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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Rajesh Khanna vs Amitabh Bachchan debate

Having just written two posts about Rajesh Khanna in the last week, I had decided that that was enough – and my next post would be about another subject. After all, my interests in life thankfully span a wide canvas of subjects – and I’m never really at a loss to find something that I’d like to discuss.

But an e-mail I received yesterday from a friend has prompted me to write this post today – and once again it features Rajesh Khanna.  This time though it is not so much about him but more about that other superstar who is often brought up in discussions about Rajesh. Yes, I’m talking about Amitabh Bachchan – or Big B, as he is popularly known.

The e-mail points to a write-up, claiming that Big B is the bigger superstar, that he was the hero of the “lumpen class” whereas Rajesh was the hero of the “bourgeois class”. That Rajesh fans have always resented Big B taking over Rajesh Khanna’s place at the top, that his “bourgeois” fans have denied  “the revolution that was Amitabh Bachchan”.

Though the writer takes pains to say that he does not intend any disrespect to the memory of Rajesh Khanna  (and I’m happy to take this at face value), I was just saddened by  the tone of the write-up. In the sense that yet again, it was bashing of Rajesh Khanna and his fans in order to try to prove Big B as the bigger star.

I had to sigh – this is not new to me. I’ve been hearing  such talk since the late 1970s – and it is STILL going on.  This Rajesh Khanna vs Amitabh Bachchan comparison.

I thought I should put down some of my own thoughts on this subject, for whatever they are worth.

Let me start by saying that I think whoever came up with the observation “comparisons are odious” could not have coined a more sensible 3-word sentence in the English language.

And yet, it seems we just cannot get away from making comparisons ALL the time. This actor vs that actor, this music composer vs that music composer, this sportsperson vs that sportsperson. Mohammad Rafi vs Kishore Kumar is one of the most common comparisons out there.

I always wince at such comparisons.  Not because they  cannot be made but because they invariably result in one of the choices being belittled to prop up the other.

Whenever I’ve been dragged into this sort of discussion, I’ve always taken great pains to emphasise that it is my personal choice – and that it is not a general statement of one being better than the other, or that the other is necessarily bad because I didn’t pick him.

For example I may say I prefer watching a Rajesh Khanna romantic movie to an Amitabh Bachchan action movie. It does NOT mean Rajesh is better than Amitabh or that Amitabh Bachchan action movies are bad. It is just that I’d rather see a Rajesh romantic movie. Another person may prefer an Amitabh action film – and that’s absolutely fine by me.

But there are people – many people – who are just unable to accept that another person may have a different preference than their own. They are hell-bent on pushing their choice as THE right one – and every other choice as the wrong one.

You see that in discussions about religion too. This attitude has led to possibly every religious war that has ever taken place. The whole concept of “to each his own” and “live and let live” somehow seems to have completely passed these guys by.

Back to the Rajesh vs Amitabh discussion.

My own take on this is extremely simple.

Rajesh was THE superstar with the success of Aradhana. He had 15 hits in a row – there was absolutely no doubting his position at the top or the fan following he had.  ALL classes of society were crazy about him –  not just the “bourgeois”.  (If only the “bourgeois” were crazy about Rajesh, who was then the hero of the “lumpen classes”?)

And then around 1974 or maybe 1975, his magic began wearing off.  For a whole host of reasons that have been discussed so many times that they don’t warrant repetition here.

It was also the time that Amitabh Bachchan was finally beginning to taste success. His Zanjeer and Deewar were both not just runaway box-office successes, it was his performance in both these movies that most certainly caught people’s attention.

So, as it turned out, on one hand there was a Rajesh in descent. On the other hand, there was an Amitabh in ascent.  Rajesh continued to deliver flop after flop, Amitabh continued to deliver hit after hit. Where Rajesh had Maha Chor and Bundalbaaz, Amitabh had Deewar and Sholay.

To me the biggest evidence of the changing tide was that Rajesh’s Mehbooba, with then-No. 1 heroine Hema Malini, and with a wonderful soundtrack by RD Burman – and a film that was promoted heavily – crashed at the box-office. It confirmed to many what they had already begun to realize but were hesitant to openly admit – that the Rajesh days at the top were now clearly over.

At around the same time, Amitabh, already being talked about as the Rajesh successor following the success of Deewar and Sholay, further cemented it with the success of Kabhie Kabhie. I clearly remember Kabhie Kabhie being a HUGE musical hit – and Amitabh pretty much then being accepted as the new No.1.

I will be honest – I hated it. I hated Kabhie Kabhie – I hated the title song because it was being played EVERYWHERE – and it symbolized to me yet another hit for Amitabh, yet another reason why Rajesh would struggle to get back his No.1 position.

