Hundred years ago, in America there was a movie super star named Rudolf Valentino. He was born in Italy the year the technology of cinema was invented! Acting in the early years’ silent movies as a hero in action and romantic films, he became the high idol of popular art of the time and worshipped like a human god. He started acting at the age of 19 and became a super star at 23! He was popularly called as the ‘Latin Lover’ by young girls and also men who were partial to handsome men. He became their sex symbol. More than his acting talent the movements of his body, his sleepy eyes and his firmly fleshed body attracted his fans. He shined over the film field for only six years before he passed away due to lacerating ulcer of intestines, at the age of 31. Law and order broke down in the city of New York because of the frenzied behavior of his hysterical fans. Many of his ardent female fans and even some of his male fans committed suicide! Some film stars cause a deep impact in the minds of their fans that can go to the point of self-destruction!
More than half a century later, here in India when M.G.Ramachandran, a super star of Tamil cinema, passed away, quite a few of his fanatic fans committed suicide. There were countless murders, robberies and violent incidents related to the death of this hero of the masses who always projected himself onscreen as the ‘ideal citizen’! A further quarter century later, when Raj Kumar, a super star of Kannada cinema, passed away, there was an explosion of violence and riots! These were angry expressions of emotional connect some actors had with their fans. However, nothing of this sort ever happened in the history of Hindi films. Nothing stirred either during the lifetime or after passing away of such top stars of Hindi films like K.L.Saigal, Karan Diwan, Prithviraj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor. Most fans do not even remember today, when most of these top stars passed away!
However, Rajesh Khanna, who was formally declared by the film industry to be India’s first Super Star, at the height of his fame created among his fans, especially female fans, an unprecedented degree of fanatic devotion and extreme passion. For the first time ever, Indian women who are supposed to be shy, modest, reserved and generally the typical bride of the dynasty ran after a film actor. And it was not born of the wrong notion of Rajesh Khanna as the ‘companion of the poor’ as it was in the case of M.G.Ramachandran! More than his acting talent, it was the sexiness of Rajesh Khanna’s body language, his drowsy eyes and his winks that drove them to lust after him. Rajesh Khanna became their sex symbol with his attractive voice that expressed a dreamy and poetic love and a voice modulation that wooed and titillated them. This was something that has not been seen before or after Rajesh Khanna!
Teenagers, college girls, married women and even women past their middle age flocked in unmanageable numbers to film-shooting floors to catch at least a barest of a moment’s glimpse of their adored star. In Mumbai, women stood outside his bungalow for an entire day for his ‘audience’! Even in the villages where he went for outdoor shoot, women braved a near-riotous situation to watch him. Madness went to the extent of a few women garlanding his photographs to ‘wed’ him. They cut their fingers to place ‘tilak’ with blood on the forehead. Some wrote love letters to him in their own blood. The newspapers of those days were rife with stories where women from far flung areas claimed either that they were his wives or that they were pregnant with his children. And when his female fans got to catching distance of Rajesh Khanna they went berserk tearing off his clothes. They blocked his vehicle to cover it with their kisses. Producers had to appoint security staff to protect Rajesh Khanna from his female fans! Rajesh Khanna had the distinction of being the first actor in India to be protected from fans by a Police Department deployed in full strength! After the success of his film Aradhana, he was subjected to mobbing by female fans even in a very sedate and sober city, Chennai.
“Pushpa………what is this Pushpa……I see tears in your eyes, again! Pushpa, how many times have I to tell you that I cannot bear to see tears in your eyes! I hate tears Pushpa…..I hate tears!” This is typical of Rajesh Khanna lines and in those days there were few women who were not taken in by them. Rajesh Khanna attracted women in different costumes, sometimes in garish costumes that fully exploited all the colourful possibilities of the colour film, sometimes in a simple Guru kurta and dhoti, occasionally in a Gurkha topi and sometimes with a simple lengthy cotton gumcha tied around his waist over the kurta.
Rajesh Khanna’s debut film Aakhri Khat (Last Letter) was released in 1966. His last film Wafa (Faithful) came in 2008. In this career spanning four decades he acted in 163 films in all. It is difficult to believe that over a hundred films of him were huge successes. Seventy films celebrated Golden Jubilee! Over twenty films had Silver Jubilee runs! At the height of his career all his 15 films made in a three year span were huge hits! This is an achievement that no other actor has managed in the history of world Cinema!
