iconimg Thursday, September 03, 2015

Sharmila Tagore
Mumbai, July 19, 2012
Sharmila Tagore was undoubtedly Rajesh Khanna's most popular heroine, and they worked together in superhits such as Amar Prem, Aradhana, Daag and Safar. Sharmila, who played Pushpa in Amar Prem, pays tribute to Anand babu (Khanna's screen name in the film).

After Shammi Kapoor and Dharmendra, my most successful and popular co-star was Rajesh Khanna. My career's biggest hit, Aradhana, was with him in 1969. I was Vandana Tripathi and he was Flt Lt Arun, my lover from Darjeeling.

He was also equally convincing in the role of my son, Sooraj, in the film. He did not have the regal looks of Dev Anand or the height and blue eyes of Shammi Kapoor, but had the charm of the boy next door with an endearing smile.

He also lip-synced very well. When he lip-synced Kishore Kumar's songs, it appeared that he was singing them.

Rajesh Khanna expressed emotions straight from his heart. We were cast together again by director Shakti Samanta in 1971 in Amar Prem - a remake of the Bengali film Nishipadma.

In the film, Rajesh Khanna had an emotional dialogue which he delivered to me after I completed the song Raina Beeti Jaye: "Aap ruk kyun gaye, gaaiyye na (Why did you stop? Please sing on)."

He delivered the dialogue with so much emotion and sensitivity that it left me spellbound. In the last scene when he bids goodbye to me and Vinod Mehra, saying, "Pushpa", he mingled smile and tears like no other actor of that period could.

We later worked together in Daag, Chhoti Bahu, Raja-Rani, Maalik and Avishkaar, directed by Basu Bhattacharya. I have very fond memories of him. One of them is the premiere of Aradhana. There used to be no film promotions at that time but we used to have gala premieres. I was completely overwhelmed to see the crazy female following he had. Girls had lined up the streets and were screaming his name.

In 1971, Gen Sam Manekshaw invited us to Delhi for a special screening of Amar Prem before release. It was such a memorable evening. Who was to know that the very next day a blackout would be declared and India would be at war with Pakistan. We experienced lots of tense moments while travelling back to Mumbai.

I have a big regret and grudge -- the only one I had against him. He should have acted more and not joined politics. He was my age and had a long career ahead of him. He could have gone on to act like Amitabh Bachchan has. Anyway, it was his personal decision.

After he got into politics, there were fewer interactions. We would just bump into each other at events. I attended his younger daughter's wedding as I was invited by the groom's side (the Thapars) as a family friend. I last met him at a function in Kolkata but could barely recognise him - he had lost so much weight.

There were also discussions about us working in a film together but it didn't work out because the offer wasn't that good.

I'm glad his family and loved ones were with him in his last hour. Akshay turned out to be such a wonderful son-in-law to him, taking care of him in his last days.

No other actor rose to such heights of fame within a span of a few years as Rajesh Khanna did. He indeed was the original superstar.

Goodbye Flight Lieutenant Arun. I'll miss you. We all will.