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