Very rarely do you have films which influence you so deeply that you take a leaf out of it and make its philosophy a part of your life. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand was one such film in my life, whose message I internalised completely. The man who delivered this message for me is no more today.
I have never been the quintessential Rajesh Khanna fan. Rajesh Khanna’s story is that of a fairy tale gone wrong. He was a product of a nationwide talent hunt organised by United producers and Filmfare and got his first film Aakhri Khat in 1966, directed by Chetan Anand. Between 1966 and 1969, he did numerous films like Aurat, Raaz, Ittefaq, Khamoshi and Baharon ke Sapne. The idea of Rajesh Khanna was slowly emerging and the year 1969 was a watershed year in his career. Do Raaste with Mumtaz became a huge success. But it was Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana in the same year which defied norms of stardom and gave Hindi cinema its first superstar of unusual dimensions.
The king of romance in Aradhana
Aradhana made him the King of Romance. A musical blockbuster, the film also relaunched the fledgling career of Kishore Kumar, whose singing was going nowhere till then. Aradhana had all the elements of a commercial film and Rajesh was the boy whom every girl of that generation dreamt of. They swooned as they saw him in air force uniform.Boys tried every way possible to imitate his mannerisms. He could never be offensive, even when he sang lines like Raat baaqi hai abhi raat mein ras baaqi hai, paake tujhko tujhe paane ki hawas baaqi hai in Aakhri Khat. He could make it all so innocent with a mere naughty smile. Somehow, pre-marital sex became a recurring feature in many of his films. His heroines had to suffer after falling for his fatal charms, be it is Aakhri Khat, Aradhana or Andaz. Hindi cinema had come of age and a new phenomenon had arrived.
The early 1970s belonged to him, so much so that the legendary script writer Salim Khan said, “Films do not run any more. Rajesh Khanna runs”. Asit Sen’s Safar had him playing a cancer patient and he had a cameo in Ramesh Sippy’s Andaz, where he garnered more attention than the film’s hero Shammi Kapoor. But it was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand which marked the pinnacle of his career. Anand lived with glory and died even more gloriously. It fetched him a Filmfare Award for Best Actor. The nation laughed with him as he lived and cried inconsolably as he died. By now, had made a successful pair with Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz. Superhits and blockbusters like Kati Patang, Sacha Jhootha, Aan Milo Sajna, Dushman, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Apna Desh, Daag, Joru ka ghulam, Roti, Aap ki Kasam, Ajnabee and Anuraag followed. He made people laugh in Bawarchi, redefined romance in Aradhana, made melancholy stylish in Amar Prem and death celebratory in Anand.
Shakti Samanta did not get permission to shoot the song Chingaari koi bhadke by the Howrah Bridge because the authorities felt it was impossible to control crowds where Rajesh Khanna went
Who did not drool over his million dollar dialogue Pushpa… I hate tears!
Young girls married his photographs and wrote love letters to him in blood. He made the traditional kurta pyjamas
a cool thing by wearing them in Anand
. He was mobbed wherever he went and his clothes were torn, his car was covered with lip stick marks and Rajesh Khanna touched the dizzying heights of stardom in no time. No star saw such madness in such a short span of time and none saw it after him. There was the trio of Raj-Dilip-Dev. But they took time to know what it meant to be a star. Rajesh Khanna brought in a new stylised sense of romance. He even died in style on-screen. He was lucky to have a package of good music and glamorous heroines along with him. There is always a time when a man carries a midas touch, so much so that even utter crap touched by him becomes gold. The early 1970s was one such era for Rajesh Khanna, when some utterly crappy films also turned into jubilee hits. His stardom defied commonsense and logic. Producers wanted him to play himself. BBC made a documentary on him called Bombay Superstar
and the Bombay University had a chapter in one of its text books on his meteoric rise. Rajesh Khanna represented the last leg of an era of positivity, before the angry young man stepped in with action, melodrama and revenge. That sense of romance returned only in the 1990s in the sunflower fields of DDLJ.
Spreading unlimited joy in Bawarchi
But there was a problem. All this sudden stardom took a heavy toll on him psychologically. Perhaps he was not ready to take all the stardom. To make matters worse, his fall was as steep as his rise. By the mid 1970s, his hits were few and Amitabh Bachchan was the new superstar. Namak Haram was in some ways, a movie that signaled the change of guard. It is rumored that he even contemplated suicide at that time because as a star, they was nothing more to achieve for him in this life and that stagnation killed him from within. He took to liquor and messed it all up. He separated from his wife in the early 1980s and tried making a comeback in some off beat roles. But the era of kaka was over and it was saddening to see him do ridiculous things in the name of cinema. Even his latest ad for a fan company seemed to reek of a lost world, a lost super-stardom.
What does all that mean for someone of my generation who has not seen that mania? Rajesh Khanna is still special for he gave us characters which refuse to die in spite of their death. He made me believe in the good things of life. He taught me to live life king size in Anand. His Bawarchi made me feel that the world was not that bad a place after all. It was Hrishi da’s vision behind it, but it was he who became the face of that philosophy. In spite of all its melodrama, I feel that Amar Prem is a fine love story. It defies the necessity of a relationship culminating in a marriage and makes love a bond beyond the established norms of the society and a very personal thing. I am sure only Rajesh Khanna could have pulled off the message in all these films, for when he said something, it seemed right and he had the right solution for every problem. Life was not so complicated when you watched him act.
As his babumoshai says in Anand, “Anand mara nahi… Anand marte nahi…” For his funeral, fans poured out on the streets of Mumbai, braving the rains. The magic of Kaka lives on and as he sings Acha toh hum chalte hai, we can’t even ask him Phir kab miloge?