The truth is, as a Rajesh fan at that time, I was not ready to concede that Rajesh had lost it. I still thought (or rather, hoped) that he could come back. By the time Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka came around – and I saw it – I was convinced that the writing on the wall was indelible.

It is not that I disliked Amitabh. In fact I liked him in many of his early movies, especially his movies with Jaya Bhaduri (even those which had flopped). And I really liked him in Zanjeer and Majboor. I hadn’t seen Deewar or Sholay then (my mind was not ready though I knew many of the dialogues by heart).

As Amitabh began getting more popular I began watching more of his films. Even those that didn’t do too well -like Do Anjaane, Adalat and Alaap.

 I remember liking Amar Akbar Anthony a lot – and he was really good in it. Today it is considered a blockbuster film, but I vaguely remember it not being a runaway success from day one. I think it picked up momentum after a while – and is now considered one of the classics of the 70s.

The Amitabh movie that really sealed it for me though was Trishul. I liked the movie a lot – and I thought Amitabh (once again in an “angry young man” role) was just outstanding.

After that I saw Don – and I liked that film too.

So I really did not have any problems  anymore with Amitabh as the No.1. Rajesh’s time had come and gone, these were Amitabh’s times.

So this thing about Rajesh Khanna fans resenting Big B taking over Rajesh Khanna’s place at the top was, if I use myself as an example, a passing phase. And I’ve certainly never denied  “the revolution that was Amitabh Bachchan”.  And I’d like to think I was pretty representative of the Rajesh fan of the time.

I think it is not an exaggeration to say that those late-70s/early 80s were very heady days for Amitabh.  I’m not looking at box-office numbers here, so don’t crucify me but, off the top of my head I remember some movies as being hits from the start – and some only doing moderately early on.

To me it was obvious that though some of Amitabh’s movies were not blockbusters – at least when they were released (Do Aur Do Paanch, Ram Balram, Suhaag,The Great Gambler, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Yaarana) - and Shaan was a superflop - he was still the undisputed No.1 and the go-to hero for a big film-maker. For every movie that did not do very well, he had a Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Mr. Natwarlal, Naseeb, Laawaris, Namak Halal and a Satte Pe Satta to show as successes.  He had no challenger – the next guy (whoever he was) did not even come close.

In fact, I cannot even think of a name who could have been considered an Amitabh challenger at that time. Dharam – who’d had successes throughout the 70s - was clearly on his way down by the end of the decade. The multi-starrer culture of the time meant that it was difficult for one actor to really put on a dominating or memorable performance. The storylines also were not the particularly emotional type to be memorable, or require any great acting skill from the actor.

Maybe it is for this particular reason (the storyline) that I found it difficult to warm to movies of the time. I was a big fan of a good storyline – the actors became secondary for me if I found the storyline kept me interested. Besides, I was getting busy with my studies then – so I didn’t have time to waste on seeing all sorts of movies.

By 1983, I had stopped seeing movies altogether. Partly due to my studies, partly because I was losing interest in them.  Mind you, I’m not saying they were bad movies. I’m just saying I didn’t find them interesting enough anymore.

Amitabh continued to act through the 80s – I think Sharaabi (which I saw many years after its release) was his last big hit in that period. Otherwise, I believe he acted in several films which even his ardent fans would consider forgettable.

His more recent history – the 1990s and beyond – is very well-known and I don’t want to talk about it here. In fact I don’t know too much about it because I am time-frozen on Amitabh in 1982 (say, Namak Halal).

What I do remember is the hysteria around his accident during the making of Coolie. It was HUGE. The accident came as a big shock to everybody, it got front-page coverage in the daily newspaper , people from all over the country (and probably overseas too) began praying for his welfare. It was a great show of solidarity and support for him as he struggled in hospital during that period. I remember that all too well – as if it were yesterday.

The reason I am documenting all this is to illustrate that Amitabh was just as popular – and at times, possibly more popular – than Rajesh.  And I say this without denying my fondness for Rajesh.  And I do like Amitabh too – it IS possible to like them both.

I want people to realize that it is NOT necessary to belong to one camp or the other. Yes, we used to have that sort of thing in school – Rajesh or Amitabh, Vishwanath or Gavaskar,  where we felt we had to align behind one of the options to show our loyalty to that option. When you grow up a bit, you realize that these are not binary choices – there’s room to accommodate and appreciate multiple choices.

And it is most certainly NOT necessary to run one of them down to prop up the other.

To me, they were two distinct periods of superstardom.

Rajesh Khanna from 1969 to 1974.

And Amitabh Bachchan from 1977 onwards.  I would consider the years 1975-76 as transition years, with Rajesh losing his No.1 position and Amitabh getting  to that position, but not yet reaching superstar status.

