Once late in his life, the legendary Raj Kapoor when asked why he stopped making movies, replied, “Give me a new Mukesh, a new Mohammed Rafi, a new Laxmikant-Pyarelal, a new Anand Bakshi or Sahir Ludhiyanwi and I will make a new movie!”
It couldn’t have better summed up the career of a certain gentleman called Rajesh Khanna, who we think was purely a result of Kishore Kumar’s playback and nothing more. Yes we said it! And there’s no mincing words, however much self-annointed, Twinkle ‘Mrs Funnybones’ Khanna might want to take offence.
Raj Kapoor’s remark was an indicator of the shifting tide, the changing recipe for success in the Bollywood of the late 60s and early 70s. It was a crusade fuelled by the changing expectations of the generation of India’s ‘Midnight’s Children,’ who wanted to see themes beyond post-independence drama, onto pure visuals.
Agreed that Rajesh Khanna was the face of this change, but he wasn’t the messiah of cinematic evolution. In fact, as pointed out by Naseeruddin Shah last year, he was a ‘very limited actor’ and neither the ‘most alert person’ you’ll meet.
His taste though ruled the industry during this era as it became less content-driven, undoing the legacies left behind by the likes of Guru Dutt, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand.
‘You could make a heroine wear a purple dress and hero a red shirt, go to Kashmir and make a movie,’ rightly asserted Naseer.
One, however, has to give it to the man (Rajesh Khanna) for delivering close to a dozen and a half hits between 1969 and 1971-72. But it won’t be an illogical argument that he would have hardly achieved anything with his over-the-top acting had it not been for Kishore Kumar’s voice playing-back.
We aren’t sure of the quality of acting, but music certainly did reach its zenith in the 70s with Rajesh Khanna’s rise being propelled by the trio of RD Burman, Anand Bakshi and Kishore doing no wrong in the background.
On the one hand, you had Khanna, who was trying to charm ladies with his abominable head nodding and eye closing gestures, exaggerating his mannerisms, performing clumsy action scenes and glorifying melodrama.
Then on the other was Kishore who’s singing took on myriad shades, weaving in pain, romance, joie de vivre and a rare emotional energy. He was a singer for every occasion, for every emotion. One of the key ingredients to an actor’s stardom in India is an archive of superhit numbers and that’s exactly what Kishore delivered for Rajesh Khanna.
Tracks like Chala jaata hoon, O Mere Dil Ki Chaine, Diwana Leke Aaya Hai, Chingari Koi Bhadke, Kuch Toh Log Kahenge made average movies good and good movies even better, as spelt out by a critic.
No doubt that the Amitabh Bachchans of the world, to whom the torch was passed thereafter, also made use of such elements on their path to success, but Rajesh Khanna’s lack of versatility ultimately spelt doom for him.
Over the years, his acting went down and his personal life was a shipwreck as well. A last dash at acting in the 80s also ended in misery before he decided to pursue a career in politics.
His last appearance in a TV commercial for Havell’s fans though did leave us with a lump in our throat, so did his unfortunate death. The ad summed up the story of his life, which will live on for many years to come — ‘Babu Moshai, mere fans mujhse koi nahi cheen sakta!‘
After all, Rajesh Khanna was indeed a Superstar, but we’re sure he wouldn’t have been the same without Kishore Kumar.