My eyes are dry. I refuse to shed tears for a man who said he hated them. Such was the screen power of India’s only bone fide Superstar. When his character in the otherwise uninspiring movie titled, “Amar Prem"' uttered that sardonic line (“Pushpa... I hate tears!”), several swooning women across India promptly stopped crying! Yes, his romantic sweep over female hearts was that over whelming, that emotionally charged.For all that mass hysteria and adulation, Rajesh Khanna was no looker – Dharmendra ( Garam Dharam, if you please) was far better in that department. He was a pretty lousy dancer - producers roped in Jumping Jack Jeetendra for that. And he wasn’t such a fantastic an actor, either ( newbie Amitabh Bachchan effortlessly stole the show in Ánand’). And yet, when Rajesh Khanna did rule Bollywood, he reigned supreme, an unchallenged monarch with zero competition .What was it about this shortish, crinkly-eyed, pimply-faced, very average guy, who grew up in the crowded gullis of Thakurdwar in Central Mumbai and shot to the top, when no one was looking ? Disparagingly referred to as The Gurkha ( because of his eyes and short stature), nobody gave him much of a chance initially. He certainly did not pose a threat to the established heroes of the day.Significantly, he did not come from a filmi background. Without a Godfather to promote him, Rajesh Khanna’s meteoric rise was entirely based on the fact that his audiences adored him..... had fallen for him instantly. His love affair with his fans began the moment he appeared on the scene. As a chocolate box leading man, Rajesh Khanna posed zero threat to the husbands and boyfriends of his predominantly female fans. Interestingly, the women who swore undying love and devotion to The Phenomenon (as Stardust had dubbed him), did not belong to a specific age group. From ditzy teens, and their ‘mod’moms, to grey haired naanis and daadis, Rajesh Khanna was worshipped as the Ultimate Lover Boy. His brand of romanticism was unique – a compelling mix of tragedy and longing. His intrinsic vulnerability combined with a little-boy-lost sex appeal, made women across the board feel protective towards him. From that first time he tilted his head, crinkled those already crinkled eyes, looked deep into the camera lens and smiled .... ooof!... nothing more was required.... India had collectively turned to mush..
Yes, Rajesh Khanna was a megalomaniac.It was his absolute refusal to face reality once the decline in his career set in, that led to his eventual isolation from the film industry. An isolation so profound, that the few well-wishers still hanging around, watched helplessly as the lonely, depressed , bitter man continued to cling on to his delusions, trashing contemporaries and silencing anybody who dared to correct him. His decline was self-inflicted. His alienation, of his own doing. Always a complex creature, battling deep feelings of persecution, Rajesh Khanna cut a pathetic figure later in life when he deigned to show up at Awards’functions. Unable to cope with failure and oblivion once his glory days were behind him, Rajesh chose the bottle. Such a huge pity, given the wonderful ladies in his life, who continued to care for him long after he had pushed them away. His biggest champion in the media of the time, was the late Devyani Chaubal, who loudly and repeatedly took credit for having created Rajesh Khanna’s! Rubbish. His incredible success was his own. Devi and Kaka shared an intense love-hate relationship, and she died taking several of his best guarded secrets with her. But as one of the few constants in his turbulent and troubled life, Devi was perhaps the only woman he tolerated for several years as a part of his inner circle. That Devi and Anju Mahendru ( his long time girl friend) shared less than a cordial relationship, eventually led to Devi’s ouster from his sprawling seaside bungalow, sentimentally christened Aashirwad. By then, of course, Rajesh had dramatically married the alarmingly young and startlingly beautiful Dimple Kapadia in a midnight ceremony that caught the press sleeping.
There was however, another lady love ( she shall go nameless), who understood the essential Jatin ( Rajesh Khanna’s real name) when she shared his life and home. She was a stunning, sexy actress at the time. And much younger, too. In her company, Rajesh Khanna apparently discovered long suppressed aspects of himself and she claimed she freed him from the countless hang-ups he’d harboured as a diffident young man. During a conversation, she spoke candidly about introducing this insecure, uptight, self-conscious superstar to the abundant pleasures of skinny dipping and enjoying the sun on their naked bodies on a foreign beach . “ I liberated Kaka from all his inhibitions,” she laughed fondly at the memory. Were they truly in love? She smiled and shook her head, “ Kaka was incapable of loving anyone. He was only in love with himself!”
