>> You were my generation’s star, a hero for us girls who read Archie comics, had the lyrics to all the pop songs five years after they were released abroad and had just won the right to wear Beatle boots. Those days we were listening to Radio Ceylon and Polydor LPs and hadn’t been allowed to accompany our elder siblings to the Blow Up yet. Goodbye Rajesh Khanna. You came after Shammi and before AB. And in between you spawned a million bouffant hair-head-tossing-dimple-flashing clones, a generation of pasty-faced men in pants two sizes too small and very melodious singing voices.
Goodbye Rajesh Khanna. With your going, an era has truly passed; of stars who handled their stardom with flamboyant disregard, actors who spouted Hafiz, who had grand crushes on unlikely women, who rolled up their trousers and walked on Juhu beach sharing their coconut water with the fisherfolk. Who had midnight wedding ceremonies.
Goodbye Rajesh Khanna, it was a time of intimate perfume, Cadillac cars, VAT 69 tankards, ‘import-export’ and strip shows in Juhu clubs. Dusky women in mini boots and leather skirts would dance to the Hippy Hippy Shake, the diamond stud in their nostril glinting in the disco lights. The film industry had arrived just the day before from Rawalpindi. On the same train. Beddings and family portraits and their entire collection of Proust and their double degrees from Government College Lahore and FC College.
Every one was a Kapoor or a Khanna. Even the Khans. Especially the Khans. They’d all found homes in and around Juhu-Bandra. And as more people arrived, constellations developed around these areas namely Prithviraj Kapoor’s cottage at Janki Kutir and the cottage at Pali Hill where Chetan and Uma Anand and the Chand sisters and Balraj and Damayanti Sahini set camp.
Between the outward circumferences of these two points a swathe of brilliance resided: The BR Chopra’s near Lido cinema, the Anands at Iris Park, the Feroz Khan brood at Theosophical Colony, the Sippys and Sultanpuris, the Sahir Ludhianvis, the Ramanand Sagars and Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Shakti Samanta. This is the world you inherited: Camps, chamchas, and a triumvirate at the pinnacle of it all: Dilip, Raj and Dev, three young men from the same region who’d got off that train trailed by their younger brother Shammi.
One big Panjabi family of freedom’s children, too handsome (and innocent) for their own good. There was romance and Nehru’s red rose and Mother Russia. And the earnest idealistic fables of Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and revolution around the corner. There was the same old same old. It had got a little boring. We were ready for change.
We bunked class to see Aradhana at the Bandra Talkies. First day, first show. We got goose bumps when your broad, smiling, tossing, turning, impossibly swaying head mouthed Kishore Kumar’s voice. We were scandalised and titillated by the Roop Tera Mastana song.
By the time we lurched out, we’d become converts. Our nuns were alerted when your films played at the cinema next door; and as for your white bungalow that rose like a visage from Bandstand’s bay, which our school bus passed twice each day: who could tell what thoughts crossed our minds of the resident inside?
Goodbye Rajesh Khanna, it was a more romantic time and now it’s over. Journalists swathed in white organzas with white mogras in their hair who swore their passion for you through their columns. Actors who’d weep like babies in each other’s arms when they heard a Sufi singer from Pakistan, or when their films flopped. Or even when their films succeeded. Lots of kebab and sharab and ghazals and guzzling and the last embers of nation building and Nehru. When the industry was caught between the socio-political dramas of Raj Kapoor and the emergence of the formula film: the rich /poor evil/ good vamp/heroine villain and hero’s sidekick with cabaret number films.
That’s when you arrived and forged a new path striding jauntily across our screens. The good son. The darling brother. The perfect lover. Is it germane to even mention that none of our boyfriends ever looked like you? God knows they tried: backcombing the hair, the pants two sizes too small, the four pocketed safari suits. But no one quite looked like you and we were none the worse for it.
Goodbye Rajesh Khanna. Today, we have actors who know the opening numbers, the bottom lines and the movement on the New York Stock Exchange. They launch restaurants and own industries and endorse brands. You opened nothing but allegedly many bottles of spirit, owned naught but a few well deserved millions and our hearts and waited till the autumn of your life to endorse a brand, inexplicably agreeing to lampoon your own image, so that you could gift your daughter a BMW.
Goodbye Rajesh Khanna. It was a crazy time and hey, you were allowed your kinks. Why did you sign those awful subsequent movies, for instance, or allow yourself to become a pawn in a political party’s game, or disappear from sight, or reappear with orange hair and orange clothes? How come you never knew how to build on your phenomenal success, resurrect your career, hire a good publicist, or even for God’s sake write your memoirs? What happened, Rajesh Khanna? You were the last hero of my generation. And stood for all that was good and bad about it. And now that you’ve gone, you’ve taken the ‘70s with you. A generation turns its grown up eyes to you.