Frankly speaking, I never used to think of Rajesh Khanna as a good actor as a young boy. Most of his expressions seemed over animated. His dancing looked comical. Those were the romantic movies of Khanna that Doordarshan used to air in the 90s. I was more in sync with the Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand movies at that young age. I still consider myself a debonair ‘junglee’ will date. Even during my college days, I was unwillingly forced to buy dozens of DVDs of Rajesh Khanna movies everytime I went home during the vacations for my movie buff father, who is till date, a worshipper of Khanna.
A few days back when Khanna finally breathed his last, I was filled by a terrible sadness which I had seriously not expected however. This was because over the last few years, I had come to realize that I had started to admire Rajesh Khanna as a class actor. Although my admiration for him cant be compared with that of my father, I have still become an ardent fan of Khanna in his tragedy avatar.
While most people remember Kaka best for his romantic movies, for me, it will be the tragic roles that made me admire him as an actor. I have never liked any other actor more in dying roles than Khanna. People call Dilip Kumar as the tragedy king of Bollywood. But I give away the honour to Khanna. Let’s just look at it this way. Look at the sort of tragedy that he has portrayed in movies like Anand, Safar, Namak Haram, etc. People remember him best as the dying Anand. For me this film has been the ultimate tearjerker. Khanna portrays tragedy in a way which has been unparalleled in Bollywood. This is something which Dilip Saab never showed in his candy floss romantic tragedies. No offence meant to Dilip Saab or his fans here. I still stand by his version of Devdas above all the SRKs. But what I am trying to say here is tragedy which can really strike a chord with the heart of an average layperson is something which Khanna achieved.
His portrayal as the cancer patient in Safar is another great example of tragedy captured on the silver screen. His deaths in subsequent movies like Andaz and Namak Haram are also examples of his crackling chemistry with death. His brief appearance in Andaz almost stole the show from its lead actor Shammi Kapoor. In Namak Haram, we see a crackling chemistry between Kaka and Amitabh Bachchan, which is seemingly different. Namak Haram is a beautifully tragic film for me. It has friendship gone wrong, a hero falling in the eyes of his followers and above all the last tragic death scene of Khanna as the icing on the cake. Khanna’s chemistry with Bachchan in this film is seemingly different from that of Anand. While Anand’s chemistry bordered on the feelings of mutual bonding and loss, Namak Haram was bordered on confrontation and misunderstanding.
Apart from full scale tragedies, I’m also hooked to another intense film of Khanna and the ravishing Sharmila Tagore, Amar Prem. Though I had become a fan of Kaka with movies like Anand and Safar, it was Amar Prem which made me realize his worth as an actor. I was in college when I watched the film properly for the first time ever and it completely shook me. I remember watching the movie seven times in a row at my home. The intensity, the emotion and the passions which Kaka exudes in the movie is something we will never see another actor portray again. This film also shows his best chemistry with Tagore, with music and lyrics that chill down your very being. Songs like 'Chingari Koi Bhadke' and 'Kuch To Log Kahenge', were gems made ahead of their times questioning every societal norms just as the movie did. Amar Prem, though is a sad film in all aspects, has become an event in my life that I will cherish everytime I watch it.
The day Kaka died, I was sitting in my office when news of his death started flashing on the TV channels. Instantly there was a feeling of loss, but it turned painful when visuals of Amitabh Bachchan visiting Kaka’s house to pay his last tributes to him. It seemed most ironic. Babu Moshai’s Anand had finally died. Anand’s death scene featuring Khanna and Bachchan has been one of the most prolific death scenes in Bollywood history. And now just wondering the twist in irony got me even sadder.
Apart from his tragic movies, Kaka’s personal life has not also been happy and he had issues handling his superstardom and various ups and downs in life. But all said and done, in death, he was given a farewell that was befitting a superstar. Even the skies of Mumbai poured down their tears as his body was taken to the crematorium. It was so heartbreaking to see visuals of his frail body inside the glass case. His stardom had won even in death, as most of the media literally forgot that the country’s Presidential elections were being held the same day.
I would like to end this medley of emotions for Kaka with these lines from one of his immortal melodies-
Kahi door jab din dhal jaye,
Saanjh ki dulhan badan churaye, badan churaye,
Mere khayaalo ke aangan mein,
Koi sapno ke deep jalaye, deep jalaye…
RIP Kaka. Aap ko hum se koi nahi chheen sakta!