My first Hindi movie (I remember) happens to be Aamir Khan-Juhi Chawla starrer Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. In those days I managed to watch it on a VHS tape while my mother and I visited our aunt’s place. I remember that time vividly, though I was a child and didn’t know much of what was happening; but the key moments stayed with me — the songs and the last scene where in both the protagonists die together. It was late that night when the movie got over and I remember watching it again next morning as I happened to be near the TV set when one of my younger aunts was busy catching the glimpse of Aamir Khan — that one more time before the video tape was to be returned. That movie had a lot of demand, after all.
By mid-’90s I had browsed through my mother’s entire collection of songs — there were many classics from the golden era of Bollywood. I recall vividly being inquisitive about Bollywood — mother and grandfather were my only way of gathering information. It was then I got to know that an actor coming from non-film background made it big — the first superstar of Bollywood. Yes, he happened to be the same guy who just went on to sing while on a jeep and left me wondering how the hell the voice was being reached to his lady-love sitting inside a train. But it did and I was fascinated by what I saw on TV. My mother told me about Rajesh Khanna and how the movie (Aaradhana) changed his career.
She then went on to tell me more about his movies, mainly those with Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz. By then, I was slightly aware of his movies courtesy Doordarshan’s Friday telecast of Hindi movies and later with cable TV coming to our place. From mid-90′s till the end of the millennium I did watch some of Rajesh Khanna’s movies but was limited with respect to the knowledge of the actor. My grandfather’s FQ (film quotient) of 1970s wasn’t as sharp as it was for the movies made in 50′s and 60’s. So it was mother and the occasional Filmfare issues that made me aware of few facts.
One particular issue of Filmfare which paid tributes to the past winners and nominees from the date of inception of the award gave me a glimpse of the past era. I still have the issue with me and it came at a time when I had my school holidays. I knew the actors by name and face, but a lot was not known, soon I was to discover. I used to play ‘name the movie’ quiz with my cousin which helped me build my own FQ. I was curious to watch them and was mesmerised with what I read — in the years 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974 Filmfare Best Actor nominees featured ‘Kaka’ as he was affectionately called. He did manage to win three, but looking back I can retrospectively say he didn’t win each one as the judges got bored with voting just one actor each time they sat to decide the winner.
“What a phenomenon he must have been!” was my first thought when I heard about him delivering 15 hits in a row in a span of three years. Few months later that year (2000) when the Star Gold channel was launched, I got to know he was indeed called ‘The Phenomenon’. Star Gold ran many a programme dedicated to the nuances of Bollywood, which helped me immensely to know more on movies, particularly on Rajesh Khanna. Be it the fact that his real name was Jatin or the fact about his current home (Aashirvaad) was originally named ‘Dimple’’ when he bought it from Rajendra Kumar after his rise to stardom.
He was barely 28 years of age when he delivered his first solo hit and by the ripe age of 32 his superstardom had begun to wane. It was in that short span of five years we remember him — ‘The Phenomena’ that made those wonderful lines come alive in the characters he played. Songs became a rage and still continues to be popular. Never had I witnessed someone becoming such a huge icon in just a span of few years. Despite having acted in many critically acclaimed movies, it is those movies he made in that brief history of time which made people react the way they did when the news of his demise went public on Wednesday.
Till his death, he remained philosophical about his ascent and descent in such a short time. I had heard someone saying “at one point, Rajesh Khanna was a god, but the trouble with him is that he started thinking he was one”. Maybe his career is best described by this adage “Pride comes before a fall”. The fall did come but not without a sense of achievement and a sense of realisation in the later years. He famously said last year that “I was there at the same place which was previously occupied by someone else (Dilip Kumar) and I am there at the same place which was occupied by someone else (Amitabh Bachchan)”. The place might have been the same, but the impacts were different. Both Rajesh Khanna’s predecessor and his successor enjoyed a long stay at the top. But from nowhere a phenomenon came, conquered and left — this time for good.
Rajesh Khanna had his luck when started his career, he had his family during his illness and at the time of his death, not to forget a lot of people who felt this morning as though one of their senses had been impaired.
Kakaji hated tears (remember that famous line from Amar Prem — ‘Pushpa, I hate tears‘?). If one has to find comfort, just listen to some of his timeless songs, watch some of his memorable movies — that’s the best way to pay tribute this superstar, whose movies and songs defied age and still continue to be as popular as they were yesterday.