There Will Never Be Another Rajesh Khanna

THERE WILL never be another Rajesh Khanna. There never was another like him. Why? For the simple reason that nobody else in the Indian film industry —no other star before or after him— had the kind of charisma to transform something most mundane into the most magical.

Kaka, as he was popularly known as, was simply ‘The Phenomenon’ during those years from the late 60’s to the mid-70’s. That was when he ruled the roost with his silken touch. Those were the times when Kaka’s house in Mumbai reportedly used to figure on the tourist map of the city.

His death, in Mumbai yesterday (July 18, 2012), indeed marks the end of an era.

Just a few days ago, as Khanna was admitted back to hospital in Mumbai, a Facebook friend of mine posted on his wall, “It took an Amitabh to get past him…”

Yes, true! Kaka was indeed overtaken by the then emerging ‘Angry Young Man’ Bachchan.

But then those times too suited Amitabh. The age of innocence was passe. India was coming to terms with the aftermath of the Emergency. There was growing frustration among masses. There was anger on the streets. So, Amitabh had an edifice that was more or less tailor-made to let loose his angry man histrionics onto — to be lapped up by a new, more impatient, and transformed audience.

This is not to take anything away from Amitabh, the other great, but Khanna, as sociologists would note, was not exactly a product of the times. He created his own genre. Those mannerisms, that unique way of dialogue delivery, the crinkling of his eyes, the head tilt, a bit of tilt here and

a bit there — all his very own. But lo and behold, the hysteria that he would create among his fans, especially women, all swooning; he was indeed the real Superstar, aside from being anointed one for the first time ever in Bollywood.

Before, him there were stars, no superstar.

There was something about Rajesh Khanna that the common man identified deeply with. Despite evoking a suave and urbane feel about him, there was this boy-next-door appeal to his persona. To think of an all buttoned-up kurta as an overwhelming male statement would be considered blasphemous by most style gurus in any other age. A simple kurta? And, lo, with lungi and sandals! Well, only a Rajesh Khanna could have catapulted such a mundane piece of wardrobe to a national style statement. And remember, there was no Internet back then, and no mobile phones too!


Unique charisma

It was quite simply that unique charisma of his that made the man with the boy-next-door looks out-do the likes of oh-so-handsome-and-debonair Dev Anand.

When he was at his peak, all other stars, including the big ones, were simply swept away in the Tsunami of Rajesh mania.

Sixteen solo hits between 1969 and 1972 testify what it meant to be Rajesh Khanna!

However, as the saying goes, anything that goes up has to come down. In the mid-70’s, his movies began to fizzle out at the box office.

But he kept doing meaningful films. He resisted the temptation of moving with the times.

The question is, could he have done it any other way?

He was Rajesh Khanna, one who in his glory days would pray to God that at least one of his films flops; such was his phenomenal run at the box office.

Kaka has gone. But the departure too had its share of ironical twist, just like some of his yesteryear potboilers. He had been discharged from hospital just a day before and people expected him to recover. But, as Kaka’s terminally ill character in the 1971 super-hit film, Anand, says, “…ham sab is rang manch ki kathputli hain (we are mere puppets in the game of life and death.”
Rest in peace Kaka.
(This article first appeared in the Times of Oman newspaper on July 19, 2012. Click the link to the PDF below to view the page)

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(Here’s another story on the Superstar: His friendship with RD Burman. This was published in the Times of Oman newspaper)

Rajesh Khanna with RD Burman

The Guide Who Inspired A Billion Smiles

IT’S NOT just an era that has ended. Curtains have come down on many an era with the demise of Bollywood’s evergreen romantic hero and fashion icon Dev Anand, who has breathed his last in a London hospital. For, Dharam Dev Anand or Dev

Saab, was still very much in the thick of it – the filmmaking business – when he finally “hung his boot” at age 88.

In a recent interview by an Indian news channel, Dev Saab was asked to comment on “his era’s” filmmakers. He fumed. And then thundered: “Look here, today’s filmmakers are my contemporaries. I am still in the business…”

That, arguably, was the quintessential Dev. Bubbling with life with an almost infectious energy. Style guru. Suave to a fault. A romantic to the core. A never-say-die diehard.

That, probably, is the reason why we are all finding it a tad difficult to come to terms with his demise and we are all humming that memorable tune from one of his blockbusters… abhi na jao chhor kar (don’t go away leaving me right now).