Why then the constant clashes between their two fans?

Why can’t they accept that both of them had their moments as the darling of the crowds?

Why is it necessary to run down one to prop up the other?

To me, this only shows disrespect to the persons involved. The media played on this “rivalry” for a long time – and must have sold lots of copies in the process. But that’s what the media often does.

The fans need not fall into this trap. They can give both these superstars their own rightful place in Hindi film history, without pushing one out to trumpet the other.

There is enough space in the annals of Hindi film history for both to co-exist peacefully, next to each other.

As they deserve to.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How will posterity judge Rajesh Khanna?

My earlier post on Rajesh Khanna, written soon after his death, was an outpouring of emotion more than anything else.  Much of it had to do with my memories of the man from my younger days, especially my school days.  

School life, especially primary/secondary school, is usually the time of your life when you look at things through the most innocent of lenses. Things are often black and white – you don’t know, or usually care, about the complex aspects of any topic.

That post was intended to remember Rajesh Khanna as I knew him – inasmuch as one can “know” an actor who he has never met or had contact with. But Rajesh made a connection with me in my childhood and the post was MY way of thanking him for all those good memories of that time. And though there is some reference to the “other” side of Rajesh (the side we did not see on film), it was not the main focus of that post.  My childhood memories are of Rajesh the ACTOR, not Rajesh the HUMAN BEING.

Today, as I am pushing 50 – and have, over the years, seen a bit of life – I think I can take a distance from just Rajesh the ACTOR and talk a bit about Rajesh the HUMAN BEING. He might hate me for this – for he himself often did not seem to see his life as anything other than one big acting performance (his last words about “pack up” would seem to confirm this) but I do want to discuss this anyway. Because I think this is THE CRUX of the complex character that was Rajesh Khanna.

Much of what I will say here is based on my take on life – and I tend to think it could apply to anybody, not just Rajesh Khanna. But then again it is MY take, so I have no illusions about others necessarily having to agree with me.

Very importantly, everything I say about Rajesh here is NOT being said as a Rajesh fan. My previous post, yes – this one, no. I am writing this as a near-50 adult – not a starry-eyed teenager. I was, am – and will always be – a Rajesh fan, but I think I have the ability to take a reasonable distance from that relationship and be able to construct an opinion divested from the baggage that such closeness carries with it.

Equally importantly, I have absolutely no pretensions about having access to, or being privy to, any aspect of Rajesh Khanna’s life that is not out there in the public doman. I’ve never met him – I’ve only seen him as an actor on screen. And read various items about him in the media over the last 40-odd years. That’s it. My assessment is based entirely on this limited exposure to the man. Those with more exposure to him could very well have a very different (and possibly more informed) take on him.  So I am NOT speaking from an “insider” position, just my humble “averagely informed” opinion.

I’d also like to say that I have no intentions of causing hurt to anybody through this piece. I’ve come across a lot of vicious attacks on Rajesh  in the last four decades. Even just a couple of days ago, barely a day after Rajesh was cremated, I received an e-mail from a friend, linking to an amazingly scurrilous piece about him, published AFTER his death. I will not comment about the content but I think it must take a certain type of mindset to be able to write a piece so scurrilous, so soon after a man’s death.  It really takes all types…

Maybe, in a sense, that article is part of the reason I am writing this. I don’t know what it was trying to achieve – but it does look like those who were baying for Rajesh’s blood during his lifetime, have no intention of leaving him alone in peace even now. After all, there’s this upsurge of sympathy and love for Rajesh Khanna  - and there’s every chance future generations may not remember all the bad things that Rajesh did, right? And how can we allow that to happen? We’ve spent a lifetime telling the world “the truth” – we’re not going to let a lifetime’s work be undone by a minor detail like the man dying. The man may be gone but we must soldier on.

 I cannot help but cast my mind to those lines from that famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech  by Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones

The “evil” that Rajesh did, does seem to have a much bigger chance of living on, than the good he must have done.

But did Rajesh Khanna do any good? I’m not talking about Rajesh Khanna, the ACTOR here – I am talking about Rajesh Khanna, the HUMAN BEING.

If he did, there’s hardly any mention of it anywhere. It is all either about his acting (his films, his songs) or about all the bad things he’s supposed to have done. At this rate the only thing future generations will remember of him will be these two sides of his life. One flattering, the other most decidedly not.

I’d like somebody to stand up and talk about anything, ANYTHING good that he did as a person. The only positive comment I can remember now is something I read about Zeenat Aman saying that when they (the crew) returned from an overseas shooting (presumably for Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka), there was some sort of collection drive going on in Bombay for a good cause.  Apparently Rajesh Khanna donated a huge amount – Zeenat did not say how much but she said it was “very generous”.  

