Zindagi ka safar: Rajesh Khanna

He did not have screaming fans, yet the frenzy was unparalleled. Is unparalleled. Rajesh Khanna was not the first superstar. He was the only real one Hindi cinema has produced. He was not a durbari or a durbar. He knew the value of keeping that little distance. 

He had no muscles, no abs. He had a pimply skin. He was not tall. He did not have a great voice. Yet. It is that yet...that undefinable aura that made every strand of his hair worthy of emulation. His 'guru' shirts started a trend. Many actors have trends to their credit, so I'd say this was just an occupational bonus in his case. 

To even suggest that Amitabh Bachchan and he were rivals is disingenuous. Bachchan's formula had method - from the angry man to the drunken scenes to the comedic moments. Khanna's acting, even though heavily stylised, did not seem to have any plan. Bachchan may be seen as a pitashri; Khanna was a combination of Arjuna and Duryodhana, and Krishna too. There was an element of narcissism. Which is why the women married his photograph, applied the dust his car passed over as sindoor in the parting of their hair. I have witnessed one kissing his car, her obeisance so complete. They were all Meera; he their unattainable lord, an image, an idol. 

It is, therefore, interesting that he married the teenager who used to stand outside the gate of his bungalow Aashirwaad. Of course, Dimple Kapadia had shot to fame with her debut in 'Bobby', but she gave it all up for the idol. Like all such alliances, it was tumultuous. Rajesh Khanna could not be anything else but Rajesh Khanna. The famous chamchas surrounded him, people who fed his ego and led him to believe that his life was not his own. 

Yet. It is that 'yet' that takes us to how the couple, though separated, continued to be together in many ways. Neither compromised or faked happiness. 

The reason for this personal look is because his stardom cannot be parodied. It lacked affectation, and was intrinsic. The persona and the person became one. 

There are too many roles, too many films to remember. I would not box him into the “romantic hero” category. What about the 'Patch Adams' like cook in 'Bawarchi'? Or the criminal in 'Raaz'? While in and as 'Anand' he made the life of a cancer-stricken patient live after death, for me his character in 'Amar Prem' epitomises true love. Here, he was so much like Devdas - trapped in an unhappy marriage, he finds solace and companionship with a courtesan. The sensuality is unspoken, despite her profession. They do not romance; they share. No dream sequences. Nothing. 

It is a love that endures, and the physical distance means little as they meet again when the hair's turned grey and the gait has slowed down. He still hated tears. 

Rajesh Khanna. Now in another world. 

And the perennial questions of life that his character asks:

"yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua, kyon hua, jab hua, tab hua
O chhodo, yeh na socho..."

(Why did this happen, when, what, it had its time...think not about these now...)


  1. FV,

    There is no denying that he was a stupendous phenomenon. But I have never been too fond of him. Two reasons. Firstly, his acting talent was quite limited (Someone's saying 'Dev Anand' but Devsaab had a great life philosophy and also a great director called Vijay Anand). Secondly, his films have rarely qualified as great cinema (Devsaab scores again). Maybe Amar Prem, Safar, Daag, Ittefaq, Bawarchi and Roti. Personally, I have not been inclined to include Aradhana and Anand in this list. And Namak Haraam is never counted as a Kaka film!

  2. I am reminded of my college days when my friends were great fans of Rajesh Khanna. One girl wanted to be the secretary of Rajesh Khanna.

  3. Seems Farzana too was his fan. My closest contact was on that day during my student days when I was waiting for someone to arrive at Heathrow Airpot, suddenly I saw him all alone pusing his cart and coming out of the door and walked by, the distance would not be more than a few feet and few fleeting seconds. Amar Prem is my favorite too, and this song you posted.

  4. HP
    I actually never saw his movies in a theatre. In Pakistan, Indian movies were banned for a long time. I just heard of his name. Later, they were available on VCR but never had enough interest in Indian movies anyways. I got to watch couple of his movies on VCR in the US. One was with Shermila Tagore called Anand or Amarprem or something like that and the other was a very funny sort of horror flick where skeleton was hidden behind the wall in attic. I forgot the name of the movie. I wanted to watch that movie again but since I could not remember the name, I never did. He appeared to be a reasonably mature actor. Nothing sensational. But then you perhaps can associate with his prime and can certainly appreciate his talent better.

  5. F&F, Rahul, Anon, HP, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I am not inclined towards being a 'fan', but I most certainly cannot ignore the tremendous hold he had, and the fact that he altered the idea of a 'hero'.

    Were his films great? No. But as far as mainstream cinema then went they were certainly not mediocre. He worked best with Shakti Samanta and Yash Chopra, and Avishkar, one of the trilogy by Basu Chatterjee on different aspects of marriage, should be seen as mature parallel cinema.

    For me he was what he was on screen, although I had more than a fleeting look. I recall the pink face, which at the time I did not know was makeup...

    ...and although I like this song a lot (there was a context for it to be here), I prefer "Jeevan se bhari teri aankhein majboor kare jeene ke liye..."

    PS: HP, am more clued into how Pakistanis view contemporary Indian actors, so your views were interesting.


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