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Besotted balladeer: A birthday tribute to Rajesh Khanna  

Monday June 09, 2014

Tribute to Rajesh Khanna, Superstar of Indian Cinema, Kaka  
"In 1969, when Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana and Raj Khosla’s Do Raaste released within a span of few months, then a new chapter was added to Hindi film history. Rajesh Khanna’s emergence as the first ever superstar on the Eastman color horizon of Hindi films, at the turn of a decade was very symbolic."  
Tulsidas Mishra  

(1942 - 2012)


Few days from now, one more year will fade out and become flashback material. But from these closing frames, 29th of December has a great significance, in the context of Hindi films. Because, it is the birth day of Rajesh Khanna, the first superstar of Hindi films. And will have a sentimental tone this year, because this is the first birthday of Kaka, after his demise in last July.

All those Hindi film lovers, who were in schools and colleges in 1970s, for them the very name of Rajesh Khanna might trigger a flood of memories. Memories of some great films. Memories of fun, frenzy, humour and rumour. 



The film buffs of Shah Rukh-Salman-Saif-Amir-Ajay-Akshay-Hrithik generation might find it immensely difficult to imagine the craze that Jatin Khanna alias Rajesh Khanna alias Kaka created between the year 1969 and 1974.

It all started when this1942-born pampered son of Punjabi parents qualified the United Producers-Filmfare talent search contest, sometime in the mid-1960s. The initial films like Raaz, Bandhan, Baharon Ke Sapne, Ittefaq, Aakhri Khat were not exactly box office hits, though quite watchable.

But in 1969, when Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana and Raj Khosla’s Do Raaste released within a span of few months, then a new chapter was added to Hindi film history. Rajesh Khanna’s emergence as the first ever superstar on the Eastman colour horizon of Hindi films, at the turn of a decade was very symbolic. He heralded a new era on silver screen - of rose, romance, love songs, mirth, music and moist eyes.

It is not that, heroes those who preceded Rajesh Khanna were not  popular. Be it the triumvirate of Raj Kapoor-Dev Anand-Dillip Kumar or that way Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra and Jeetendra---all had their brand of films and enjoyed viewership as well.

But the kind of attention that Rajesh Khanna drew after the release of Aradhana or the popularity that he achieved with his subsequent films were unprecedented till that time.

His sweeping popularity and magical impact on the youth mass, provided thesis material for film critics and sociologists of that time. His on-screen persona and off-screen personality became chapters in university syllabus.

Fans getting married to his photographs, writing letters to him with their own blood are part of film folklore now. His hair style and dress code too set trends. (Have you seen fascination for a film star flaring up a fashion, in today’s time?) Interestingly enough, in film ‘Guddi/1971’, in one place, even Dharmendra refers to the Rajesh mania.

In the laugh riot ‘Bombay To Goa/1971’, Mehmood and his brother Anwar Ali play characters, who are great fans of Rajesh Khanna. And hence divide his name between them. Mehmood is called ‘Rajesh’ and Anwar is named ‘Khanna’. These cinematic salutes, in a way, give hints of the hysteria that Rajesh Khanna unleashed.

There was no television at that time for breathless promotion. Films also didn’t release in 1000 theatres simultaneously, courtesy UFO.  Instead, in that era, films took months after release, to reach small centres and still were eagerly awaited and avidly watched. No doubt Rajesh Khanna was called the first superstar of the sub-continent.

But ‘the Phenomenon’ (some say, famous publicist Bunny Ruben coined it for Rajesh Khanna and very cleverly planted it in media circle) had a very brief rule of only five years. The hit run that started with Aradhana/1969, ended with Roti/1974. After that, a long and tragic downhill journey started, with stray consolations like Dhanwan, Amardeep, Thodi Si Bewafai, Souten, Avataar, Agar Tum Na Hote happening in irregular intervals.

Rajesh Khanna lacked foresight perhaps. Without proper guidance, perhaps he could not organize his career like a professional. Also it is said that, he fell into bad company of sycophants and spongers who converted him into an arrogant, indiscipline, spoilt brat.

To add to this, the decade of 1970s was assailed with an array of political and social upheavals. Be it the Indo-Pak war, Railway strike, unemployment, price rise or that way Emergency, all warranted cinematic reproduction. And Rajesh Khanna, with his romantic persona could not fulfil the angst ridden demands of the viewers.

In that critical hour, arrived Amitabh Bachchan. He fitted the bill and hijacked all the billboard space that was once reserved for Rajesh Khanna. With Amitabh’s emergence, the alphabets and idioms of cinematic expression too underwent a total transformation. Romance was replaced with rage, Amor with angst. Smouldering and seething anger smoked out soulful songs. The tall, lanky, brooding rebel usurped the throne, dislodging the besotted balladeer. Anand lost out to Vijay. The songster to gangster.

But today in retrospect, one will like to overlook the Khanna-Bachchan rivalry. Instead, one will prefer to brood over movies like Anand and Namak Haram - Movies which became masterpieces, because of their magical pairing and marvellous performance. Well, Hrishikesh Mukherjee deserves special mention for this feat.

And when one looks back through the mist of bygone years, one will also like to forget the fall of a Phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna. Instead one will like to remember his celluloid classics like Safar, Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Daag, Aap Ki Kasam and many more. Films which were rewarding cinematic experiences then and are nice memories now. All because of his sensitive portrayal.

In ‘Anand’, Rajesh Khanna has this dialogue—‘’Aare Babu Mosai, Bombai Sahar Ka Jawab Nahin. Punjab, Sindh, Gujrat, Maratha, Dravida, Utkala, Banga, Sab Log Yahan To Hain. Main Faisala Karliya Babu Mosai, Jeena To Bambai Men, Marna to Bambai Men’’. Very futuristic. Truly enough, in that movie metropolis, Rajesh Khanna savoured all the seasons of life. Name, fame, glory, gloom, cheers, tears and much more.

And one day, in that very city he breathed his last and became lasting memory. The icon became ashes and metaphysics. Faded into immortality.

"Anand Maraa Nahin. Anand  Marte Nahin."

Happy birthday Kaka. Hope you are happy there in heaven. R.I.P.

[Author is an alumnus of FTII, Pune and is active in Film and Television sector since last twenty years. He has shouldered varied relevant responsibilities in Mumbai and Hyderabad. Presently he is based in Bhubaneswar.]


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