So are there any more stories like this out there? Because if there are, it would be nice to get them out there. So as get a more balanced picture about Rajesh Khanna, the person.  I’m feeling like Arnab Goswami here (“the nation needs to know”) but indeed, there is usually more than one side to a story or a person. And for the last almost four decades, there’s only side that has been put out there about Rajesh, the person.

When I  wrote my earlier piece, I tweeted it out to a few persons of a generation earlier than, or the same as, mine. If only hoping to get a perspective that would enrich my own.

Now they are all busy people and may not even have read it, let alone have had the time or interest to respond to it. However, I was very happy and gratified to receive a response from the ever-perspicacious Madhu Trehan, somebody I have always admired and respected from the early days of India Today magazine (I used to “devour” it in the 1970s and the early 80s). Madhu now has a website www.newslaundry.com which I visit regularly – she gives me a reason to have hope that the terms “values” and “current Indian media” can still be used in the same sentence.

In three tweets, Madhu  gave me her take on Rajesh Khanna – and, though they may sound harsh, they are loaded with wisdom – and probably a fair summation of Rajesh Khanna’s biggest failing.

I quote them here (I trust she won’t mind):
@Raja_Sw All I can say, judging a man by his films and what he was as a human being are different parameters

@Raja_Sw I saw a man who took his success too seriously & his failures too seriously-thereby his place on earth too seriously

@Raja_Sw A person who misses his Lightness of Being, has missed the point of existence


That was an angle that I’d NEVER thought of but it tied in very nicely with the angle that I HAD thought of.

And that was that Rajesh Khanna’s biggest failing was that he lived in a bubble.

I cannot help feeling that it is very ironic that one of Rajesh Khanna’s most famous dialogues is one that goes “ye duniya ek rang manch hai aur hum sab rang manch ki kathputhliyaan”.

I firmly believe Rajesh not just delivered this line of dialogue, he got caught up in it – and he lived the rest of his life, trapped by the illusion and delusion of the world that it creates.

The average Joe goes through life with a whole range of experiences shaping his thinking, his evolution and his interactions with society. The more exposed he is to real-life happenings, the hustle-bustle of daily life, the more he comes to terms with the world.

However, Rajesh’s life was anything but like the average Joe’s life.

For starters, he was just 26 when Aradhana released and he was catapulted to an overnight sensation status. The feeling must have been unbelievably heady – some thing that I am unable to even relate to, because I’ve never had (and am never likely to have) the experience of the frenzied adulation of millions and millions of people, falling all over you, wanting to touch you, wanting to marry you, wanting to get one glimpse of you.  It is one thing to aspire for fame and a celebrity status – it is totally another to be able to handle it if and when it does come to you.

Then the sycophants. Rajesh was made to feel like God. Not just by his fans but by those around him. They pampered him, they attended to his every whim and fancy, they ensured the thickening of the walls of the bubble that he got into – and they did such a good job of it that he stayed trapped within.  Apparently Rajesh did not take kindly to criticism – and these so-called well-wishers weren’t going to say or do anything that could get them in his bad books and ruin their own parasitic progress.

Then the habits. Leading from the above, it isn’t strange at all that Rajesh’s habits began getting “aiyaash” (wastrel-like).  “The world can wait, after all I am Rajesh Khanna. A star, not a clerk”. The drinking, the drama, the sense of being God…

Then the fall. I was looking for a term that describes it better than “precipitous” but I cannot find one, so I’ll settle for this. One after another, his films began failing – largely due to the above. With such sycophants around you who don’t dare tell you what you’re doing wrong, with such habits that are bound to reflect on your performances, it should have been seen coming from a mile. The external environment was one thing, but the self-destruction that Rajesh inflicted on himself was the far bigger reason for his fall, in my opinion.

But SO lost was he in that bubble that he got into denial – he  kept telling himself that his films were doing well, that he was still the number one.

And that to me was always his key problem. He was in that bubble, he was in denial for way too long. In order for a person to accept reality, he has to first come out of denial and face reality. Acceptance comes only thereafter. But if somebody does not even come out of denial, there’s no hope, there’s only delusion.

I know I’m saying  seemingly harsh things here – and it is indeed “chhota moonh, badi baat”.  In fact “bahut hi chhota moonh, badi baat”, given our relative statures and achievements in life. But I don’t think I am that far off from the truth.

And sometimes I wish I’d been there with Rajesh during those heady days of his. I’d have told him to his face – and borne the brunt of his response, abuse and all. And I’d have told him again. And again. 

Rajesh may have been getting delusional –but I don't think he was a stupid man. I'd have persisted - and I’d not have let those sycophants and leeches get within a mile of him. 

