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When death made Rajesh Khanna laugh

Roshmila Bhattacharya talks about the lines from Anand came back to haunt her as family, friends and fans pay their last respects to Rajesh Khanna. The matinee idol, who had made all of us sing and sigh through our growing-up years, is no more.

bollywood Updated: Jul 22, 2012 13:59 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
Rajesh Khanna,Amitabh Bachchan,Anand

Babumoshai… Zindagi ek rangmanch hai aur hum sab iss rangmanch ki kathputliyan hain, hum sabki dorr uparwale ke hath mien hai, kab kiski dor khinch jaaye koi nahi janta, usse na aap badal sakte hain aur na hum…Ha ha ha ha ha! (Babumoshai, all the world's a stage and we are but puppets in His hands, no one knows whose string will be pulled, but when the time comes, neither can you can change what is destined nor I!)."

These lines from Anand came back to haunt me as I watched TV shots of family, friends and fans paying their last respects to Rajesh Khanna. Since last Tuesday, I'd known that the matinee idol, who had made me sing and sigh through my growing up years, was sinking. Wednesday dawned in a flurry of frantic phone calls that ended with the one confirming that the rumours were true. But it took a splashy funeral and a sombre 'chautha' (prayer meeting) for the uncertain comma to turn into a final full stop.

Today, I know that Anand is out of our lives, forever. And I find myself re-living one of Hindi cinema's most hearth-wrenching death scenes with a smile-tugging, behind-the-scenes story that came from Amitabh Bachchan. Anand's Babumoshai, in an interview, admitted that ecstatic at having bagged a film with the superstar of the '70s, he'd prepared for The End.

Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in Anand

Having rehearsed the last scene for days with his friend Mehmood, Big B, who at that time was a small-time struggler, turned up on the sets early. Word perfect, sleep-starved and anxiety-ridden, he waited all day as director Hrishikesh Mukherjee canned other shots, before his moment in the spotlight finally arrived, late in the evening.

He stepped in front of the camera… He raged and ranted… He bawled and beseeched. Suddenly, a voice cut into the impassioned display of dramatics. "Relax, speak your lines naturally!" cautioned Hrishida. "I want you to get angry with your friend, not mourn his loss.".

Surprised, but knowing he would have to surrender to his director's will, Bachchan once again threw himself down on Khanna's inert body and started crying. His chin rubbed against his co-star's stomach and soon a ticklish Khanna was guffawing silently. Bachchan was initially taken aback by the soundless hysterics, but was soon tickled enough to join in.

Fortunately, it was a top angle shot and since both the actors' faces were hidden from the camera, no one realised what was happening till Hrishida shouted, 'Cut!" and they lifted their faces, mirth written large across them. The incident reminds me of a Frank Capra quote, "Tragedy is not when actors cry. It is when the audience cries."

Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in Anand

I understand that Khanna, who was reportedly battling liver cancer, had known when his time was up. But as the curtains came down, I can't imagine him mouthing Avinash's line from Safar, "Yeh toh main hi jaanta hoon ki zindagi ke aakhri mod par kitna andhera hai. (Only I know how dark is life in the final turn)." I visualise him as Anand, crooning, 'Zindagi, kaisi hai paheli haye, kabhi yeh hasaye, kabhi yeh rulaye.'

A decade ago, lyricist Yogesh had told me that the words likening life to a riddle that made you laugh and cry in turns, had popped into his head as he wondered about a man who knows he has just six months to live. They flowed into a song picturised on the beach, Anand blithely chasing after a clutch of balloons, his happy smile drawing answering ones from his Babumoshai and his lady love, Renu (Sumita Sanyal). But as he turns away from his friends, Anand wipes away a solitary tear that slipped out.
I've watched the film many times, and every time, he's made me cry. "Why did he have to die?" I'd ask. It was a question Hrishada was asked, as many tried to convince him to change the end. But he was resolute. He argued, "Death is the only certain factor in our lives, why can't people accept it?"

His Babumoshai couldn't, despite being a doctor, and seeing death from up close, but Anand did. After learning that he has lymphocircuma of the intestines (one of the most famous medical terms in Hindi cinema), he refuses to let his days come under a dark cloud. He moves to Mumbai, seeks simple pleasures, spreads joy where ever he goes, and when the time comes, embraces death with a laugh, literally.

Even in real life, a smile had lit Khanna's face when he had reassuringly waved out to his fans the last time, signaling that despite his frail health, all was well. He's gone today but the tape plays on… 'Babumoshai… Zindagi ek rangmanch hai aur hum sab iss rangmanch par kathputliyan hain…Ha ha ha ha ha!'

First Published: Jul 22, 2012 13:46 IST