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Rajesh Khanna's name alone pulled crowds

Salmanayesha IF-Sizzlerz

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Posted: 19 July 2012 at 12:25am | IP Logged

Rajesh Khanna's name alone pulled crowds

Mumbai: Rajesh Khanna died a number of times over the years. In Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand, Khanna's terminally ill character lay in bed waiting for death, while his friend Dr Bhaskar Banerjee (Babumoshai as Anand called him affectionately) let his emotions run free. As soon as Anand breathed his last, his voice played from a tape, on cue: "Zindagi aur maut uparwaale ke haath hai jahaanpana….. kab kaun kaise uthega, koi nahi jaanta."
Rajesh Khanna died a number of times over the years.

This scene is among Hindi cinema's most memorable, culminating a crafty tale penned by Gulzar and masterfully directed by Mukherjee. At the core of it is a young man who knows that death awaits him around the corner, and chooses to make the most of his remaining days instead of wallowing in self-pity. Anand does enough to ensure that his short life eclipses the memory of his death.

Khanna was lucky that most of his cinematic deaths took place in stellar films. In Asit Sen's Safar, which released a year before Anand, Khanna's Avinash sacrifices his love for Neela (played by Sharmila Tagore) as he wants to rid her from the grief of living with a cancer-struck lover. Similarly, in films likeAradhanaNamak Haraam,Mehbooba and Kudrat, Khanna's characters met a fatal end. These films released to widespread acclaim or ended up as box office hits or both.

As news of Khanna's demise spread on Wednesday, many made their way to Aashirwad, his bungalow on Carter Road, that Khanna bought when he was a superstar and resided thereafter. Crowds lined up along the promenade to pay their last respects as industry friends visited his family to offer condolences. The scene looks familiar. The only difference is that this time, Khanna has gone for real.

How would you remember Rajesh Khanna? As a man who could romance a tree and make the onlooker believe that he was serenading Hindi cinema's most beautiful woman? As a superstar who drove fans (women) into a frenzy? Or as a gaunt, slightly forgotten actor, living out his last few years quietly, away from the public eye? Unfortunately, for many in the current generation, Khanna would also be the sleazy old man serenading a much younger bombshell in the B-grade film Wafaa, images of which were splashed all over. Or will he be remembered for his failed relationships, such as the one with his estranged wife Dimple Kapadia?

Khanna's death, though, would probably absolve him of all his sins. The man, usually referred to as Hindi cinema's first superstar — his films were considered to be the safest bet among producers and distributors, many of them jubilee hits — will probably be remembered as a romantic hero who made hearts swoon, who captured the imagination of a nation drunk on his ditties and a filmstar whose very name was enough to draw in crowds.

What many people don't know about Khanna is that he often took on films most actors in his day would shy away from. For example, very early in his career, he signed on Yash Chopra's song-less thriller Ittefaq, considered to be experimental at the time. And at a time when most popular actors shied away from letting go of their virtuous personas (barring perhaps Dev Anand to an extent) Khanna took on films which portrayed him as a man with many shades.

Yet, Khanna will be remembered most for his portrayal of Mukherjee's 'Anand'. My favourite Khanna character, however, is one where he made an impact in the shortest possible screen time. As Hema Malini's deceased lover, Khanna appeared in a flashback sequence in Andaz wearing his fashionable best on a speeding motor bike with Hema Malini riding pillion. "Zindagi ek safar hai suhana, yahaan kal kya ho kisne jaana" became not just an anthem but words Khanna's fans hummed for years to come. And they will, for many more.


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