The clock struck 9.30 am & my favorite programme ‘Aaj Ke Phankar’ was announced on Vividth Bharti, and lo behold, today’s Phankar, aur kaun, our dearest Rajesh Khanna. Excitement encircled me on hearing the name which transfixed us during our teens 48 summers ago.
No doubt Rajesh Khannaji, incomparable, rightly the 1st and only one super star, emerged as the iconic darling for all of us. Born Jatin Arora, on 29th Dec 1942, as entire India was mesmerized into the Quit India slogan, he was adopted & raised by foster parents Chunilal Khanna & Leelavati Khanna. He reeled class right from childhood. I had the occasion to see his 1st movie ‘Aakhri Khat’ wherein a 2-year old tot Bunty stole the limelight. Yet Rajesh Khanna left his mark with his clean shaven boyish looks and latent talent slowly emerging. His theatre experience & inherent acting ability stood out well in movies like Baharon Ke Sapne, Aurat, Doli & Raaz. Moderately successful movies, they didn’t jingle the cash register much and Rajesh was noticeable but not a star till Shakti Samantaji dared to cast him opposite an established Sharmilaji (one of my favourite actress). Unforgettable that lovely Saturday evening spent at the plush Rivoli Cinema at Connaught Place watching Aradhna in October 1969 and with it a super star being born. Mom, my sisters, brother in law and I were totally engulfed absorbing each moment of our Rajesh Khanna weaving and casting an unforgettable emotional web in all of us. The shake of his head, an infectious smile revealing a fine set of even teeth, As he sang into our hearts with his Mere Sapno Ki Rani teasing and wooing a curious and smiling Sharmilaji reading an Alstair Maclain book (the title of it I am yet to know despite watching the song N hundredth times) in the train. That moment we knew the one and only one superstar had arrived. Later, after the movie whilst biting into the lovely tandoori chicken at the famed Moti Mahal, this man’s aura never left us, especially me.
From then on there was no looking back for him. Do Raastein, Kati Patang, Aan Milo Sajana all super-duper hits cemented his position at the top. On his way to the top nearly all other leading heroes had to seek backstage refuge, to the extent that his closest buddy Jeetuji was jobless for a year with no producer’s phone calls disturbing him. Being a shrewd businessman too, he saw his immediate future in South with Sreedevi and Jayaprada doing those Himmatwala & Tohfa roles, raking in the moolah for him.
The craze for Rajesh saw no limits, star worship beyond imagination, ladies using their blood as Sindoor to wed his photos. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari Rajasthan to Assam, barber shops all over India would only prefer doing the Rajesh hair style on clients. Even ‘takloos’ with sparse hair would go all out to have the L shaped hair style in front. For once T shirts and bell-bottoms gave way to simple kurtas. Skinny youngsters and pot boiled executives, donned the kurtas so ill-fitting to them. Such was the man’s sway over the entire India during that glorious period of 1969 to 1973. Even newborns all over India were named Rajesh even if the surname was Kunhiraman, Mukerjhee, Satoskar or Dandapani, it was all in all a madness defying logic.
A die-hard fan like me, would note down in my small diary the date of each release of his film, his heroine, how many days it ran. Such was the craze for him. The stretch from start of Grant Road bridge to Charni Road in Mumbai was the Mecca of theatres those days. It was all Rajesh & only him during those glorious 2 years. The stretch boasts of 6 main theatres and during this period all the theatres exhibited only Rajesh Khanna movies at a time, an enviable record never to be broken. Novelty showed Bandhan, a Rajesh Mumtaz starrer, despite Rajesh donning dhoti and enacting a farmer’s role, it was running 27th week. Entering Lamington Road, the magnificent Minerva was showing Sacha Jhuta, again a Rajesh Mumtaz starrer entering 35th week. Just across Minerva opposite Apsara theatre showed The Train, a Rajesh Nanda superhit entering 40th week. Two steps ahead was Swastik, exhibiting the super-duper song-less mystery one night thriller Ittefaq, again a Rajesh Nanda jodi, just entering 30th week. As Lamington road ended facing the imposing Opera House cinema, one could proudly see the grand hoardings of Do Raaste, another Rajesh Mumtaz super hit, entering 60th week. 7 steps away the Rajesh jamboree ended with Roxy showing the evergreen Aradhana entering 75th week. What more one could ask for, 6 movies of his running to packed houses between 27th & 75th week. I am sure this record will never ever be broken. We youngsters were lucky to be exposed to this emotional genius. He too was lucky that during this period it was all love, peace, emotion & sentiment. The khoon ka badla khoon, ma ka dood, baap ka khoon ka badla stuff had not entered Bolywood cinema then. I am sure he would have been a misfit in such an era. The songs picturised on him brought out his entire emotional talent forward.
But for his sensitive & emotional potrayal of songs like Kuch To Log kahenge & Chingar Koi Bhadke they would never be a treat to watch. Come on, which of the so-called Bollywood greats of today can carry a solo song on their shoulder for 3 minutes. The moment the song starts, the fidgeting begins, they take recourse to removing their shirts & seek refuge squeakily in the 100 odd dancers in the background to help him take over. Yes, superstardom never lasts long. In Rajesh’s case, too it was for a small period, yet that glorious period was unforgettable for us. We breathed his emotions, savoured each moment of his presence on the silver screen. He did it all in style. On the 1st day of shooting at Roop Tara studios in Dadar for Aakhri khat, he drove in an Impala (a Benz equivalent of today). Even the disease he imbibed in movies like Anand & Safar were classy ones like cancer of the intestines or blood. Recouping after a sudden piles operation at Beach Candy hospital in 1972 he had to be discharged at 2.30 am from the rear door to avoid the 20000 plus die-hard fans waiting at the entrance. Such was his fan following. Superstars will come and fade away but there can never be another Rajesh Khanna. Yes, he was the 1st superstar, will forever be the only superstar. As I moist eyed stare into his smiling framed photograph on the TV stand of my drawing room, the following words just come out from my dry lips Anand kabhi mara nahin, Rajesh Ji you are not dead you are in our hearts never to leave us.