He was the first superstar of Indian cinema and the only actor in Bollywood to have tasted super-stardom. On Rajesh Khanna’s 74th birth anniversary, Tamil star Kamal Haasan, who shared an incredible bond with Khanna, fondly shares tales of the time spent together.
“I refused to call him Kaka like everyone did. I was willing to call him Bade Bhaiyya or Mr Khanna. But not Kaka. That infuriated him… I was this ‘upcoming actor from the South’— that’s how he introduced me in Mumbai. He was the undisputed King of Hindi cinema,” recalls Haasan.
We spent a lot of time discussing cinema and life. He would sometimes get philosophical about the inconsequentiality of life
Since Khanna starred in remakes of South Indian films, he was often in Chennai. That’s how their friendship started. “We spent a lot of time discussing cinema and life. He would sometimes get philosophical about the inconsequentiality of life. Once we went to a movie together. It was a mediocre American film called The Swarm and I decided to take him to a theatre in the heart of Chennai. He didn’t know we were going to a public screening. He probably hadn’t been to a public theatre since he became a star. When we reached, things were okay. He enjoyed the film and refused to leave until the end titles. That’s when I panicked. This was Rajesh Khanna, the star of the millennium. If audiences got to know he was present, there’d be a stampede and blood on my hands. But Mr Khanna refused to listen. He stayed on till the end. The inevitable happened after the show. All hell broke loose, as audiences realised he was there. I became his bodyguard as I took him through the crowd. His shirt was torn. But he was enjoying himself thoroughly. He giggled and chuckled like a child.”
I never wanted to be a star. I observed him. Our friendship came to a sorry end at a party in his house where he was less than polite. But my friendship with Dimple is forever
Khanna’s wife, actor Dimple Kapadia, gave Haasan (her co-star in Sagar; 1985) a piece of her mind. “She wanted to know what was I thinking when I took him to a public screening. Anything could have happened.”
Haasan shares another incident, when one of his films, Sigappu Rojjakal, was remade as Red Rose, starring Khanna. One fine day the phone rang in his office. “This was the era of the landline phones. My personal assistant, a big Rajesh Khanna fan, was over the moon as God himself asked him about his wellbeing. Mr Khanna said his film’s mahurat was the very next day, and asked for me to send him the cap that I wore for my character, since he wanted to wear it at the mahurat and in the film. I agreed. Who (ever) said no to Rajesh Khanna! He also commanded me to be present at the mahurat. I protested saying I wasn’t needed. He insisted he wanted to introduce me as the upcoming star from the South.”
Anyway, the cap was sent from Chennai to Mumbai by hand delivery (there was no courier those days) by a man who unfortunately, turned out to be a fan of both the stars, and didn’t want to part with the precious cap.
“Mr Khanna was livid. ‘Since you were coming why couldn’t you just bring it with you?’ he said,” recalls Haasan, who was fascinated by Khanna’s aura. “I never wanted to be a star. I observed him. Our friendship came to a sorry end at a party in his house where he was less than polite. But my friendship with Dimple is forever. It’s like the lines from the immortal Geeta Dutt song, Beqaraar Dil Iss Tarah Miley Jiss Tarah Kabhi Hum Juda Na They. Whenever we meet, no matter how long the gap, it’s like we had never stopped meeting. I know we’ll remain friends for as long as we’re alive. My daughter (actor) Shruti (Haasan) will make sure of that. She’s even fonder of Dimple than I am.”