Rajesh Khanna The Phenomenon and the Fall
It all happened in the late sixties of the last century, and lasted just about three years. But what happened in those three years is what fantasy could be and what constitutes good fiction: unbelievable, yet true. As many as eight (from among the estimated 10,000 applicants) hopeful young men are shortlisted for the final round of Filmfare-United Producers Talent Contest (the combine consisted of such heavyweights as GP Sippy, BR Chopra, Nasir Husain, FC Mehra, Chetan Anand). Although the first film he signed was Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat, GP Sippy beat his illustrious colleague in the race to the box office with the murder-mystery, Raaz, and the ordinary-Gorkha looking 25 year old, who had earlier worked on Mumbai stage, Jatin Khanna screen-named Rajesh had arrived though not with the proverbial bang.
But it was not long thereafter that the party started with Baharon ke Sapne and Aurat in 1967. And once his looks and mannerism won the audience acceptance, the big bang struck with Aradhana (1969). An unsurpassed record of 15 consecutive hits followed in the short span of 3 years. Khamoshi, Safar, Anand, Kati Patang, Andaz, Amar Prem, Bawarchi to name some. Then not unexpectedly some lukewarm successes in Namak Haram, Avishkar, Daag and Roti. He was surrounded by habitual hangers-on or chamchas as they are called in Bollywood jargon who nurtured his ego for narrow personal gains, and self-confessedly he felt he was “next to God”. BBC made a documentary, Bombay Superstar which was released in 1974. Women swooned over even by his shadow. Young girls slashed their wrists, penned love letters dipped in blood, kissed his cars and the earth on which he walked.
And he began to be called a ‘phenomenon’, the first ‘superstar’ in the history of the entertainment industry; the synonyms are still revoked whenever those hurricane days are recalled. Success went into head, he was riding cloud nine. The first sign of this was his walking out of his steady girlfriend of years, Anju Mahendroo, and hastily married the stunningly beautiful teenager, Dimple Kapadia who had been making waves, once Raj Kapoor signed her up as the heroine for the launch of his talented son, Rishi in Bobby. What followed is also history, though an unpleasant one. He began to misbehave, and started troubling his producers by not reporting in time, sometimes totally playing the disappearing act, thus upsetting shooting schedules, and heavy losses.
Being a victim of inflated ego right from the word ago, an actor who drove around in a Mercedes even during his early days of struggle; it was made to believe he was infallible. The hangers-on did not allow him to stop and ponder, and maybe take remedial steps, when some of his big films did not work the magic of his earlier successes. The inevitable followed. Noticing the autumn in his career, and victims of his attitudinal problems his producers started to desert him, just as they had wooed him, and started looking for alternatives at least one of which was just round the bend who would ultimately rewrite yet another kind of box office history in India. The struggling actor whose gesture of a handshake the reigning superstar had preferred to ignore, the towering figure of Amitabh Bachchan before they worked together first in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand and later in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Haram probably his last big success.
It was also around this time that he too started looking southwards in the hope of a resurrection the way it had been the case with some of his predecessors. But almost all his starrers with the possible exception of Chinnapa Devar’s Haathi Mere Saathi tanked at the box office. Now there were no takers. Some relief came by way of serious character roles. His performances were mature and accomplished but despite the success of Avatar none could work. His personal life too was in a mess. Dimple Kapadia had walked out of his life with the two girls, and eventually made a hugely successful comeback despite the absence of any memorable films. He found his soul-mate in another sad, lonely, heart-broken actor, Tina Munim and they shacked together for some years before she too walked out through their dark nights to find hope and love in the company of industrialist Anil Ambani. During this period he even produced a film, a remake of a Pakistani hit, Alag Alag which failed to recover investment.
Years later, he launched an ambitious three-hero-three-heroine film, Jai Shiv Shankar into which Dimple, riding a massive wave of success, gate-crashed opposite him. It never got released. Then in the nineties he entered politics as the Congress candidate opposite the BJP heavyweight, LK Advani from the New Delhi constituency, and lost narrowly. He again fought for the same seat against his ambitious Bollywood colleague Shatrughan Sinha, when Advani vacated the seat preferring to represent Ahmedabad in the Parliament, and won. But here too his success and ego came in the way of any substantial gains and like earlier times gradually faded away from politics, and public memory. He now again every now and then makes tall claims of a comeback fantasising having signed eight new films, but the one-odd that did come his way made the poor producer run from pillar to post. With Rajesh Khanna old sadistic habits never die, and the man rued the day he had signed and the few diehard fans who went to see the faded Superstar in the company of the diffused sex-bomb, Zeenat Aman shed tears watching him helplessly making a fool of himself by repeating his once hailed manners.
Born on December 29, 1942, Jatin alias Rajesh Khanna has altogether worked in about 180 films, and hasn’t hung his gloves yet time and again acclaiming a comeback that’s not to be. But despite a short illustrious career he was nominated as many as 14 best actor Filmfare nominations, and carried the coveted trophy thrice as also the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
By Suresh Kohli