Unapologetic Optimist

From his debut in Hum Ek Hain (We Are One) in 1946, to Chargesheet this year (2011), it was a journey sans break for him. His last recognised hit Des Pardes (Home and Away) may have come more than three decades back (1978), prompting many to ponder what made him tick thus far, but Dev Saab had his rationale: “I cannot live without my films, my cinema and my work.”

This writer remembers having written an article on the legendary actor some eight years ago for a weekly broadsheet and the editors being logged in a logjam over a ‘suitable’ headline. After a lot of sweat, one (headline) was suggested and all agreed: ‘Life begins at 80’.Dev Anand

There was something about Dev that few among his peers — both contemporary and those that came later — could lay claim on. Hope. That’s it.

Dev would inspire an almost unapologetic hope among his fans, for decades. Even now it’s routine for many to count on some of the tunes from his classics to resuscitate their energies, or to regroup after a brush with some slippery mud: Har fikr to dhuen me udata chala haya… (I kept on blowing away all my worries with the puff).


Living life on his own terms

A self-made man, Dev had lived life on his own terms. He was one of the last ‘originals’ of Bollywood.

Alas, we shall see no more that trademark tilted nod of the head. That quick burst of words. That wanton walk. That unassuming, but markedly disarming, smile.

We feel like humming it all over again…those very lines: abhi na jao

(This article first appeared in the Times of Oman newspaper on December 5, 2011. Click the link to the PDF below to view the page)

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At The Top

BORN IN Melaka in Malaysia, Nor Shaharom Bin Mansour, Assistant Director, Projects, Burj Khalifa, was involved with Dubai’s iconic project since Day 1, in all three stages — the design, the construction, and the handover. Shaharom shared some invaluable insights into his life and career in a freewheeling interview with Mehre Alam, in the year 2010. This article appeared in the book titled ‘Young Asian Achievers’, which released in 2011.


THE PEAK of his career coincided with the completion of the tallest structure the mankind has ever built. Quite a coincidence it was. For Nor Shaharom, Assistant Director at Emaar for the Burj Khalifa project, it was indeed a dream come true. He confessed it was no less than a fairytale with all its magic potions of anxiety, drama, action, sense of purpose, and yes, above all, a final euphoria, triumph… joy unlimited.

Malaysia Boleh” (Malaysia Can Do It), we tell him, to which he responds with a smile. Then the smile widens as he replies back: “Malaysia Boleh.”

Shaharom, an architecture graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the United States, was involved in the Emaar Properties’ Burj Khalifa project right since its inception. However, for Shaharom, who was born on 15 February, 1966, his personal quest was more grounded. “When I accepted the challenge to join this project, I felt this responsibility as a Malaysian to prove that one can compete with the very best of people drawn from across the globe,” he says.

“You are basically involved from the conception of the project right up to its completion,” is how Shaharom, who was originally seconded to Emaar from a Kuala Lumpur-based project management company, sums up his role.

He considers himself lucky to be involved in all the three stages of the construction at Burj Khalifa — the design, the construction, and the handover — something that gave a huge fillip to his confidence level.

And, as an “employer representative”, he got to work with the industry’s best consultants and contractors from different disciplines and cultural backgrounds, and “some of these individuals were simply phenomenal!” he gushes. (The job of employer representative entails monitoring of the design and construction of the project and ensuring that the employer’s interest in terms of cost, time and quality are met, something that is achieved through close teamwork and coordination between the employer, consultants and contractors).

The Early Challenges

Shararom recalls how during his first year at the project — 2003 it was — it was quite a challenge as the KLCC, his then employers, were the only Asian consultant out of 45 from all across the globe.

“We really had to work hard to claim our stake and to make sure that our presence was felt. There were times when our recommendations were given a go by. Things, however, changed in a year’s time. We gained the respect of our peer consultants. A couple of years later, things were running pretty smoothly. We were gelling stupendously with consultants from very different backgrounds, as well as with the rest of the team members working in different disciplines.

“It took some time to get into the flow of things. I had to walk the extra mile to earn respect from colleagues who are all from overseas,” he admits.

In 2008, he became an Emaar staff. After that the things became different. “One was truly feeling at the top — being consulted by one and all. Sometimes it’s fine to be at the top; to be able to manage the team.”

