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After moving in and out of the hospital in recent weeks Rajesh Khanna aka Kakaji finally passed away earlier today (18 July). Ever since the recent Havells commercial came out there has been a lot of talk about Rajesh Khanna. Everyone had a word or two to talk about the ad and as to whether R.Balki had done the right thing or not in making the commercial. Added to that his failing health of late which also ensured that he remained in the news. At this moment when everyone is more or less bidding farewell to the legend it is but mandatory that I share my thoughts on him as well.
At the very outset let me point out that I have never been a fan of Rajesh Khanna. By the time I was born his era was over and Amitabh Bachchan’s superstardom had already started. For me Amitabh Bachcan was the biggest star and someone I looked up to even when I was a toddler. But I do remember people talking about Rajesh Khanna those days. My earliest memory of Rajesh Khanna was when I saw Anand (on D.D perhaps) and realized that my folks were not only enjoying the movie but also admiring Rajesh Khanna’s presence in the film.
At that point of time I was sort of disappointed with the film as my hero Amitabh Bachchan seemed to have a slightly insignificant role compared to Rajesh Khanna, who clearly seemed to have the more popular role. Of course it was only when I revisited the film a few years later that I realized that Hrishikesh Mukherjee had very wonderfully given roles of substance to both of them. Around the time I watched Anand for the 1st time I guess I had already started taking an interest in Cinema and would keenly look out for Chitrahaar and the weekly film slots on Doordarshan.
Slowly I discovered more and more of Rajesh Khanna’s films as I went on to watch most of his films like Aradhana, Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Namak Haram, Haathi Mere Saathi, Mere Jeevan Saathi etc. Around the same time I realized that both my father and mother were fans of Rajesh Khanna and had their own take on the same. My mother moved to Mumbai only after she married my father as he was already based in Mumbai then. Being the early 1970’s that was the time when girls/women all over the country were madly in love with Kakaji and probably my mother was no exception to the same. Till date she still carries a lovely black and white photograph of the legend in some old notebook/diary :).
Before I was born my father had a reasonably good stint in the aeronautical space as he worked for a leading Helicopter services organization those days as service engineer. It was during this particular phase that he got to work on a movie assignment and yes this was a film with Rajesh Khanna in the lead, Roti. Directed by Manmohan Desai this was a popular hit when it released and the music of the film by Laxmikant-Pyarelal is still popular with songs like ‘Gore Rang Pe Na Itna ‘, ‘Yeh Jo Public Hai’ etc. For the sequence when Rajesh Khanna escapes from jail there was a helicopter used and my father was not only present during the shoot but also featured in the shoot as well (of course the focus was on Kakaji and not anyone else ).
So my dad also looks back upon that experience with fond memories and back then when I was a kid and since the occasion was just a few years old he would narrate stories of the shooting schedule with such enthusiasm that I would always laugh at some point of time. So for me it was one big moment when I finally got to watch Roti (once again thanks to Doordarshan). After that I also noticed that my father would fondly talk about his other favorite Rajesh Khanna films like Kati Patang, Haathi Mere Saathi, Daag etc. And so whenever I would get to watch songs from these and other films on T.V my folks would be quite happy. Ok let me pause for a minute and show you a few of my favorite Rajesh Khanna songs of that period-
To start with here’s ‘Pyar Diwana Hota Hai’ from Kati Patang (sung by Kishore Kumar,composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal )
And here’s ‘Mere Dil Mein Aaj Kya Hai’ from Daag (sung by Kishore Kumar,composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal )
Here’s ‘Nadiya Se Dariya’ from Namak Haraam (sung by Kishore Kumar, composed by R.D.Burman)
As time went by I also started watching a lot more of his films and then clearly realized that his film of the late 60’s and early 70’s were way better than the films he did later on. Though in the 80’s he did have successful films like Avataar, Souten etc he was a pale shadow of what he was during his days of super stardom. He did cringe worthy remakes like Red Rose (remake of the wonderful Tamil film, Sigappu Rojakkal starring Kamal Haasan ), Dil-E-Nadaan ( remake of Ilamai Oonjal Aadikirathu starring Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth ), Masterji ( remake of K.Bhagyaraj’s Mundhanai Mudichu ) which did him no help. In 1984 something strange happened as both Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna attempted a movie with a political milieu. Amitabh came out with Inquilaab and Rajesh Khanna with Aaj Ka M.L.A Ram Avtar and while the films did arouse some initial interest, they do not rank very highly in their respective filmographies.
Check out the popular ‘Shayad Meri Shaadi Ka Khayal’ from Souten (sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, composed by Usha Khanna)
Unknowingly Rajesh Khanna also played a role in my teens as I was having a playful time in school. During one of the Annual Day events in school some of the girls in my class were supposed to perform to the ‘Chalo Ri’ song from Rajesh Khanna’s Mehbooba. Somehow during the practice sessions a few weeks before the D day the boys led by me took on a bet with the girls that we will sabotage the show. This became an ego issue for both sides. Initially we treated it as a joke but then later on it became so serious that for lack of any better idea some of us went into the green room and smashed some of the pots that were to be used as props . Now when I look back I really feel silly about the whole thing but I guess what’s school life if not for some mischief too right?
Here’s the video of the song ‘Chalo Ri’ for those who do not remember it. Its sung by Lata Mangeshkar and composed by R.D.Burman.
After that it was downhill all the way as the films he did were either B grade trash or multistarrers where he played more of a supporting role. Even in this period films like Swarg and Aa Ab Laut Chalein still showed flashes of his early flamboyance. Like many others I had also almost forgotten him when suddenly out of nowhere I was reminded of him a lot during my B.School days. In the party circuit those days along with the current hits a few old hits were quite popular then and this included the playful song ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ from Aap Ki Kasam and I again started tracking him. Even as a child I had the utmost respect for Aap Ki Kasam, in fact almost as much as I had for an Amar Prem or an Aradhana mainly because of the music by R.D.Burman. It’s only recently that I realized that Aap Ki Kasam is a remake of the Malayalam movie Vazhve Mayam directed by K.S.Sethumadhavan.
Here’s ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar
In the last decade or so there has been no significant movie which featured the legend and in fact the few films done by him have only gone on to embarrass his fans and well wishers. After all these were not the films they would like to associate their idol with. All of a sudden I feel uneasy writing this as this isn’t something one prepares for. So I end my humble tribute with one of my all time favorite Bollywood songs ever, ‘Zindagi Ke Safar Mein’ from Aap Ki Kasam sung by who else but Kishore Kumar of course.
Anand Mara Nahin, Anand Marte Nahin- R.I.P Rajesh Khanna……