After a comparatively slow start, Rajesh Khanna went on to have a meteoric career in Bollywood, dethroning several existing stars and leaving scores of fans (mostly female) swooning as he created a new idiom of romance on-screen.
Rajesh Khanna, with his slowly spreading vibrant smile, an ‘everyman’ way of dialogue delivery, flamboyant garb and a unique jaunty style of walking and dancing, saw him notch up a string of smash hits, making him the first modern ‘superstar’.
While he could do tragic and comic turns with aplomb too, the main metier of Rajesh Khanna, born this day in 1942, was romance – mutual, requited/unrequited, or (eventually) star-crossed – but usually carefree and exuberant, for all that. This was best displayed in the range of songs his best-known, or even less-successful, films were filled with, and continue to be hummed down the years.
And on his 79th birth anniversary, let us take a look at Rajesh Khanna and his melodic journey — the songs that he is best known for, and many others that have temporary fallen out of the attention of the mass public, but continue to be cherished by his devoted fans.
Take his sitting sprawled with the cap rakishly askew as he unknowingly serenades Sharmila Tagore with “Mere Sapnon ki Rani” in a jeep being driven by his harmonica-playing companion on the scenic Darjeeling road (‘Aradhana’); dancing energetically and uninhibitedly with Mumtaz in “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar” (‘Aap ki Kasam’), or refusing to take his leave of Asha Parekh until the next appointment is fixed in “Achchha To Ham Chalte Hain” (‘Aan Milo Sajna’).
Remember him recall a tryst with a stranger in “Aate Jate Khubsurat” (‘Anurodh’), yodel a devil-may-care philosophy of life in that motorcycle ride with Hema Malini down Marine Drive in “Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana” (‘Andaaz’), or do his version of romancing in the rain with Zeenat Aman in “Bheegi Bheegi Raton Mein” (‘Ajnabi’) – all the more unique for being in his own voice.
There is “Jawani tu Diwani Zindabad”, where Rajesh Khanna can be seen breaking into his trademark dance; departing from Indians’ light-complexion fixation in “Gore Rang Pe Na Itna Guman Kar” (‘Roti’); articulating a broad definition of the contours of romance in “Pyar Diwana Hota Hai” (‘Kati Patang’); and that superlative exposition of love’s labours to Tanuja in “O Mere Dil Ke Chain, Chain Aaye Mere Dil Ko Dua Kijiye” (‘Mere Jeevan Saathi’).
In a class by itself is the uproarious “Duniya Mein Logon Ko Dhoka Kabhi Ho Jata Hai” (‘Apna Desh’), sung with gusto by R.D. Burman.
Then, who can forget the same Rajesh Khanna pensively recalling “Woh Sham Kuch Ajeeb Thi” on a boat ride in a chiaroscuro atmosphere (‘Khamoshi’), strumming a sitar while essaying the haunting “Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon” (‘Mehbooba’), rendering the equally haunting “Hame Tumse Pyar Kitna” (‘Kudrat’), and the belated penitent confession in “Zindagi Ke Safar Mein Guzar Jate Hai Jo Maqam” (‘Aap Ki Kasam’).
And on the other end of the scale, there are the sad-tinged ruminations on life, particularly its uncertain duration, in “Zindagi ka safar, hai ye kaisa safar” (“Safar”) and “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli, haai” (“Anand).
But, these songs and many more, bright as they may shine on the firmament of his Bollywood journey, may obscure countless others that show him display a wider range of histrionic capabilities than he is given credit for.
Let us check out some of these, too.
It may seem totally alien to the present generations, who’ve grown up with instant messaging, smartphones and e-commerce firms, that once the humble postman, on a rickety cycle, could deal with all these functions and Rajesh Khanna essayed the role perfectly, enunciating a whole range of human celebrations and travails in “Daakiya daak laya”, opening ‘Palkon Ki Chhaaon Mein’.
And then he wore another cap to essay an uncharacteristic role in ‘Bawarchi’, where his rendition of “Bhor Aai Gaya Andhiyara” sets the tone for a moralistic, light-hearted film he took to lighten the mood of “Anand”.
Then there is him rather morbid in “Zubaan pe dard bhari dastan chali aayi” (‘Maryada’), sounding more piquant in the sonorous rhythms of Mukesh, instead of his usual voice, Kishore Kumar.
Rajesh Khanna may not have been a superstar for long, but the songs he lip-synced ensured that he’d live forever in the hearts and on the lips of his countless fans.
–By Vikas Datta