There are some who get fame too easy and then there are some who get it too soon but Hindi cinema's first real superstar Rajesh Khanna got the best of both. The tragedy of Rajesh Khanna is much more than fame hurting him hard as it left him or leaving him as soon as it came. Unlike fame coming to him, it was Rajesh Khanna who came to fame without understanding himself and ultimately fame ended up defining who he really was. Fleeting. Momentary. Transient.
It wouldn't be totally correct to think that Rajesh Khanna got it all too easily. He beat tens of thousands of contestants in an All India Talent Contest organized by Filmfare and United Producers way back in 1965. Between then and Aradhana (1969), his breakthrough film, it was just four years but even with a double-role for a debut film, Raaz (1967) and an author backed role in Baharon Ke Sapne (1967) nothing could have prepared him for his life post Aradhana. He may have struggled around in a MG Sports car in the mid 1960s and was never short of cash unlike Jeetendra, his childhood friend who never had it as easy but those are perks of being an only adopted child of wealthy parents. With 15 consecutive hits between 1967 and 1972 Rajesh Khanna came to be the definition of success but somewhere he could have been the kid who, well… simply got it all without being made to feel bad. He might not have understood the magnanimity of it all for no one, least of all him, knew how to deal with that kind of superstardom.
The thing that made Rajesh Khanna truly unique was that his success couldn't be attributed to any mould. His style, and mannerisms were his own unlike the second-generation of successful actors like Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt or even Shammi Kapoor. The stars that followed the troika of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand were far too burdened by them to truly become their own icons. Besides the holy trinity was always around even when Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor were firing from all cylinders. By the time Khanna emerged on the scene a change of guard was the need of the hour and when you had someone who didn't care a damn about the great ones when delivering a line, or shaking to a song or simply looking long enough till hearts melted and knees wobbled, it was time for a new dawn.
Like Dev Anand before him Rajesh Khanna never took his films seriously. But sadly ended up taking everything that came along too seriously. Unlike Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan after him, Khanna's films were more to do with the internal issues of the character he played. None of the 35 Golden Jubilee films he delivered between his debut and 1975 dealt with the evils of nation or society, he never strived to set the wrongs right. Instead he was more interested in cavorting around with his ladylove and some occasions preferred an elephant to them! But unlike anyone else before him Rajesh Khanna mistook his fame to be his life. Did he forget the Jatin Khanna that he was before he became Rajesh Khanna?
In his life Rajesh Khanna taught everyone else something that they'd never dare forget. Khanna ill-treated people when the going was good and hurt them beyond repair but those around him understood the transitory nature of fame seeing how it discarded him. He devoured it all as fast as it came to him it and then spent an entire lifetime behaving as if you caught him on his day off rather than being a pale shadow of the megastar that he once was. The unimaginable amount of fame and adulation that was bestowed upon Rajesh Khanna became the yardstick for others and while none of them ever got it in the amount he did, they treated it better. In his death Rajesh Khanna finally gets a second chance…now, you might just recall the lovely songs and his smile as they drown all the ill memories.
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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