Achcha toh hum chalte hain…Super Star Rajesh Khanna


He made heads turn, but not of the moneybag producers, when he hung out on the pavement outside Churchgate’s once-trendy Gaylord restaurant. Girls would hang out from the balconies in the adjoining buildings to chat with the wannabe actor, but the movie merchants would say under their breath, “Hurry… or he’ll start pestering us again.”

Of medium-height at most, ruddy complexioned, eyes which crinkled at the hint of a smile, Rajesh Khanna aka Kaka possessed just about the bare minimum qualities associated with a Bollywood star back in the 1960s. He belonged to the north, as they used to say then, spoke Hindi fluently, displayed attitude and the Churchgate college girls would swoon that from certain angles he looked like Alain Delon. Music composers Shankar-Jaikishan, regulars at the Gaylord, didn’t ever think he was worth sharing a cup of the restaurant’s famous cinnamon coffee. No matter. Khanna would smoke his 555 cigarettes right till the end of the butts. His body language, resting on the cars parked there, shrugged, “Hey guys, not to worry. My day will come.”
It did and how! In my waking memory I haven’t seen an actor who commanded the hysterical fan following which he did. “Rajesh Khanna worship” was intense even if it did not have the sort of longevity which Bollywood’s first superstar could have commanded. First? Simply because the word hadn’t been coined earlier, and Khanna’s tsunami-like popularity had to be experienced to be believed. His appeal cut through generations, from the campus set to grand pops and grannies.
The Gaylord gadabout’s story was something of a Bollywood fantasy script. At long last, he had been selected as one of the eight finalists of a magazine’s talent contest in 1965. His first batch of films ranged from the whodunit Raaz (which also introduced Babita), Aakhri Khat (a black-and-white film in which the focus was more on a lost little boy), Aurat (a potboiler
from Chennai) and Baharon Ke Sapne (glam director Nasir Husain’s attempt to go realistic in vain).
Rajesh Khanna was a loser. Till Aradhana (1969) altered his life absolutely. Followed a series of major hits — Do Raaste, Bandhan, Anand, Namak Haraam and Amar Prem. He could do no wrong. Even the unconventional Ittefaq, with a minimal number of characters, was a winner, leading to his long-time association with Yash Chopra. In fact, today’s reigning film production banner Yash Raj is believed to have been a combo of the names of the director’s and Raj-esh.
The first unquestionably “wow” performance was that of the eponymous Anand, the terminally ill young man (partially inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru). His death scene, with “Babu moshai”, Amitabh Bachchan, by his bedside is one of the most movingly written and acted scenes in Hindi cinema. It seems the two sparred over who should “die” in Namak Haraam. Rajesh Khanna did, after all he was a more powerful star then. Oddly enough, Rajesh Khanna excelled in death scenes, the other examples being Safar and Khamoshi.
Kaka’s private life was fodder for endless gossip. Anju Mahendru, his long-time girlfriend, was suddenly out with his overnight marriage to Dimple Kapadia, still in her teens. The actor, however, wasn’t making new friends, losing many of them it is said because of his mood swings and arrogance. Shakti Samanta and he parted ways. Yash Chopra moved on to the next big super-actor freshly arrived on the scene, Amitabh Bachchan. Anger was in, romance was out.
Once in Guddi, Dharmendra had said wistfully to Jaya Bhaduri, “Everyone wants Rajesh Khanna… so why me?” As it happened, the superstardom passed on to Guddi’s real-life husband Amitabh Bachchan who was just what Rajesh Khanna wasn’t: tall, swarthy and possessed of a baritone voice.
I met Rajesh Khanna on the sets of Dhanwan, when he was just about doing okay in the showdom. A rookie reporter, told about his mood swings, I wasn’t disappointed. Before I could ask the first question, he played a drum beat on the table between us. It could have been for two minutes but felt like 20. A year later I saw his other side: super-affable and chatty. “As long as you don’t ask about my early days, I’m fine,” he grinned, ordering a virtual bakery of cakes to go with a cup of tea.
Whenever I asked Dimple Kapadia about him, she didn’t have a harsh word to say about their collapsed marriage. “He’s an incredibly nice guy,” she has said repeatedly. “I was just too young to get married. And maybe it was my fault that we couldn’t make it work.”
The last time I met Kaka was on a Mumbai-Delhi air flight. We made polite conversation. He said, “I hope you didn’t review my last film (Wafaa),” and laughed. “We must meet up but promise me we won’t go into those good or bad old days. Jo ho gaya so ho gaya.”

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director


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One Response to “Achcha toh hum chalte hain…Super Star Rajesh Khanna”

  1. Rajesh Khanna – The real Badshah, sehenshah, king of romance – sab tum hi ho Kaka

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