Utkal on Rajesh Khanna
There have been superstars before Rajesh Khnna: Dilp Kumar, Dev An and, Shammi Kapoor. There has been superstars after Rajesh Khanna: Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan. But if you haven’t been a teenager between 1969-1972, you will never know what star hysteria is 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’ 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 a dramatic entry…and singing ‘Baagon Mein Bahar Hai’ 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 song-less 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?” ( He was so much in demand that he had to go straight from the sets of ‘Ittefaq’ to shoot the ‘Do Raaste’ song in his full beard.)
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 issue of 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 poor girls! But I can tell you what havoc he was creating among us boys. Now in this residential school of ours, we were allowed to wear non-uniform, private clothes only on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. And you should have seen the riot of colours our hostel corridor was on a Sunday morning! Everyone in their “guru kurtas’ in colours that would put an Asian Paints Acylic Emulsion catalogue 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 Teri Aradhana’. Or Kati Patang : “ Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai’, “ Pyar Deewana Hota hai’, “ Yeh Shaam Mastani” , “ Na Koi Umang Hai”. Remember him singing “ Wada tera wada, wade pet tera maara gaya banda mein seedha saadha’ in Dushman. And the crowd going berserk.
Must narrate one incident from this era. This was in Raipur, then in Madhay Pradesh then , where a typical big budget film would 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 “ Achchha To Hum Chalte Hain.”
I am not going into Box office statistics as Khanna 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, J Om Prakash and Manmohan Desai, but also small arty filmmakers like Asit Sen and Hrishikesh Mukherje, and later Basu Bhattacharya. His fans had no qualms I embracing him wholeheartedly in films like ‘Khamoshi’ or ‘Safar’ and ‘Anand ‘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 Beet 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 these serious tearjerkers mega hits.
His double dhamaal pairing with Sharmila Tagore on one hand and Mumtaz on the other in this period has never been matched.
But perhaps the word ‘ meteoric rise’ was coined for a star like Rajesh Khanna…. 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 James Dean and become immortal. Instead he went on to give hits like ‘Apna Desh’, ‘Daag’ ( the film with which Yash Chopra started his independent banner) , ‘Namka Haraam’, ‘Prem Nagar’, ‘Aap Ki Kasam’, ‘Prem Kahani’ and ‘Roti’. He did surprise us with his restrained performance in Basu Bhattacharya’s ‘ Avishkar’ , a low-key dram of marital tensions involving him and SharmilaTagore, but the film didn’t amount to much . But through this low pahse, even his films that were not so successful – ‘Mere Jeevan Sathi’ ‘Raj Rani’, ‘ Mehbooba’, ‘Kudrat’… continued to have awesome songs, especially with RD Burman, Even today, when lines of ‘ Oh Mere Dil Ke Chayn’ or ‘ Deewana Leke Aaya Hai Dil Ka Tarana’ or ‘Hume Tumse Pyaar Kitna’ come wafting on the car radio suddenly, you are transported to a dreamland of lost melodies. But the magic had vanished and the sorcerer had lost the power to cast a spell as he did in the past. A headline-hogging surprise wedding with the nation’s latest heartthrob, the nubile Bobbv doll, Dimple Kapadia did not help. Kaka had clearly lost his mojo and a spate of flops followed (Though he kept making minor come-backs with insignificant hits like ‘Souten; or ‘Avataar’ now and then.). The tell-tale signs were there in ‘Namak Haram’ where the Angry Youngman flame of Amitabh Bachchan was rearing to leap out and devour what was still not known 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 up to 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 Mehndi ‘or ‘Rajput ‘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.