And, even if a fall had come eventually (the old order changeth, and all that), he would have been man enough to take it into his stride. After all, failure and success are part of life. I might even have tried some poetry and quotes with him, seeing his penchant for drama and the like. Kipling’s “Success and failure are the same imposter” maybe.

Anyway, this is all wishful thinking. And it was not to be. Maybe he was MEANT to be that poster-boy for posterity - for how NOT to let success get to your head, how NOT to burn your bridges, how NOT to trust yes-men around you. Maybe he was meant to be that lesson for future generations.

Anyway this was MY angle. If you combine this with Madhu’s angle – that he seemed to take everything too seriously – his successes, his failures – and therefore his place on earth, then you get a much stronger sense of the man. You get a sense of – and an explanation for – his insecurities, his drinking, his moods.

So this is the “Rajesh Khanna, the person” image that I have.

It is NOT a negative image, mind you. It is a VERY HUMAN image. It could happen to anybody.

Yes, if he hadn’t taken himself and his successes/failures SO seriously, he might have been able to have more equanimity in life and face reality more easily. And if he hadn’t let that success get to his head, he might have had a much happier and more social life, once his heyday would be behind him (as it eventually would be anyway).

But these are all ifs and buts. Life isn’t scripted this way.  The more I think about it, the more I feel Rajesh’s life was a drama in itself – worthy of an Oscar-winning script. I can’t help feeling he would love for that to happen – that somebody makes a film on him. Because for him, his reel-life and his real life were one and the same.

Well, maybe one day somebody WILL make a film on him.

I just hope that that person is kind towards him. Truthful – and kind. Tell the dirty picture if you like – but tell it from the point of view also of somebody who was only human. Who had a lot of charm and charisma – but, for all that, was still only human.

That is all I ask for him. Let posterity not know him only as a superstar. Let posterity also know about the mistakes he made. It is a lesson for one and all.

But, at the same time, let posterity also not sit and judge him on the narrow canvas of his reel life and his real-life actions. Let it also seek to understand the motivations and the tribulations of the very vulnerable mind trapped inside the body of a superstar.

That is all I ask for him.

That is all I ask for him.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My memories of Rajesh Khanna

When I logged into Facebook on the morning of Wednesday, the 18th of July, I saw a link to “vaada tera vaada” from one of my friends, saying "RIP, Rajesh Khanna".

I immediately logged onto Twitter – it is my source for latest news (and links to news) around the world. And yes, #RIP Rajesh Khanna was trending as the top item on Twitter for India.

Now I’ve seen hoax RIP hashtags on Twitter before – and there was just this very slight hope within me that this was a hoax – but I knew, deep within myself and with an increasingly sinking feeling, that this was it. This was the end.

I took a deep breath and slowly began reading the tweets and the attached links. They were pouring in  like a tsunami wave – Twitter is known as THE medium for “outrage”,  but that does it great injustice. Outrage is just a show of emotion – and Twitter does emotion brilliantly in 140 characters.

All this while, my heart was sinking. Like most people, I did know that Rajesh was in pretty bad shape. So in a sense, it was not entirely a surprise or a shock. But somewhere within me, there was still the hope that he would get better, that he would be around for some more years. After all, he was just 69 – and that’s young, by today’s standards.

But it was not to be. The man who loved to die in his films because his audience seemed to like his films to end that way, decided it was time for real life to imitate reel life just this one last time.

Memories of Rajesh movies, memories of Rajesh songs began flooding my mind.  I immediately went to youtube to watch some of his songs. Not his most famous songs, but some songs that I personally like watching again and again. 

Where Rajesh stands out, in my opinion.

I started with “rona kabhi nahin rona” from Apna Desh. No glamour here, no heroine, no silk kurta – just a chacha singing to his brother’s kids. I remember singing this song a lot to my niece way back in the early 80s when she was about three.

I then moved on to “yahan wahan saare, jahaan pe tera raaj hai” from Aan Milo Sajna. This song took me right back to my childhood. This is a Rajesh song close to my heart – again it is “pure” Rajesh, if you know what I mean. I even tweeted this, saying “tere hi to sar pe mohabbat ka taj hai”.

And so I went on. I began posting songs on Facebook – only to a select group. (A lot of my friends are non-Indian and presumably do not know who Rajesh Khanna is. I did not want to spam them).

 Rajesh-Mumtaz with “gore rang pe na itna gumaan kar” (Roti), one of my favorites.

 Then “ye jo chilman hai” (Mehboob Ki Mehndi), another of my favorites – Rajesh in kurta singing an ode to a beautiful Leena Chandavarkar.  Beautiful poetry here by Anand Bakshi.

Then one of my childhood favorites – I must have sung this song (badly) at least a million times. “Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye” (Anand).

