Rajesh Khanna: Without him 75 years’ celebration of cinema would be incomplete

December 30, 2022
The year was 1986. Rajesh Khanna was no more the phenomenon but the aura that he had created for himself through the songs that he had crooned on the silver screen

The year was 1986. Rajesh Khanna was no more the phenomenon but the aura that he had created for himself through the songs that he had crooned on the silver screen was manifest on a screen made out of sacks on which were sewed tattered white sheets. The location- Chakia, a hinterland about 80 kms from Varanasi as the crow flies. The film shown was RAAZ in a village godown. His songs were rewinded umpteen number of times, the spool could not withstand the pressure, and the film did not reach its logical end. However, nobody complained, as the fans were enthralled in Rajesh Khanna’s magic.

Were he to be alive today he would have been 82 years of age; his physical self may not be there, but his magic continues to swoon the audiences.

First Fashion icon of Hindi cinema
He was the first actor who created his own mannerism, the slightly tilted head that used to bobble with a jerk, his own unique hairstyle, the guru collar, and the short kurtas, which have now become fashionable accessories, were his creation and contribution to the world of cinema. Those were the times when dress designers as an entity had still to make their debut in the world of Hindi cinema. Even then, Rajesh Khanna had created his own signature style, especially the kurta with a high collar, it was an innovation as kurtas traditionally did not have collars, but Rajesh Khanna created that. He was a star who did not think twice before appearing with a pimpled face on the screen as well as he did in AMAR PREM. He was also the first star who popularized a new trend of wearing a belt over a shirt. He indeed was a cult figure made by genuine fan following and not through fake TRPs.

Making his debut with AAKHRI KHAT in 1966, he evolved into the phenomenon with ARADHANA in 1969, i.e. within 3 years, and never looked back before ANAND happened in his acting career, where the death scene of the film, where he passed away, saw the emergence of Amitabh Bachchan as the new phenomenon. Till date, for wooing, Mere Sapno Ki Rani is the anthem for every new generation and no song has been able to replace it or match up to it, and this was the magic Rajesh Khanna created.

His evolution as a superstar was helped largely by the voice of Kishore Kumar, the lilting music of Pancham aka R D Burman and the directors of the likes of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shakti Samanta, Yash Chopra, Dulal Guha, etc., all. Such was his aura that in 1973 BBC had made a documentary on him christening it as BOMBAY SUPERSTAR and had screened it as a part of Man Alive series. Within 7 years of his acting debut to be a subject of a documentary made by none other than BBC was a tribute to the sway that this man had on the Indian audience and the cataclysmic changes that he bought into the film industry.

All his contemporaries and even the stars of the present times have gone on record to say that they would give their right hand to be in the position that Kaka enjoyed. His Carter Road Bungalow, AASHIRWAD was one of the favourite spots for tourists from outside and even those belonging to Mumbai, and the folklore has it that fans used to spend days outside his bungalow to get a glimpse of his face.

He was also a star who made his comebacks as well, most famous being that with SAUTAN, and they followed by AAJ KA MLA RAMAVATAR. He gave dignity to old age people through his enactment of the role of an old father through the character of avatar in AVATAR, a non-compromising father who has faith in his abilities to fight it out, rather than survive on the succour of the children. To AVATAR goes the credit of placing Vaishno Devi as an abode worth eminence across the countryside with the song- Chalo Bulaya Aaya Hai, which made Narendra Chanchal an overnight sensation. Every year a new song is written singing paeans to Goddess Durga, but Chalo Bula Aaya Hai, still is Numero Uno. In the same manner, the song Jai Jai Shiv Shankar from AAP KI KASAM has become a song associated with Shiv Ratri thenceforth, and Mani Mahesh in Chamba district another religious place that came into mainstream as an abode to be visited.

The phenomenal popularity that Rajesh Khanna enjoyed through the songs that he crooned on screen was owing to the fact that all his songs in one way or the other underlined the philosophy of life, be it the song of romance, or sad song, as pointed out by film historian Gautam Kaul. Such oeuvre no other film star could get in his quiver.

