wounded people who find comfort and solace in each other's company. Nandu (Master Raju) is ill-treated by his stepmother and finds a mother's love in Pushpa (Sharmila Tagore), a woman who flees her abusive husband, only to be sold to a brothel. Anand (Rajesh Khanna) comes to the brothel to escape the grief of an unhappy marriage and becomes Pushpa's protector. This dysfunctional threesome find a semblance of normalcy in their 'family'; as Anand says, "Agar koi apna na hokar bhi bahut apna ho, toh use kya kehte hain? " (It's a sentiment he will repeat in Kati Patang.)  

Amar Prem
is yet another movie where the entire music album can - deservedly - be called a classic, with RD Burman proving yet again that he was as capable of composing a score based on ragas and melody
as he was of composing the razzmatazz scores that he was popular for. But credit for the longevity of the score must be shared with Kishore Kumar, and veteran lyricist Anand Bakshi whose lyrics ranged from the searingly bitter to the philosophically poignant to the uplifting to pathos-laden to maternal... If he came up with lines like Tu kaun hai tera naam hain kya / Sita bhi yahaan badnaam huyi / Phir kyun sansaar ki baaton se/ bheeg gaye tere naina in Kuch to log kahenge, here, in this song, he expresses the cynicism of a man who is disillusioned by the world: Humse mat poochho kaise mandir toota sapno.n ka /Logo.n ki baat nahin hain ye qissa hain apno.n ka / Koi dushman thhes lagaaye toh meet jiya behlaaye / Manmeet jo ghaav lagaaye use kaun mitaaye...
Ye shaam mastani
Kati Patang (1970)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Falling in love with a supposed widow was revolutionary for the times, but Kati Patang argued the point without a lot of dramebaazi. It helped that the man falling in love was Rajesh Khanna – because he did it with such respectful restraint, yet with the courage of his convictions. In the process of wooing his not-so-reluctant beloved comes this romantic song, so filled with tenderness, ‘talking’ to her in verse: Baat jab main karoon, mujhe rok deti hain kyun? /Teri meethi nazar mujhe tok deti hain kyun /Teri hayaa teri sharam teri qasam mere ho.nt siye jaaye… 
As I wrote in my review, Kati Patang worked solely because of Rajesh Khanna and the songs. Just watch him emote here as he avows his love for her, rues that she has forced him to remain silent in public and reveals his knowledge of her love for him. 
Do Raaste (1969)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

While Kishore Kumar became the voice of Rajesh Khanna, especially after the stupendous success of Aradhana, Mohammed Rafi had sung some exquisite numbers for the actor as well. Aur kuch der thehar was one of them; this is another, a song where RK is wooing the new girl on campus at a college picnic. A song where he praises the beauty of her eyes and hair: Zulfein magroor itni ho jaaye.ngi /Dil ko tadpaaye.ngi /Jee toh tarsaaye.ngi /Ye kar de.ngi deewana/ Koi inko na batlaana/Ke inhe dekh kar jee rahe hain sabhi

One of the most endearing things about Rajesh Khanna was that his films were never solely about his character; indeed, in several films, the female lead had an equal if not more prominent role. This film, with Balraj Sahni, Kamini Kaushal, Prem Chopra, Bindu, and Mumtaz, was a regular family drama, with RK more than holding his own among the ensemble cast. This was the beginning of the RK-Mumtaz hit jodi, though Mumtaz’s role in the film was severely underwritten.  
Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thi
Khamoshi (1969)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Gulzar

Mental health gets the filmi treatment in this film, blurring the professional line between doctor and patient. Following the dictates of the head of the institute, Nurse Radha (Waheeda Rehman) involves herself romantically with one man, Dev (Dharmendra, in a guest appearance) who, upon recovery, forgets his love for her. A heartbroken Radha is now assigned to care for Arun (Rajesh Khanna), whose heart is also broken by a girlfriend’s perfidy. Now, Radha is aching for Dev and seeing him in Arun, while Arun is falling in love with Radha and assuming his affection is reciprocated.