And “ye shaam mastaani” from Kati Patang.

And “ye kya hua, kaise hua” from Amar Prem.

And the fun-filled “mujh se bhala ye kaajal tera” from The Train. - Rajesh with Nanda.

And another of my favorites, “o mere dil ke chain” from Mere Jeevan Saathi. Another one of those "million times, badly-sung" songs by me.

I did not want to drive my friends crazy – I stopped with just these songs, I think. I did listen to many more though – “gusssa itna haseen hai to pyar kaisa hoga” (Maryada), “nainon mein nindiya hai” (Joroo Ka Ghulam)…

In what was still an indescribably incredibly inconsolably despondent mood, I then updated my Facebook status to:

Kya samjhega aalam koi
Badaa bhaari hai aaj dil ye mera
Ki le gaye ho saath safar pe tumhaare
Tukda jo kabhi tha dil ye mera

(Who will understand my mood today
The weight that bears upon my heart
For you’ve taken with you on your journey
A piece that used to once be my heart)

Yes, I know it is rubbish poetry. But I was in no frame of mind to construct anything remotely comprehensible at that time.

The thing is, the news of Rajesh Khanna's death took me right back to my childhood. I am talking of the late 60s/early 70s. I was only a young boy then but I vividly remember watching his films then. I vividly remember many of the songs from his films even if I did not quite understand then the storyline.

For me, Rajesh Khanna was the first star I “knew”.  I’d heard of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand – and also Shammi Kapoor. I’d seen their movies as well. But their time at their peak  was “before” my time (in the case of Shammi, “just before” my time).

Rajesh, on the other hand, peaked just at the time that I began watching, and becoming aware, of movies. So I could “feel” his popularity in a way that I could not feel the popularity of the big names before him.

And what popularity! By now a lot of people have talked about how he was “the first superstar”, “THE phenomenon”.  You hear lines (sometimes sounding patronizing) saying “only people who lived during that period will quite understand what he was”. 

Even if one allows for a bit of misty-eyed exaggeration, I think it is fair to say that it is not much more than a bit. I will speak only from my own experience. Yes, I was very young then, so my judgment may be questionable, but there was enough evidence all around me to suggest that there was Rajesh Khanna – and there was everybody else.

The first time I remember hearing his name was when one of my sister’s friends was chatting with my sister. She had just seen Baharon Ke Sapne and told my sister “The movie is ok. I actually didn’t like it very much. But oh, Rajesh Khanna….”. 

I suspect there were many, many more who went “Oh, Rajesh Khanna…” in the years to come.

I distinctly remember Aradhana’s success. I got to see it much after it was 
released – but I remember the impact it had everywhere around me.  There was hardly a day you did not hear an Aradhana song. Either on the radio, or somebody singing or humming it. That is how it seemed to me at least. “Mere sapnon ki rani” and “roop tera mastana” practically competed with each other for which was the more popular song of the time – any other song would have come a VERY distant third. 

The measure of Aradhana’s popularity can best be gauged by the fact that my paternal grandmother, who did not know a word of Hindi, and certainly knew no other Hindi songs, had heard the songs of Aradhana. We didn't have a tape recorder then, so if at all we heard anything, it was on radio. Various songs would be playing - but the moment an Aradhana song played - her eyes would light up and she'd say “Aradhana!” (Well, considering it probably played every single day, it might not have been such a difficult task to recognise the songs, I suppose).  

In 1975, during our summer holidays, we had gone for a family event deep in rural South India - in Thanjavur district, often considered then the bastion of anti-Hindi sentiment. There I got to spend some time with my cousins. They spoke Tamil and English – but not a word of Hindi. Anyway, they started playing Antakshari – and as one would expect,Tamil songs were being tossed around with great gusto. With my count of known Tamil songs then being a grand nil,  I must confess I felt totally out of place.

One of my cousins, seeing my lost look, stopped and said “Hindi?” I said “Yes”. “OK” he said. And immediately started with “mere sapnon ki rani…”. The others joined in. Ok, it was just the first couple of lines, the words were quite messed up, the accent even more so - but it felt just SO good.  And then there was the inevitable follow-up with “roop tera”. 

To date, I consider these as two of the most popular songs of Hindi cinema that I’ve known in my life - not counting songs from before my time.

Aradhana was THAT popular. Rajesh Khanna became an overnight star. Sharmila – already a popular heroine – went right to the top. I remember Madhuri magazine, having a discussion about who the No.1 heroine was – they had photos of three heroines (the ones in contention) – Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rehman and Sharmila Tagore.