But the design coordination among 45 consultancy packages and construction coordination among various contract packages was quite a task. “Breathtakingly difficult,” he points out.

The complexity of the structure — 5 million square feet of high-end hotels, residences and offices; the logistics and safety of 12,000 workers; 22 contract packages; materials storage hosting; and then, to add to it all, the weather (windy conditions slow down construction) — he braved it all.

Which were the best moments? Shaharom is quite clear on this: January 4, 2010 — the day of the grand opening of Burj Khalifa and climbing the spire top of the tower in January 2010. “Some said we were the first humans to scale the spire after the new name of the tower and its height were announced,” he points out.

Among his golden moments he also counts briefing former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed (in June 2010) during the latter’s visit to the “At The Top Observatory” at the tower.

Any strange moments? “In January 2009 I received a call from a friend in Abu Dhabi. He was asking to confirm if the super tall building was sinking due to unexpected settlement,” Sharaom recounts. “Of course I told him this was all bullshit,” he adds.

“Normally, a lot of people ask a lot of questions about the Burj Khalifa — from downright silly questions to intelligent ones?”

Occasionally, he also comes across individuals who he has met for the first time — after, may be, mere exchange of emails and phone calls — and they would tell him: “From your name I guessed you are a local. But while you speak a bit of American accent, you look like a Filipino! What are you?”

At times when he goes out with friends he is introduced as: “This is Nor, my friend.”

Pat comes the reply: “Oh you are the one! I have heard about you.”

How does it feel to be recognised as one of the most well known faces from the Malaysian community? “It feels good, especially when the VVIPs from my country visit the UAE and I get a call from the embassy asking me to accompany them to the “At The Top Observatory” at the tower,” he says with pride.

Do the VVIPs complement him? “When the current Prime Minister of Malaysia Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came here (in January 2010), he said he was proud to know that a Malaysian was in a key position in the Burj Khalifa project.”

And, what did Mahathir Mohamed tell him? ”We are proud of you. Keep going,” recounts Shaharom.

He has been involved with the project since the Day 1. How does he feel when he himself goes to the top and casts a glance down? “If there is one word that can describe it, it’s ‘overwhelming’. Time flies. This is my eighth year here. This was a barren land. Now the entire neighborhood of the tower has become the attraction of Dubai. At downtown Dubai you get everything — hospitality, retail, commercial space, residence, landscaping… everything. It’s just unbelievable.”

Even to this day, Shaharom never fails to be awestruck by the sight of the architectural wonder making its way towards the heavens.

Hobbies and Pastime

When not busy with work, how does Shaharom like to spend his time? “I used to play a lot of golf back home in Malaysia. I used to play golf during my early years in Dubai also but with increased responsibilities hardly any time is left for this pastime.

“Other than that,” he says, “I like to hang out with friends at some select Malaysian and Singaporean joints in Dubai. There is this small restaurant in Karama area in Dubai, which I am really fond of.”

How does his family look at his achievements? “Of course the entire family, particularly my parents, is very proud of me. But the proudest of them is my eldest daughter who is all of 16 and is into writing (She is the eldest of his three children).”

This pride is a result of his work ethic. While saying that he is “very ambitious… My motto in life is ‘No Regrets’,” he believes that “when you take up an assignment you must give your 100 per cent to it so that even if you come a cropper you can still be proud of yourself because you tried your level best and you gave your 100 per cent.”

How has the overall experience been like? “It’s been similar to one of a firefighter: you are always on the alert.” But, he adds: “I never thought I would be involved with a super tall structure like the Burj Khalifa… not even in the wildest of my dreams.

“I also never thought that one day I would be rubbing shoulders with a leader like Mahathir Mohamed and spending an uninterrupted 45 minutes with him,” he says with pride.

Dubai and Malaysia

Shifting from Malaysia to Dubai did not pose much adjustment problems for him. The reason: “Lifestyles in both countries are a lot similar. We are both moderate Islamic countries; we allow people of different faiths to practise their faith freely. Both countries have people from different backgrounds coming to earn a living people and contributing to development.

“Former PM Mahathir Mohamed had said that by the year 2020 Malaysia would become a fully developed country and everyone is working hard to achieve that target. The same thing is being witnessed in UAE, looking at the way the country has been moving. One can clearly see it’s going in the right direction.”