The lyrics of the song weave past and present seamlessly – Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thi, ye shaam bhi ajeeb hai – as memories flit by in quick succession. Gulzar uses repetition masterfully – Jhuki hui nigaah mein kahin mera khayaal tha in the first antara becomes Mere khayaal hai abhi jhuki hui nigaah mein while Dabi dabi hansi mein ik haseen sa gulaal hai changes into Khili hui hansi bhi hai dabi hui is chaah mein. The changing perception of feelings finds resonance in Main sochta that mera naam gungunaa rahi hai woh which metamorphoses into Main jaanta hoon mera naam gungunaa rahi hai woh…
Mere naina sawan bhado.n
Mehbooba (1976)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

e of the two reincarnation sagas starring Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini (the other being Kudrat), Mehbooba was based on Gulshan Nanda’s novel, Sisakte Saaz, and adapted by the novelist himself for the big screen. Suraj (Rajesh Khanna) sings this song to remind Jhumri (Hema Malini) of their shared past (and never mind RK's fake guitar playing):  Baat purani hai, ek kahani hai /Ab sochu.n tumhe yaad nahi.n hain / Ab sochu.n  nahi.n bhuule woh saawan ke jhuule / Rut aaye rut jaaye deke jhuutha ek dilaasa /Phir bhi mera mann pyaasa  

In an old interview, Kishore Kumar mentioned how he had dismissed RD Burman’s offer to sing this song, saying it was beyond him, and how he had listened to Lata Mangeshkar’s version for more than a week before he attempted to record this version. I must say that I have always preferred  Kishore’s version, though I think the alaap and musical interludes are better in Lata’s version.

Zindagi ek safar hai suhana
Andaz (1971)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishen
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri

Live like there’s no tomorrow – it’s a philosophy that’s espoused by the jovial Raj (Rajesh Khanna), for who knows what tomorrow might bring? Maut aani hain aayegi ek din / Jaan jaani hai, jaayegi ek din / Aisi baato.n se kya ghabraana / Yahaan kal kya ho kisne jaana…

In a cameo that lasted all of 15 minutes, RK left an impact on the whole film. The joie de vivre in Kishore Kumar’s voice was reflected in RK's sheer joy of living. The song won Hasrat Jaipuri the Filmfare award for best lyricist and was the last song recorded by Jaikishan before his death in September that year. Andaz also saw the debut of Ramesh Sippy as a director to be reckoned with and was one of Salim-Javed’s first projects as scriptwriters.

Mere sapno.n ki rani kab aayegi tu
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi 

It was Aradhana that catapulted Rajesh Khanna to stratospheric heights of stardom. Essaying dual roles of father and son, RK captured the imagination of a nation and emerged an overnight sensation, the likes of which had never been seen before. In this song, he is serenading the woman he's fallen in love with at first sight. As Vandana (Sharmila Tagore) travels in the toy train, slowly chugging its way through Darjeeling, two Air Force men, Arun (Rajesh Khanna) and his friend (Sujit Kumar), follow in a jeep, with Arun literally courting his lady love, hoping for a response. Vandana, losing all interest in the book she’s reading, dimples shyly from the train, as she sneaks glances at her handsome admirer.

According to Ashim Samanta, the director’s son, the song was shot without the leading lady, who had begged to be excused from the shoot because she had given her dates to Satyajit Ray.  Her reaction shots were canned later, in a set lovingly recreated in Natraj Studios in Bombay by art director Shanti Das. The separate shots were matched during the edit of the film.

Aradhana also established Kishore Kumar as Rajesh Khanna’s voice as he pleaded, Phool si khilke paas aa dil ke/Door se mil ke chain na aaye/ Aur kab tak mujhe tadpaayegi tu?

Diye jalte hain
Namak Haram
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

The story of two friends who end up on opposite sides of a class struggle, RK gamely played the titular namak haram (traitor). This song, a flashback to happier times, celebrates the close friendship between the two men, and showcases the love of one for the other, and the loyalty that the latter offers in return. Is rang roop pe dekho hargiz naaz na karna /Jaan bhi maange yaar to de dena naraaz na karna /Rang ud jaate hain dhoop dhalte hain… Despite class differences – Sonu (Rajesh Khanna) is poor, Vicky (Amitabh Bachchan is rich) – it is truly a relationship of equals, with both men drawing strength and comfort from each other.