There were a significant number of male audience and even a few in female audiences who did not like his long square face, his barrel body and his ‘acting’. But even they could appreciate his screen presence and what could in totality be called ‘style’. Dancing was an art simply beyond Rajesh Khanna. But the kind of ‘body’ moves he adapted to hide this inability, became his typical ‘dance style’. Dancers who copy this style on stage receive ovation even today! I can assert that the reason for the huge success of Rajesh Khanna’s repetitive shakes of his head, winks and facial expressions were the hundreds of impossibly great song numbers to which he had pasted his lip movements. I will go so far as to say that Rajesh Khanna the super star was made by the songs he enacted onscreen!
S.D.Burman composed the music for his world-famous film Aradhana which had songs like ‘Mere Sapnon Ki Rani’, ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ and ‘Kora Kaagaz Tha Yeh Man Mera’, all super-hit numbers sung by Kishore Kumar. S.D.Burman fell seriously ill, with only the tunes composed for the songs. At that stage his son R.D.Burman took up the responsibility and arranged the music for the songs, besides composing the background score of the film as well. The trio of Rajesh Khanna, R.D.Burman and Kishore Kumar that started then, went on to create majority of Rajesh Khanna’s popular songs. Anand Bakshi became the trio’s lyricist. Kishore Kumar’s voice and rendering style fused exactly right with Rajesh Khanna’s body language and lip movements. And that was the story of how Kishore Kumar became India’s top singing star, overtaking Mohammad Rafi, through songs that Rajesh Khanna lip synchronised on screen.
There were some marvelously great numbers sung by Kishore Kumar under R.D.Burman’s baton even in some of Rajesh Khanna’s lack-lustre films. One can cite as examples numbers like ‘Zindagi Ke Safar Mein’, ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’, ‘Karvatein Badalte Rahein’, ‘O Mere Dil Ki Cheyn’ and ‘Chala Jaata Hoon’ of Mere Jeevan Saathi and ‘Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se’, ‘Bheegi Bheegi Raton Mein’ and ‘Hum Dono Do Premi’ of film Ajnabee. The trio also gave us some of the impossibly great numbers like ‘Hamein Tumse Pyaar Kitna’ from Khudrat, ‘Mere Naina Sawan Badon’ from Mehbooba, ‘Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai’, ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani’ and ‘Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai’ from Kati Patang, ‘Yeh Kya Hua’, ‘Chingari Koi Bhadke’ and ‘Kuch To Log Kahenge’ from Amar Prem and ‘Nadia Se Dariya’, ‘Diye Jalte Hain’ and ‘Main Shayar Badnam’ from Namak Haram. Even after 40 odd years these numbers are popular as listeners’ choice on FM stations and television channels. And you can count among these some very popular numbers sung by R.D.Burman himself viz. ‘Duniya Mein Logon Ko’ from Apna Desh.
R.D.Burman even made Mohammed Rafi to sing for Rajesh Khanna. The big hit number ‘Gulaabi Aankhein’ from the film Train is a great example. However, Mohammad Rafi had sung only a few numbers for Rajesh Khanna. Among these, the hottest numbers are ‘Chup Gaye Saare Nazare’ and ‘Yeh Reshmi Zulfein from Do Raaste in Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music, ‘Akele Hi Chale Aao’ from Raaz under Kalyanji Anandji’s baton and ‘Gunguna Rahein Hain’ and ‘Baagon Mein Bahar Hain’ from Aradhana for R.D.Burman.
Even though Rajesh Khanna did not have the singing ability of Shammi Kapoor, he had this remarkable ability to lip-synch with songs as though he himself was singing them and sway his body exactly to rhythm. He had no direct contribution in the makings of his songs but, it is said, he had a few metrics for the creation of great numbers. As soon as a song took shape, he would hear it out once or twice and leave. If after sleeping over it for two days, he is unable to recollect its first few lines, then he would reject the song itself! Rajesh Khanna cleverly ensured that both R.D.Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal remained on their toes and competed for the chance to work in his films.
Next to R.D.Burman, it was the duo of Laxmikant Pyarelal that scored for most of Rajesh Khanna’s films. Among their Rajesh Khanna hit numbers are the songs of Kishore Kumar like ‘Kisa Ke Phool Se Aathi’ from Do Raaste, ‘Mere Dil Me Aaj Kya Hai’ from Daag, ‘Aathe Jaathe Khubsoorat’ from Anurodh and ‘Gorey Rangey Pe Itna’ from Roti. But it was Kalyanji Anandji who scored the music for the film Safar which had what is widely regarded as the most important number of Kishore Kumar for Rajesh Khanna. That number ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ is famous even today. And one of the most famous sad songs of Hindi film ‘Jeevan Se Bari Tere Aankhen’ was also from the same film. But the number that can be considered most famous all over India, including non-Hindi speaking areas, ‘Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhaana’ sung by Kishore Kumar for the film Andaz was scored by Shankar Jaikishen duo.