For a nation which was struggling to gain its footing in the early seventies right up to the mid-seventies, these songs provided it the much-needed outlet to wriggle out of the paradoxical situations that it had to struggle with, even though the escape might have been momentary, but it still provided the much-needed relief. Rajesh Khanna was fortunate enough to get a lyricist like Anand Bakshi, who penned most of the songs, be it ARADHANA, KATI PATANG, or AMAR PREM and contributed immensely to providing a cult status to Rajesh Khanna on the silver screen and gave him a halo of immortality, which no other star has been able to obtain.

Star and Sensuality
Rajesh Khanna was the first actor who brought sensuality out of the closet and on to the silver screen and catalysed its celebration. He was the first star who shed the inhibitions and was candid enough to be associated with sensuous scenes. He was the first star who did not hesitate to be associated with either scenes having elements of sensuality or physicality at all.

Before Rajesh Khanna, the kissing scenes (most natural way of expression of love) were expressed through the joining of flowers and lovemaking scenes in Hindi cinema were rather a discounted commodity. However, Rajesh Khanna took these scenes out of the closet and established them on to the silver screen in a natural manner, probably giving manifestation to the latent desires and urges, which could have been the reasons for phenomenal fan following that he had acquired.

It all started in a big way with Roop Tera Mastana in ARADHANA (1969) and it caught the imagination of people on fire. Post ARADHANA such scenes became regular in Hindi cinema. Rajesh Khanna’s another sensual moment was in the song, bheegi bheegi raton mein (AJNABI 1974) serenading Zeenat Aman in rain on a roof top the expressions and the mannerisms of the song setting the screen on fire.

Incidentally, it was Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman who had sung a song in all probability for the first time on the roof of a train, “Hum dono do premi duniya chhod chale” (AJNABI-1974). It was first ‘Chaiya Chaiya’ for Hindi cinema. In the same manner the song from AAP KI KASAM (1974), Karwate Badalte Rahe Saari Raat Hum was a song full of sensuality. In the same manner, “gore rang pe na itna guman” from ROTI (1974) AAVISHKAR’s (1974) song “Naina hai pyase mere”, again had an element of sensuality written all over it, picturised on Kaka and Sharmila Tagore.

Songs Associated with drinks
Rajesh Khanna in his oeuvre has maximum number of songs picturised on him, which were associated with drinks. First, such association began with KHAMOSHI (1969) through Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi. Though the song Raina Beeti Jaye, was not picturised on him in AMAR PREM (1974), it was a song where he was downing pain and pathos of Sharmila Tagore with his drinks. Rajesh Khanna was also the superstar who did not have a hesitation in promoting Indian brand of drink- Bhang, as he was associated with two of the most popular songs of this kind, one Nadiya Se Dariya from NAMAKHARAAM (1973) and “Jai Jai Shivshankar” from AAP KI KASAM.

Chingaree koi bhadke another from AMAR PREM (1971) was again one of the legendary songs in which Rajesh Khanna was trying to down his sorrow through the bottle while Sharmila Tagore in role reversal was trying to do it with her eyes. In the same manner the song, “Yeh jo mohabbat hai bus unka hai kaam”, from KATI PATANG (1971) underlined the fact that if one is not able to find solution why fret have a drink and enjoy life. AMAR PREM also had another song which has become a legend, “ye kya hua”, again sort of exhorting to forget whatever happened and enjoy life.

Brought Lungi out of the closet
Much before Lungi dance, Rajesh Khanna, the phenomenon, positioned lungi as a fashion statement and he underlined it when he appeared in one of the issues of Star Dust wearing a lungi in silk, with a silk kurta in same colour along with Tina Munim. He had wore it in DAAG (1973) and in DUSHMAN (1971).
According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outlier, an Outlier is a person who for one reason or another, is so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are an enigma to themselves as to the outside world. Rajesh Khanna was one such luminary of the Indian cinema who perfectly fitted into the category of the Outlier.

Feroz Khan, who had acted with him in four films, perhaps paid ultimate tribute to the name Rajesh Khanna and when he started making his own films, the name of characters he played had Rajesh as the name.

With a slight modification the dialogue of ANAND- Anand mara nahi ANAND marten nahi, Rajesh Khanna mara nahi, Rajesh Khanna marten nahi is ultimate tribute to him as a phenomenon- the first real superstar!

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