In an interview with Movie magazine, RK recollected how he had come out of the preview of Namak Haram, and ruefully told Hrishikesh Mukherjee, “Here’s the superstar of tomorrow.” But in this loose adaptation of Becket, RK more than held his own against the up and coming star (much though a younger me would have hated to admit it).
Hansne ki chaah ne
Aavishkar (1973)
Singer: Manna Dey
Music: Kanu Roy
Lyrics: Kapil Kumar

Part of Basu Bhattacharya’s ‘Marriage Trilogy’ (the other two being Anubhav and Grihapravesh), Aavishkar took a close, intimate look at what destroys a marriage. Unlike the other two movies, however, Aavishkar is the story of one night, where Amar (Rajesh Khanna) and Mansi (Sharmila Tagore) remember happier times. These flashbacks harken back to their meeting and subsequent marriage despite the disapproval of Mansi’s wealthy father, while in the present, their relationship is a toxic mess where Mansi taunts and provokes Amar, and he hits her. Hasne ki chaah plays out against the credits and while the visuals give us a glimpse of the love the couple shared, the lyrics express the reality of their lives.
Sapne chalte hi rahe roz nai raagon mein /Koi phisla hain abhi abhi baahon mein/Kisi ki ye aahatein ye kaun muskuraaya hain/ Koi hamdard nahin dard mera saaya hain
Gulaabi aankhein
The Train (1970)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi 

Please don't watch the song, just listen to it? Both RK and Nanda behave like they are in the throes of an epileptic fit and tight churidar-kurtas were never a great fashion choice for Nanda. However, the two do have great chemistry together, so that’s a definite plus. RK plays Shyam, a CID inspector, in love with Neeta (Nanda) who, instead of investigating murders and burglaries, is busy serenading her (in Mohammed Rafi’s voice) while also confessing that he had stayed far away from women: Maine sadaa chaaha yahi/ Daman bacha loon haseenon se main/Teri kasam khwaabon mein bhi / Bachta phira naazneenon se main/Tauba magar mil gayi tujh se nazar/Mil gaya dard-e-jigar sun zara o bekhabar...

Raaz (1987)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyrics: Shamim Jaipuri 

A man who has visions of a strange place he’s never visited; villagers who run away upon seeing him like they have seen a ghost; a woman who claims they loved each other; a mystery waiting to be solved… In one sequence, the protagonist, Kumar (Rajesh Khanna), is being told of his doppelganger’s past – a past where the woman’s real beloved is told that she doesn’t love him. The desolate lover had then called out in desperation – Akele hain chale aao kahaan ho?  The young woman recounts the tale hoping to jog his memory – surely he remembers? After all, hadn’t he sung: Ye tanhaii ka aalam, aur is par aap ka gham /Na jeete hain na marte bataao kya karein hum?  And if he hadn't, then who had? And who is the man whom the locals claim was murdered, and for whom Kumar is mistaken?

When 23-year-old Jatin Khanna won the All India United Producers’ Talent Contest, he couldn’t have asked for a better launch – the talent hunt stipulated that the 12 different producers would sign the winner for 12 films. In fact, GP Sippy was the first to sign him for the Ravindra Dave directorial, Raaz, opposite another newcomer, Babita. However, it was Chetan Anand’s Aakhiri Khat that would release first. His performance in both films was remarkably polished for a debutant with only the slightest trace of awkwardness.  Unfortunately for him, his first three releases were commercial failures. It wasn’t until Aradhana that Rajesh Khanna first tasted success – and then, the floodgates opened.

“Izzatein, shohratein, ulfatein, chahatein, sab kuch iss duniya mein rehta nahin. Aaj main hun jahan kal koi aur tha, ye bhi ek daur hai woh bhi ek daur tha,” said his character in Daag. It could very well be said of him as well. But wherever he is, I hope he’s making music with RDB and Kishore Kumar, and crinkling his eyes in that lopsided smile.

These are some of my favourites. What are yours?

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