And there were some marvelous gems from other composers for Rajesh Khanna like ‘Hazaar Raahein’ from Thodi Si Bewafai with Khayyam wielding the baton, ‘Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi’ for Khamoshi by Hemant Kumar, ‘Yeh Lal Rang’ from Prem Nagar scored by S.D.Burman and ‘Zindagi Pyaar Ka Geet Hai’ from film Souten by Usha Khanna. The great maestro of Indian popular music Salil Chowdhury made an important musical contribution to Rajesh Khanna’s film life.
In 1969 a Rajesh Khanna film without a single song or any dance was released! It was the first attempt of its kind in Indian commercial films. The film’s success was ensured by the nail-biting story and narration borrowed from the English film Sign Post to Murder by Yash Chopra. The film was Ittefaq meaning coincidence. The film depended entirely on its background music for effect. It was a job that demanded great musical creativity, imagination and a felicity with instrumental music. It is said that some doyens of Hindi film music refused the job. In the end Yash Chopra had to turn to Salil Chouwdhury. Looking at the film today, the background score is still a wonderful inspiration. Importantly, the film succeeded beyond all expectations. A commercial film without the song and dance succeeding was unthinkable in those days!
Two years later, Hrishikesh Mukherji-directed film Anand was released. By far, it is the best picture that Rajesh Khanna had acted in. It got Rajesh Khanna the Filmfare Award for the Best Actor. The film also went on to win the year’s National Award for the Best Picture. The four songs in the film with an emotion-charged background score are immortal numbers of Indian film industry and all-time greats. It is impossible to imagine any Hindi film music fan who had not internalized the quality of the film’s music and its emotions.
‘Kahin Dhoor Jab Din Dhal Jaaye’, ‘Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli’, ‘Main Ne Tere Liye’ and ‘Na Jiya Laage Naa’ are the four immortal songs that come to our mind when we think of Rajesh Khanna even today! The important fact that is worthy of note is that these songs were sung neither by Kishore Kumar nor Mohammad Rafi! It was Manna Dey and Mukesh who sang these all-time great ‘Rajesh Khanna’ numbers! But after the run-away success of these songs Salil Chowdhury never again composed music for Rajesh Khanna films! It is said that this was mainly because the maestro refused to accept Rajesh Khanna’s insistence on veto power against songs he disliked.
After the success of Anand, the theme of a cancer-stricken hero dying during climax scene in the film spread like cancer to the entire film industry in India! It is also strange but true that the runaway hit Anand was the first step downhill for super star Rajesh Khanna. Amitabh Bachchan who had appeared in a supporting role in the film drew much attention and appreciation. It was just the second film for the lanky young man. He won the Filmfare Award for the Best Supporting Actor. Amitabh Bachchan ensured his place by stoically continuing to act with Rajesh Khanna in the films Anand and Namak Haram.
Amitabh Bachchan slowly but surely changed the Rajesh Khanna era in Hindi films, that was barely pushing along with love, winks, love failure and sad songs on the strength of some great music. With his ‘Angry Young Man’ roles he occupied the throne of superstar with an All-time Great tag. But it was not Amitabh Bachchan who destroyed Rajesh Khanna. It was Rajesh Khanna, all on his own!
A BBC feature that had an interview with Rajesh Khanna had commented that he had the ego and pride that was more swollen than that of Napoleon Bonaparte! Later, journalists who knew him well, like Ali Peter John wrote that Rajesh Khanna thought that he was God. Rajesh Khanna’s stay at the top was shrunk rapidly by his heavy drinking habit, wrongly advised industry-related decisions, regular late show at shoot spots, frequent no-shows for shoots, never keeping his word or time, sudden change of moods, a mélange of other strange habits and tantrums.
It is said that Rajesh Khanna could never identify friends who sought his well being and he could never work with his equals. People who knew him closely commented that he lived listening only to the flattering words of parasitical yes-men, he never had the patience to hear out people and he had zero tolerance for any kind of criticism or a differing opinion.
Many years after losing his prime and glory in films, Rajesh Khanna, the man who did not have the ability to look beyond his own self drew into politics! But he was unable to sustain himself in politics. Rajesh Khanna passed away at the age of 70 on July 18, 2012 lived a cancer-stricken lonely life for many years. These lines written by poet Sahir Ludhianvi but pronounced loud and clear by Rajesh Khanna himself in his 1974 film Roti (Bread)
Nothing ever lasts in this world
Where I stand today
Somebody else stood yesterday…