Monday, December 30, 2013

A Belated Infatuation

A guest post by Arushi dated December 29, 2013. Remembering the immortal superstar on his 71st.

The world didn’t end in 2012, but was left with a void because of which it would forever seem       incomplete. I write this with a person in mind whose absence only now I have come to fully mourn.

“Rajesh Khanna”, my father had replied when some seven years ago I had interrupted him watching a movie by my question,“ Who is this handsome man?” Little did I know then that this actor would break my hostility to Bollywood as I knew it by taking me to its golden era of the seventies. Having enjoyed watching Anand and Bawarchi with parents at 13, I had yet to discover what made romance synonymous with Rajesh Khanna.

Now years later I caught the Kaka fever on a breezy July evening. The weather called for some music but I craved for something new as I was tired of the same songs in my overplayed playlist. Kishore Kumar’s name came to my mind and I found an album ‘Remembering Rajesh Khanna’ on searching his songs. The fantastic songs led me to watch all of Kaka’s hit movies and so I discovered Hindi cinema’s superstar and became one of his thousands of infatuated female fans. Just like stars leave their light in our skies for generations to see, this superstar’s twinkle reached me now, even though he had shone brightest long I was even born.

What I was perhaps too young to fully appreciate at 13, I began to relish at 20. The absolute pleasure of watching Kaka’s acting was the chief motivation, but I enjoyed other things that the movies had to offer as well. I marvelled at the wonderful contrast that the cinema of the seventies posed to the present day. Every movie that I watched had the perfect blend of science and art, from well structured plots to melodious and richly poetic songs. The movies even reminded me of my class lectures as the storylines met the demands of Aristotle’s dictums of ‘reversal’ and ‘discovery’ and the songs blazoned the beloved in a livelier way than Petrarch. I also admired how movies back then were made to mirror the society’s shortcomings and profess a hope for change. Even as they ended usually on a happy note, the gender and class problems stood out. Issues of widow remarriage in Kati Patang, the hard life of widows in Aaradhana, and the  prostitution in Amar Prem and Mehboob ki Mehendi, are a few examples of the ways in which movies fulfilled their responsibility of being vehicles of reflection and change in the society. This moralistic aspect blended all too well with the divine persona that Kaka portrayed. The crux of the stories’ messages was always voiced by his character, and would become ingrained in the audience’s minds because of the dramatic perfection in his acting. It’s interesting to note that even in the story, so often he was called “devata”, as he indeed became in reality with his superstardom. The characters, sometimes even the villain, would be as much in awe of him as the audience. This blurring of the line between fictive and real worlds added to the fantasy that cinema created for the people.

Kaka became this awe-inspiring magnet by virtue of his indescribable charisma. All poetry in the songs could only strike so strong a chord with the audience because of that spell he cast with his eyes, voice, and charm. I had been used to listening to songs, but with Rajesh Khanna, I ‘saw’ the songs as I listened to them, as if the mandragora of his eyes spilled into the sweet melody and created a sweeter ecstasy. Songs usually appeal to us mostly because we find in them something that relates to our lives, but Kaka’s songs also carry the effect that he infused in them by his serene seductiveness. The helplessness that I feel for lacking words to express all that I so ardently admire in him, I also feel for the lack of people in my age group with whom I can share my passion for him. Being very late to the Kaka fan club, I envy the fans who have lived in his reign, have seen him up-close and keep cherished autographs. I also realised that not only is my passion belated, it is also much belittled by the passion of his fans when I learned of the euphoria that spread in his stardom, of girls writing letters to him in blood and even marrying his photograph! Such craze remains unparallelled even today and is the only way to express his aura when words fail.

The wide variety of roles he has played also pays homage to his artistry as he played the imperfect man with his classic perfection. Be it the uncaring husband driven to madness by being trapped in false blames in Ittefaq or the alcoholic womanizer in Prem Nagar, Kaka made the audience love his character as he showed the frailties of man and the sad truths and circumstance that made a man cross the line dividing the good from the bad. Of course, at the heart of this rich variety always lay the essential element of romance, without which no movie could captivate the audience. And Rajesh Khanna defined exactly that captivation. Even the restrictions of propriety that the seventies era posed on cinema only stoked his fiery charm. In his actions, there is that essence of literature which implies love in a poetic, subtle sense and heightens the emotive potential in being symbolic, dramatic, artistic. It is his alchemy because of which, Roop Tera Mastana, a song shot in only four takes and involving just sight and delicate touch, became the most sensual song filmed in Hindi cinema. The importance of songs needs no explanation, but what Rajesh Khanna did with the romantic lyrics shows how the song was the hallmark of love and courtship in the movies. It is in the songs where he puts to work his wondrous ways of implying love through mannerisms and multiplies the effect of the already effusive romance in the songs. From rubbing his fingers across his lips to the iconic eye blink, there’s even more to him than pure charm. His art feeds also on the perfection with which he delivers the dialogues, as if his voice wrote it in the air that those lines were to go down in history.

While he made history on screen, his personal history isn’t documented with similar glory. Even on being told that he was impractically dramatic, a “complex person” according to gossip columnist Devi, and one who, according to the BBC’s documentary, had the “arrogance of Napoleon”, I could reason away every blame that his critics piled on him. What he achieved as an artist is so great that, for a fan, all his faults get eclipsed by that wink of his eyes. Watching his estranged wife Dimple say, “there was no man behind Rajesh Khanna, there was only Rajesh Khanna.. He lived like Anand, he was Anand”, I smiled for she answered my wondering questions about how he would have been in real life. Not much then, remains hidden from his beloved fans who are the subject of his last on-screen dialogue ( Havell’s ad : “Mere fans mujhse koi nahi cheen sakta”) and to whom he dedicated and addressed his last message. There isn’t a single interview I could find where he doesn’t thank his fans from the heart, for giving him so much love.

While dialogues from Anand are Kaka fans’ anthem and are usually reiterated to evoke the immortal superstar that he’ll always be, this line from Prem Kahani said by Vinod Khanna’s minor character in his dying breath encapsulates the undying love that Kaka inspired : Rajesh hamare dil mein hai.


Manish Chauhan said...

Well, Arushi could have as well been born in 60s :-)

Even though she has never lived even a moment during Rajesh Khanna's super-stardom, but clearly her 'belated infatuation' matches the same from the girls of that era !

I agree with her - the man had a youthful charm which derived a mania which cannot be recreated or repeated. His movies with Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Shakti Samant are timeless jewels with infinite repeat value.

I have as much enjoyed this wonderfully crafted and expressed post as I have always enjoyed her mother's. She is a chip from the same block :-)

vandy said...

Thank you for your kind words. I'm so glad someone who has lived in Kaka's reign enjoyed reading this. I cannot agree more on the repeat value of his movies, having watched Kati Patang 4 times, Amar Prem thrice..and song videos uncountable times! Some movies are so touching that I don't rewatch them, lest their magic lessens even by the slightest bit ;)
Your generation is really lucky to have breathed in the same time as Kaka and Kishore da :)


vandy said...

@Arushi, Manish was also not born when kaka was reigning, but ledends are forever.