When, in the late 90s, Kaho Na Pyar Hai – with its very popular numbers - became a super-duper hit, catapulting Hrithik Roshan to overnight fame,  it reminded me of Aradhana – and Rajesh Khanna – all those years ago. Hrithik did not quite manage to do a Rajesh follow-up act though. He became ONE of the stars, whereas Rajesh left all others behind to emerge as the one and only superstar.

Like I’ve said, in those years, there was Rajesh – and there was everybody else. It is not that others were not delivering hits. Dharmendra and Shashi Kapoor, for example, also did well in that period. But the Rajesh tsunami was such that everybody seemed to have eyes for him - and him only.  

There is this general impression that it was the female constituency, particularly young girls, that was crazy about Rajesh Khanna. True, but that's not the entire story. People of ALL generations, all age groups, male-female, were pretty crazy about him at that time. 

There were a whole lot of newcomers in that period. I remember Vinod Mehra, Rakesh Roshan, Parikshat Sahni (then called Ajay Sahni), even Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna (both starting off in villain roles), Randhir Kapoor, Anil Dhawan, Navin Nischol, Vijay Arora, Kabir Bedi, Rakesh Pandey, Romesh Sharma, Vikram…I’m sure there were others too that I have not named here. Some of these definitely tried to copy Rajesh Khanna. Rakesh Roshan, for example. But they could not QUITE pull it off.

That was the time when people would blindly go to watch a movie just because it was a Rajesh movie. They were guaranteed that smile, that look, that nod of the head – and some glorious songs. Whether the heroine was Asha Parekh or Sharmila Tagore or Mumtaz or Tanuja or Hema Malini or anybody else, it did not matter.  Even if the film did not have a heroine opposite him, it did not matter. All that mattered was that it had Rajesh Khanna.

He did the odd cameo too. Not many talk about it – but I thought he did a lovely cameo as the flower vendor in the tear-jerker Anuraag.

I saw almost all his movies from that early period, in those early years of the 70s. I will not name the movies here, it is almost the entire list of that time. I knew most of the songs from his movies by heart. You just heard them so many times that you could not help it.

I cannot say with absolute certainty what my very first Rajesh movie was. I think it was Sacha Jhootha, though it could just as well have been Do Raaste. I remember seeing these movies very early on, as also Maryada. 

True, in terms of superstardom, his reign at the top was all-too-brief.

And true, towards the end of his golden period, his mannerisms took over and watching him became difficult. His hamming, together with a questionable selection of movies, resulted in his loyal fan-base getting disenchanted and beginning to feel let down. (I know, I was one of them).

And yes, that was exactly the time when Amitabh Bachchan’s star was rising with some excellent performances in movies like Zanjeer and Deewar. The times were changing - the mood in the country was becoming increasingly cynical and anti-establishment. Romance was taking a backseat, anger was in the front row. There were protests, bandhs, strikes all over the place - I remember that even as a young boy.

Movies are usually a reflection of the times and the society in which, and for which, they are made. More and more people began identifying more easily with the "angry young man" image of Amitabh than the soft, romantic image of Rajesh (which was anyway beginning to get seriously dented with his exaggerated mannerisms). But there is no doubt that, in addition to self-created reasons for his self-destruction, there was the external environment too that was beginning to become alien to Rajesh's style.

Oh, how I hated the fact that Amitabh was taking over Rajesh's place. I had nothing against Amitabh - in fact I grudgingly liked him, especially in his movies with Jaya Bhaduri. And I loved Majboor, one of his most under-rated performances, in my opinion and still one of my Amitabh favorites.

But nobody, NOBODY, took Rajesh's place. He was going through a bad phase, that was all. That's how I convinced myself - though I secretly knew that the magic was wearing off. And well, if everybody in the country was angry about something or the other at that time, I was angry at the movies Rajesh was doing, I was angry at his hamming. But I was still a Rajesh loyalist and I wasn't willing as yet to allow another person to sit on that throne. 

I think a lot of Rajesh fans must have switched loyalties and become Amitabh fans at that time. At
 that age, in school at least, you tended to be identified either with Rajesh or with Amitabh.  To be fair to those who switched, it was really becoming very difficult to continue to defend Rajesh. So I wouldn't call them fair-weather fans. 

I remember one such ex-Rajesh fan even challenging me "Tell me, can Rajesh act like Amitabh in Deewar?" I struggled with my defence - and could only manage "No, but I don't WANT Rajesh to act like Amitabh. I just want Rajesh to be Rajesh. Like he used to be". 

Oh, those mid- and late-70s were difficult times for a Rajesh fan.

And yes, Rajesh’s lack of professionalism, his poor public relations, his whims, his lack of maintenance – all of these, individually seriously problematic but collectively conclusively disastrous,  ensured that his career, once it tipped over, went into free fall. 

