Rajesh Khanna would behave strangely with me: Hema Malini
Book Extract While Hema shared a cordial equation with most of her co-actors, there were exceptions. Though she has never said it in so many words, working with Rajesh Khanna was almost always unpleasant. In Andaz, he played the role of Hema's first husband and apparently his starry tantrums and unprofessional attitude used to enrage her.
Hema Malini. Pic/Rane Ashish
For a long time, Rajesh Khanna was hailed as the greatest-ever superstar of Indian cinema. In fact, his legions of fans treated him as nothing less than a demigod. Letters in blood, women committing suicide - the Rajesh Khanna craze reached manic proportions during his heydays. It is a known fact that sometimes he would make a film unit wait for eight to 10 hours before showing up for his shot. But no one dared to complain. For Hema Malini - always a no-nonsense person and by now a rising star herself - Kaka's high-handedness was unbearable. In fact, after Andaz, no producer was willing to cast them together again.
Something was amiss
Hema shares, "I don't know what the issue was but something was amiss with Rajesh Khanna. He would behave strangely with me in the initial days. No doubt he was the reigning superstar and women would adore him for his charm. But I didn't give him any special bhaav as a co-actor. People around him would often tell him false stories about me. And the same set of people would come to me and tell me stories about him. Rajesh thought that I was arrogant while I thought that he was too full of himself. But eventually we broke the ice when we started working together in back-to-back movies."
Neither Hema or Kaka, however, have ever been vocal about their differences. In fact, Hema was one of the chosen few to be invited to the Rajesh Khanna-Dimple Kapadia wedding. Ironically, despite starting off on the wrong foot, the two went on to do about 13 films together - one of which, Prem Nagar (1974), helped Rajesh Khanna get back on his feet at a time when he was losing shine and the Amitabh Bachchan era was threatening to take over. It was also rumoured that when Kaka was planning a comeback with the film Babu (1985), Hema readily agreed to play his love interest, despite knowing that it wasn't a leading role. All she did was request for a few more scenes and a dance number. Kaka was seemingly thrilled. Hema was not the kind of person who would take any undue advantage or favours from anyone, be it her own family or friends in this industry.
Why Hema Malini still went ahead and helped Kaka on so many occasions despite everything, it was because of someone else. When Hema Malini talks about Dimple Kapadia, her face lights up. The first time she ever saw her, Dimple was a teenager. Over the years, the two struck up a rare camaraderie that blossomed into a warm and loving friendship. If Dimple treated Hema as the ultimate symbol of respect, for Hema, Dimple was the only true and real friend she ever made in the industry.
Hema vividly remembers the first time the two of them met. "Rajji (Kapoor) had invited me to the first song recording of Bobby (1973). And you know how it is when a film star attends such functions. All these fans come for autographs. In the crowd was this very young attractive kid, I don't know what it was about her, but I liked her at first sight. She was very sweet, flitting about like a butterfly in a dress, so young. Later on, I came to know that she was the heroine of the film. I think Krishnaji (Raj Kapoor's wife) introduced me to Dimple." She adds, "After Bobby, Dimple attained that fantastic success and everybody said that she was now in competition with me, but I never felt that way. I just had a warm feeling towards her, like one has for a kid sister. Suddenly, I got to know she was married - so young - and this kid was all wrapped up in a big sari, with a jooda and bangles covering her arms. Then she had a baby soon after."
Breaking the ice with Sunny Deol
Years later, when Hema launched her first directorial venture, Dil Aashna Hai (1992), she signed on her good friend as the mother of the female protagonist. Incidentally, it was during the shooting of this film that the ice finally broke between Hema and Sunny Deol. 'I wanted to shoot a paragliding scene with Mithun (Chakraborty) in Dil Aashna Hai, and there was an aeroplane scene which was required for a song sequence,' Hema tells me. 'A few days before the shoot, a pilot had met with an accident and Dimple was very scared to do the shoot. She informed Sunny, and out of concern, Sunny came and met me. I assured Sunny that she would be safe, and that's when I started talking to him.'
Extracted from Hema Malini: Beyond The Dream Girl, an authorised biography by Ram Kamal Mukherjee (Harper Collins, 2017)