His first employers were a medium-size architect firm in Kuala Lumpur, where a majority of the projects he was assigned to, were hotels. Later, he was recruited by KLCC Projeks, a property developer and project management subsidiary of Petronas (Malaysia’s oil giant) which was behind the development of the Petronas Twin Towers. As the youngest architect in the line-up at KLCC, his involvement was more on the peripheral development rather than on the Petronas Towers.

At this pinnacle of his career now, is he looking at attaining even greater heights? “There is a strong likelihood that I might be involved with another super tall building coming up in the region,” he replies.

Shaharom, who has a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, USA, believes that the tourism potential of the Petronas Twin Towers in his native country Malaysia (in Kuala Lumpur) can be given a fillip as there are lessons to be learnt from the Burj Khalifa model.

“For Burj Khalifa, we knew what we wanted from the day one. The idea was that we don’t want people to go to the observatory deck just for the view. We wanted to create something more interesting and grand by ensuring that the experience, both interactive and educational, started from the ticketing counter all the way up the tower. And that’s exactly what has happened.”

No wonder Tourism Malaysia and Petronas are exploring the possibility of further developing the tourism potential of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers.

As we take his leave, we repeat to Shaharom: “Malaysia Boleh…”

And we see his face lit up with joy. “Malaysia Boleh,” he replies back.


The writer with Nor Shaharom during the interview at Dubai's iconic structure Burj Khalifa, in the year 2010.

The writer with Nor Shaharom during the interview at Dubai’s iconic structure Burj Khalifa, in the year 2010.


Farooque Sheikh — Nice Person First, First-rate Actor Later

SEVERAL SENIOR scribes I have interacted closely with have admitted to being a little shy of their first few by-lines, often bracketing them as somewhat trifle. Ditto with me.

I distinctly remember that sub-editor gently admonishing me that day for being “tangent”, “wayward” and “unfocused”, as he went into hammering the copy into a more readable piece.

I am referring to that interview I did of veteran Bollywood actor Farooque Sheikh way back in late 1995. It was the first interview I did of a famous person, and as far as I can remember, it was among my first few stories, and that too as a trainee journalist!

Forget about the finesse or the way with words. All that mattered to me at the time was how well Farooque saheb had treated me; how he had wanted a copy of the newspaper carrying his interview; and how, when I went to hand him the newspaper at the Patna airport, he — despite being mobbed by a motley crowd — made that extra effort to collect the copy from me while saying a courteous ‘thank you’.

Different aura

There was a different aura about that man. You could feel that air of honesty and straightforwardness when he was around.

Yesterday morning, as I heard the news of the demise of the actor who lent his skills to such meaningful and classic films as Bazaar, Saath Saath, Umrao Jaan, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, and the unforgettable comedy Chashme Buddoor among others, I was transported to that social event in Patna where Farooque was a guest speaker, and I had asked him for a few news bytes. I was completely taken aback by his modesty when he offered me a lift in his car to the hotel he was staying in, offering a detailed interview there.

Sheer chance

“By sheer accident,” was his reply when I asked him how he had got his first break in Bollywood, as he came from a typically traditional, trading family. He narrated to me in detail how it was sheer fate that kicked off his rendezvous with a career in acting.

I could notice that there was not an iota of pretence with this man, attired in his trademark white kurta-pyjama, as he insisted on making tea for me.

He told me he had decided to sponsor the education of a few girl children and would continue doing so in the years to come.

If every capable person can sponsor the education of even one girl child, it will be a completely different world, I remember him telling me.

Having started his Bollywood career in the year 1973 with the classic Garm Hawa, he tasted big success with Noorie, a 1979 love story produced by Yash Chopra. He told me he was flooded with similar roles but chose not to join the rat race. And while he excelled in both parallel as well as mainstream cinema, Farooque was not one to be awed by the grammar of the showbiz.

Just a few weeks back I had watched Bazaar on my laptop. What a performance! He looked every inch of the tragic character he essayed. And when I watched the movie, I thought of that very same interview I had done of him as not-so-mature-a-scribe. I always had this feeling that Farooque saheb could have given me a few tips on how that story could have been given a better shape. And I had always wanted to interview him a second time. Alas, that desire remains unfulfilled! Alwida Farooque saheb. RIP.