When you read about some of those stories today, they sound outrageous but one needs to bear in mind that those were different times. The film industry has changed a lot over the years. Today actors are far more professional, they are extremely conscious about not just their appearance but their image, they are often very boringly politically correct, they are very media-savvy. I think Rajesh was on such a cloud that he did not pay much attention to these non-acting attributes required for an actor's sustained success in the industry. 

At that age, I read about all this only in magazines - mainly Filmfare, Star and Style and Stardust. Film magazines were not subscribed to (or encouraged) in our household but we would always get hold of them from friends. So there was plenty of film information (and gossip) available to us.

Even at that age, I was very sceptical of what I read in these magazines. So to me, what I saw on screen was what I made of an actor or a situation. In any case, these backstage problems (of unprofessional behaviour) were something that did not matter to me. The hamming yes, the backstage problems, no. They were all none of my business anyway.

 I do remember reading a lot of anti-Rajesh Khanna writing in the late 70s. It was as if everybody had been waiting for him to fall. As if everybody was out to get him, waiting for that chance to get that dagger in, and to twist it.

That his personal life was also becoming a mess, did not help one bit. At that time, it felt like any news about Rajesh was only bad news – nobody seemed to have a good word to say about him.  And the witch-hunt seemed to go on, for ever and ever.

 So if we are to keep score, I am pretty much convinced that he paid the price for his failings in far greater measure than he deserved.  No wonder then that he chose to lead a somewhat secluded life in his later years.

I don’t think Rajesh ever totally got over the shock of his sudden fall from grace. When you are at THAT height – and the fall is SO precipitous, it is difficult to keep your senses around you. Your sycophants leave you, your so-called friends leave you – life suddenly becomes very lonely.

What Rajesh critics often fail to mention is that he did realize his mistakes later. I clearly remember seeing an interview where he admits his mistakes. He does not blame anybody else for them.  Surely that counts for something?

I stopped seeing Rajesh Khanna movies after a while. They became painful to watch – if only because I knew what he had once been. Maybe there was the odd good movie at that time – I just did not have the heart to watch it. I call that the “Janta Hawaldar” period – I remember this being one of the movies I expressly skipped at that time. 

I do remember watching Thodisi Bewafai and Avtaar though.  Both of them were telecast on Doordarshan (as the Sunday evening movie) - and I’d heard they were good. So, rather hesitatingly, I decided to watch them – and am glad I did. I quite liked them. 

In the last couple of years, I’ve caught up with some of the Rajesh movies I’d avoided in my Rajesh blackout phase. Movies like Rajput and Kudrat. I thought he was OK in both of them. 

But, on the whole, my memories of Rajesh will be of the Rajesh of my childhood. 

With his death, he has taken a part of my childhood with him. But I certainly bear him no grudge – for he gave me so much more in my childhood, so many wonderful moments to cherish and enjoy, that I will remain ever-grateful to him for this.

As I sign off (still emotional), I cannot help thinking that a tribute to Rajesh without some of his songs would be oh-so-incomplete.

So I will leave you with some of his songs that I feel he could be singing to his various constituencies. 

For his critics (whose numbers ran into millions), I have "mere naseeb mein aye dost, tera pyar nahin" (dear friend, it was not in my destiny to get your love). Anand Bakshi's lyrics in this song are just mind-blowing.

For his fans (whose numbers hopefully outnumbered his critics), I have "maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune, sapne sureele sapne". (I have picked dreams of seven different colors for only you, sweet dreams). Gulzar's lyrics here - quite typical, actually.

For children, I think his message to them (actually Anand Bakshi's message in Kishore Kumar's voice) is invaluable - "rona kabhi nahin rona". Simple words, deep message - "jo apna nahin, tum uske liye, jo apna hai, nahin khona" (In your pursuit of something that doesn't belong to you, don't lose what you do have).

For the youth (and with his message to take care of the elderly thrown in), I think he'd have liked to exhort them to enjoy their youth and make the most of it with "yahan wahaan saare jahaan mein tera raj hai". Anand Bakshi again.

For the female constituency (and one need have no fear about that number not running into many millions), I can imagine him singing one of my favorite romantic numbers - with that nod of the head of course. The song, with a gorgeous Leena Chandavarkar, with beautiful lyrics (Anand Bakshi again!) and Rafi saab's voice. Oh, how I love the fact that this is Rafi saab's voice.

Thank you SO MUCH for everything, Rajesh Khanna. I guess we were just fortunate to have you with us for as long as we did. You will always live on in our hearts. Rest In Peace.  And do enjoy your time up there with Kishore and RD. 

As for me, well, I can only say chhoti chhoti baaton ki hai yaadein badin.

And if I may call you my yaar, I'd like to also add nafrat ki duniya ko chhod ke pyar ki duniya mein, khush rehna mere yaar.