Rajesh Khanna: Romancing forever

मौत तू एक कविता है

मुझसे एक कविता का वादा है, मिलेगी मुझको

It’s amazing that the lines were uttered on the silver screen by Bollywood’s biggest star ever, in front of the one who held the reins then.

Yes we are talking of Amitabh Bachchan saying those, rather coyly, in front of smiling Rajesh Khanna, who looked rather confident. Little did we know then that the champion was in front of the contender. The contender, who’d later go on to become a champion.

Death Meets Rajesh Khanna eventually

Amitabh Bachchan, a doctor in the film, talking to a patient. The angry young man in the making – showing his vulnerable side – to the one who was going to die.

Yours truly watched the movie ‘Anand’ in early 1990s, some 20 years after it was made. But it made a lasting impression on him.

This was the film that made ‘lymphosarcoma of the intestine’, a household name. Moreover, it was the film that showed the victory of hope and happiness over all the frustration of life.

Actors often enact death scenes in movies, but Rajesh Khanna had never done that in any film before this (he was already a superstar). He was a romantic hero. But here he was playing a man who is about to die, yet wants to enjoy the life remaining.

A line from the film remains in the head:

‘जिन्दगी बडी होनी चाहिए, लम्बी नही’

(Life has to be large, not long)

Such was the Rajesh Khanna craze that he had 15 consecutive solo super-hits between 1969 to 1971. This probably is a record that will take some beating. Something which the biggest superstar of them all, Amitabh Bachchan hasn’t been able to do.

But superstardom was something that Khanna could not handle. Recently, I read an Indian film journalist saying, “At one point, Rajesh Khanna was a god, but the trouble was, he started thinking he was one”. Jack Pizzey, who made a documentary titled Bombay Superstar on Khanna described him as an actor who had the “charisma of Rudolph Valentino and the arrogance of Napoleon”.

Strange it is that the person, died in his loneliness. The romance that he portrayed on the reel was not for him in real. It is sad that the first ever superstar of Bollywood was also an example of what not to do, as a star. He could not overcome the years of aloofness and a drinking habit.

Khanna could be compared to the lead actor in The Sunset Boulevard. A lonely film star of the old era. The one who can’t get over the fact that his days of superstardom are over. Waiting to make one last comeback. The comeback that never happens. After all, it’s real life and not reel life.

Rajesh Khanna: The Eternal Romantic Hero

But I will remember him for the romantic hero that was. The one, who sang, “Mere sapno ki raani kab aayegi tu.” The one, who romanced multiple heroines on screen, with élan. The flair remained same, whether it was Mumtaz or Sharmila Tagore. The one, who mesmerized women with his iconic sway of the head singing and calling them, and a wave of his forearm to improve the effect.

It’s not without reason Sharmila Tagore said in an interview, “Women came out in droves to see Kaka (Khanna). They would stand in queues outside the studios to catch a glimpse, they would marry his photographs, they would pull at his clothes. Delhi girls were crazier for him than Mumbai girls. He needed police protection when he was in public. I have never seen anything like this before and since.”

And in ‘Anand’ – which this scribe always talks about – this man had no heroine opposite him. Yet the romance was there. He was romancing life. As they say, live as if there’s no tomorrow.

And the line, delivered with utmost elegance and depth:

जिन्दगी और मौत उपर वाले के हाथ है जहाँपनाह, उसे ना तो आप बदल सकते हैं और न मैं…

हम सब तो रंगमंच कि कठपुतलियाँ हैं, जिनकी डोर उपरवाले की ऊंगली पे बंधी है…

कब कौन कैसे उठेगा ये कोइ नहीं बता सकता है…

Death and Khanna finally came together. It was sad.

But tell me, what will you remember?

An unshaven, clumsy Rajesh Khanna, or the smile that touched millions; Infectious, subtle and romantic.

For even if you drop a tear, you will be reminded by his line from Amar Prem: “Pushpa I hate tears”. And you might remember the wave of his hand, and the sway of the head. The effect will remain.

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