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Zindagi Ek Safar Tha Suhana

02:25 AM Jun 02, 2019 |

Its June 1972. A wet, early morning in the international departures hall of Santa Cruz airport, Bombay. A motley group of old and young women with a few men are seeing off a young couple. A young man in a pink V- necked shirt and a trouser with wh

ite clogs is holding a white fluffy dog as some men scurry around him. An elderly lady from the group comments: ” How sweet!” Two younger women from the group incredulously ask: ” Aunty, you really think Rajesh Khanna is cute?” The lady shoots back: ” Whos that?” ” The man holding the dog.” The older one with finality: ” I meant the dog, not that man.” The two young fans of Rajesh Khanna simply couldnalt39t believe their ears. The elderly lady was my mother and the other, my two cousins.

Not a full- blown Hindi film buff those days, I knew about Rajesh Khanna, but hadnalt39t seen his films. I was in college then, studying for my BA Hons. One of the girls in our class couldnalt39t stop talking about Rajesh Khanna and repeatedly claimed that he was her Chachera bhai. Unfortunately for her, that morning after the airport, I went to college. I went up to her and asked her where her Rajesh bhaiya was? ” Oh, he just spoke to me as I left for college.” I couldnalt39t resist calling her bluff. She never spoke about Rajesh bhaiya after that.

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His meteoric rise, success and adulation were a heady cocktail for Rajesh Khanna. He was bewildered as girls stormed his car and left their lipsticks imprints on it. Soon epithets like superstar, phenomenon, etc.

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were piled on him. Along with the legion of fans he garnered rave reviews and awards. He had 15 consecutive solo hits – a record, which remains unparalleled. His guru shirt and narrow pants set a fashion statement.

There was even a prescribed textbook of University of Bombay, which featured an essay alt39 The Charisma of Rajesh Khannaalt39 written by an eminent Marathi writer Dilip Chitre.

A canteen owner in a theatre in South Bombay once remarked in jest that when a Rajesh Khanna film played in his theatre he ran at a loss.

Reason: nobody came out to smoke during the song and not much rush during the interval when the songs were being re- run or played.

Years after alt39 Anandalt39 had done its box- office run, I saw the film one Sunday morning in a theatre in central Bombay. Such was the impact of the film even then that even the otherwise noisy front benchers were silent. So the next Sunday when the same theatre showed alt39 Namak Haramalt39, my friend and I repeated our tryst with Rajesh Khanna. By then Amitabh Bachchan had the box office in his hands with alt39 Zanjeeralt39, alt39 Deewaralt39, alt39 Donalt39, alt39 Trishulalt39, and many others behind him.

In the meanwhile, Rajesh Khannas films were spiralling downwards. He couldnalt39t accept his failure. Though he may have announced that was now time for Amitabh Bachchan, but in reality it took its toll. Each interview he gave, he spoke about a comeback in a forthcoming film.

How those films flopped! The irony is that the screen persona he had created for himself – the crinkly eyes, the smile, the flutter of the eyelids, the tilt of the head and the memorable dialogues – had all jaded on him and his audiences. There was nothing new. He was trapped in a typecast. Each producer, each director wanted him to resort to these mannerisms and nauseum. The coterie he surrounded himself with did more harm than good.

Many years later, I interacted with Rajesh Khanna on a professional level. I was working for a film glossy then ( Cine Blitz) and was assigned to interview Rajesh Khanna. By then his career was spiralling downwards. My contact person was his manager Prashant, who each day would tell me where to meet Boss. I would reach the studio before him, after a wait, during which I would chat up his co- stars, I would be told either he was coming after 8 pm or not at all. Some days I would be camped at Ashirwad.

Exasperated and angry, I turned in a profile of a man who was insensitive and arrogant. I was amazed that

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