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Rajini, Rajesh Khanna and the phenomena of superstardom

For sheer intensity of fervour, Rajesh Khanna is arguably the only star from the Hindi film industry to match the sway Rajinikanth has over his fans

mumbai Updated: Aug 05, 2016 01:30 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Seeing Kabali remains on my `to do’ list, though obviously the thrill of seeing it in the first week will be missing. (Pratik Chorge/HT photo)

Confession. I haven’t seen Kabali yet. As an inveterate movie buff and somebody who is intrigued by the Rajinikanth phenomenon, this is admittedly poor form. But sundry assignments have kept me preoccupied over the past couple of weeks.

This would have been unlikely in my younger days when I was a ‘first week’ moviegoer. Indeed, in my much younger days films had to be seen by Saturday after the Friday release by hook or by crook.

In college, all the theatres in south Mumbai were our haunt but Saturday matinee shows, especially in Lotus at Worli, was the favourite. There would be a weekly change of movies and Lotus was also air-conditioned, a big plus those days.

This would help beat the reviews (which would appear in Sunday papers) that could possibly sway your opinion. There was a sense of power in making your own assessment and for having a talking point in your peer group.

Seeing Kabali remains on my `to do’ list, though obviously the thrill of seeing it in the first week will be missing. But I’ve tried to compensate for that by reading some stuff by viewers and fans in the media – old, new and social – to get a feel of things.

Of particular interest has been `experiential’ stuff written around Kabali (read Rajinikanth) in the first week at Sion’s Aurora cinema where most Tamil movies release. Some of it is fascinating, as this extract from Mint journalist Arun Janardhan’s Facebook blog suggests.

“You don’t hear a thing from the film for the first 20 minutes,’’ he writes. “People hoot, celebrate, dance in the aisles, whistle at all milestone events—when the screen first lights up, when his (Rajinikanth’s) name appears on screen alphabet by alphabet, when he first appears but in silhouette, when his face is seen for the first time, when he speaks for the first time, when he walks with his trademark swagger…’’

The reaction to Rajinikanth’s arrival on screen described by Janardhan took me back more than four decades to an experience when we went to see the Dharmendra-Meena Kumari blockbuster Phool Aur Patthar (in a rerun) at Alankar cinema, between Dongri and Prarthna Samaj.

During the interval came up the trailer for the Rajesh Khanna-Asha Parekh starrer Aan Milo Sajna which was to be released soon. As soon as Khanna arrived on the screen, the cinema hall seemed to erupt.

Whistles and slogans greeted the star and when vignettes of some songs were played, several people ran towards the screen hurling coins. To cut a long story shot, there was pandemonium. It was almost as if the audience had come to see the trailer of Aan Milo Sajna, not Phool Aur Patthar.

Rajesh Khanna managed to wow a generation to an extent that has perhaps no parallel.

For sheer intensity of fervour, Rajesh Khanna is arguably the only star from the Hindi film industry to match the sway Rajinikanth has over his fans. For a good 4-5 year period – between 1969 and 1974 -- this was of manic proportion.

There were better-looking looking actors with better physiques and better histrionic ability. There have been ‘durable’ stars ruling the box office for years, some like Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan extraordinarily long.

But Rajesh Khanna managed to wow a generation to an extent that has perhaps no parallel.

Then just as suddenly, it was gone. The aura started to dissipate, the films started bombing and the high pedestal on which he stood was ruthlessly kicked aside.

Rajesh Khanna’s rise and fall, is an enigmatic study that has baffled ordinary film fans but even more so serious students of cinema, culture, psychology and society. The crux question, of course, is just what is stardom?

British actor David Niven likens it to “making love on a hammock – a happy experience but one of uncertain duration.’’ Niven’s wit does not conceal the perils of fame, which can be delicate and dangerous, and leave one empty and destroyed at its loss.

This is where Rajinikanth is unique in Indian cinema. Nobody takes his dashing, superhero image more seriously when in front of the camera, but also carries his balding, middle-aged reality so lightly when off-screen.

One persona is not the extension of the other. He has evolved to being comfortable in his own skin. Perhaps that is his real superstardom.

First Published: Aug 05, 2016 01:30 IST