What does it matter now? Gone is the man who gave Indian fashion the ever popular Guru Shirt...and so much more.At a time when film publicity was handled by oily chaps who’d show up with grainy movie stills, it was Rajesh Khanna who effortlessly dominated Bollywood and captured hearts like no other hero before or after him. That is some feat when one realises he achieved this minus the push provided by the well-oiled P.R. machinery of today. And that too, in a way and on a scale that cannot be imagined – no, not even by the canniest celebrity managers working tirelessly to manipulate and calibrate their client’s every public smile, sigh and stare. The fans who stood outside Aashirwad for hours on end just to catch a glimpse of their film God, were not hired by canny publicists. The women who slashed their wrists each time he was linked to a co-star ( Mumtaz, Sharmila Tagore) or wrote him letters in their own blood when his film was a hit, were not staging stunts for Breaking News. Perhaps, Rajesh Khanna himself could not comprehend the extent of his power over the lives of people who worshipped him.Which is why there is a satisfying sense of closure now that he is no more. For the one thing nobody can ever deny Kaka is this - Rajesh Khanna did it his way. In life as in death.
This appeared in Bombay Times.....
The Doc and the Dhak Dhak Girl...
Gosh!! Thank God the dishy Dr.Sriram Nene has proved critics wrong by doing what he is so eminently trained to do – offered his services to the KEM Dean, Sanjay Oak.As a highly qualified cardio-thoracic surgeon who specialised in Mitral Valve repair surgery, Dr.Nene, who has relocated to Mumbai from Denver along with the family , had been increasingly spotted attending Bollywood events along with Madhuri Dixit,his beautiful wife. There was a great deal of media speculation that the handsome doc with movie star good looks himself ( a desi version of Richard Gere), may have been flirting with the idea of turning his back on doctorgiri permanently and joining his wife’s trade. Not as a hero ( though, whyever not?) but as a full time manager and business partner in the lady’s several ventures. Media sources insisted he had taken complete charge of her contracts and was cracking great deals on wifey’s behalf . Particularly, juicy endorsements for basmati rice and other products. He was also supposed to be steering her brand new television career in which she is making much more money than all her old hit films put together. Plus, there is the production house the duo is launching, for which they have already invested a huge amount by way of a sprawling office. As if all this is not enough, there was talk that Madhuri had asked for a plot of land for a dance academy ( which she subsequently denied). Also, there is land gifted to her ages ago, being developed in West Bengal. To say nothing about the Maharashtra Government’s request to get Madhuri on board as Brand Ambassador for the State (allegedly, she asked for an astronomical amount). That’s a lot of work for poor ole Madhuri to handle by herself!
Given her crazy schedule what with playing Judge Sahiba on a dance reality show, and her hectic travel plans ( she posted a rather strange picture of herself in disguise in front of the Taj Mahal), her loving husband must have decided to keep surgery and the scalpel on hold, till his wife’s biz affairs were set in order. Why not? It’s a little ironic, though, that when the two met and married in 1999, it was claimed the U.S. –raised Nene had never heard of an Indian superstar called Madhuri Dixit! On her part, Madhuri too had played down her extraordinary status in the imagination of her countless fans, and quietly started a new life as a suburban wife of a doctor whose practice had yet to take off. Two children later, she is back to reclaim some of the past glory and re-introduce herself to a new generation of fans. Nobody remembers her dud comeback film (Äaja Nach Le’). Today’s admirers are gushing over her dancing queen image on the small screen. And Madhuri is busy re-positioning herself as a Diva ( slightly difficult, unless she sacks her stylist).But it is Dr. Nene who is the real surprise package, as he gamely poses next to his glam wife, dressed in typical Bollywood –ishtyle designer gear . For over a year, Dr.Nene assessed the local hospital scene. It’s good to know he has opted to sign on with a BMC-run public hospital like KEM in an honorary post. But that can only happen after he registers himself with the Maharashtra Medical Council. KEM, which has a waiting list of 600 patients for various heart surgeries, could certainly do with the expertise of someone like Dr.Nene. And, if his gorgeous wife was to occasionally stop by and meet patients in the ward, their hearts would definitely heal that much faster!