Seventeen years after working together in Namak Haraam (1973), superstars Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan came together for an interview. The tension was palpable till Khanna broke the ice with some whisky and warmth. Bachchan thawed. The two titans interacted famously, recalling shared experiences, even while expressing a difference of opinions.
Reproduced below is an excerpt from the joint interview from the May 1990 issue of Movie magazine.
What kept you apart? Why did you not team up after Anand (1971) and Namak Haraam?
Amitabh Bachchan: Who’s going to talk first? I think after Namak Haraam, the only semblance of an offer was made by Goldie Saab (Vijay Anand) when he wanted to make Rajput (1982).
Rajesh Khanna: I wish we had done a third film. It would have been a hattrick!
AB: Yes, I agree. However, I think it was important for a person like Hrishida (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) to come up with something, because — with all due respect to Rajesh —I think Hrishida really scripted stories which suited our personalities.
RK: How did you feel when you became a superstar with Namak Haraam and Deewaar (1975)? The reason I am asking you is because once, I was also at the top. And I use the term superstardom because that’s what the masses, the press, as well as film-makers use. Did it affect you?
AB: No, it didn’t affect me at all. I felt that my success was more dependent upon the script, directors and co-stars. I just happened to be there.
Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in a still from Anand
What about you, Rajesh? What did success do to you?
RK: I felt next to God! I still remember the exact moment when, for the first time, I became aware of how mind-blowing success can be. It psyches you totally — or you are not human? It was just after Andaaz (1971), at a lottery draw held at the Vidhan Sabha in Bangalore…
AB: We were working together, in fact, when you had gone there.
RK: Yeah. And I remember because Andaz ka premiere tha wahan. One couldn’t see anything but heads bobbing down the whole road, which was almost 10 miles long. And there was just one echo of the voices – ‘Haaaaa’ You know, it was like a stadium from the time of the Romans. I wept like a baby. I am very surprised, Amit, that success and failure leave you untouched. I mean, I am not a superhuman being. You are not Jesus Christ and I am not Mahatma Gandhi. I remember that once at three in the morning, I was pretty high on spirits and, suddenly, it was too much for me to stomach because it was my first taste of failure. One after another, seven films had flopped in a row. It was raining, pitch dark and up there alone on my terrace, I lost control. I yelled out, Parvardigar, hum gareebon ka itna sakht imtihaan na le ki hum tere vajood ko inkar kar de,’ (Don’t test my patience to such an extent that I question your existence.). Dimple (Kapadia) and my staff came running, thinking that I had gone insane. It was because success hit me so much that I couldn’t take the failure. I remember the next day, Balaji (a South producer) offered me Amar Deep (1958) out of the blue. It gave a second lease to my career.
Amit, I recall reading that when you were in hospital, your heart stopped beating for 30 seconds.
AB: Yeah, I had no pulse and there was no blood pressure…
Has it left you less afraid of death?
AB:When you gotta go, you gotta go.
What about you, Rajesh?
RK: Oh, I am not scared of death at all. If on my deathbed, I am asked, I shall say that I have no regrets, I have had the best of everything. So when death comes, I will just smile.
FREEZE FRAME: Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan
At the time of the interview, Nina Arora was the consulting editor of Movie magazine. She is now a scriptwriter. Dinesh Raheja, who was the editor, is currently the editor of Bollywood News Service
My favourite memories of Kaka
An entire era of romance has ended with the passing of Kakaji. Pammi Somal reminisces about 10 moments that remind her of Rajesh Khanna’s rich life and makes her nostalgic about the time gone by.
* Your own romance meant swooning to Rajesh Khanna songs. I never missed a single RK film during my school and college days.
* On the Fridays that his films released, schools and colleges would have an all-boys' attendance. Girls would bunk to watch his film.
* He started the trend of short kurtas for guys. Men wore these kurtas with jeans like Kaka did in Do Raaste (1969), sunglasses in Andaz (1971) and teased girls RK style.
* I know of girls who wrote letters to him in their own blood.
* Almost all my girlfriends had his picture hidden in their books or in their bedrooms.
* Once my brother took a pen and made horrible moustaches on my RK poster just to spite me and I did not speak to him for days.
* When Kakaji got married he broke a million hearts. This was the main discussion during breaks in school, where girls were so depressed that they lost their appetites.
* We heard of at least 75 girls in India who had committed suicide when he got married.
* I met him for the first time in Chandigarh when he came there to shoot for Karm (1977) and he was so charming. I spoke so much about him at home that my dad did not allow me to go to college while the BR production van was still in town.
* Though as a journalist I met him many times, the moment I personally cherish is when I danced with him on my dear friend Anju Mahendru's 50th birthday. He told me in Punjabi, "Aaj bada khush haan, meri saheli da janamdin jo haiga" (I am very happy today because its my friend’s birthday). He loved her a lot and I believe he is the only man she ever loved so completely.
The writer is a senior film journalist and a filmmaker