- Kuwait Times Extra
Wednesday was a sad day for romantics in India and for Indians all across the world. Rajesh Khanna, the famous Indian film actor, passed away amidst hordes of inconsolable fans and family members. Khanna wasn’t called ‘The Phenomenon’ for nothing. In fact, if you ask any fan of his, they’ll tell you that the title would be the understatement of the century. He was an icon; a dark knight on a white steed who rode into every woman’s fantasy in the seventies. It was said that his female fans ranged from age 8 to 80; an unusual occurrence in the seventies when Indian women’s ideas of romance were just about coming of age.
During the seventies and eighties, there were pockets of fans of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Dev Anand, along with other romantic heroes such as Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. But, the Khanna magic, in movies like ‘Amar Prem’ (Eternal Love), ‘Anand’ (Happiness), and ‘Aradhana’ (Worship), took the Indian film industry by storm. His slow smile used to light up the screen at its own sweet pace and those warm brown eyes… a direct, searing gaze into a woman’s eyes, would make her feel like she was the only girl in the world – and then proceed to turn her knees into wobbly jelly. She could be a young schoolgirl, a college student, a married lady, or an old granny, but they were all united by a dreamy look in their eyes upon glimpsing their heartthrob.
He was their dream come true on two legs. Tall, strikingly handsome and yet totally unaware of his own good looks – there was little wonder why his female fans wrote him love letters in blood or went on to marry his photograph while using their own blood as ‘sindoor’ (vermillion). It was said that every time his car left his house, his female fans would attack it hoping to catch a peek of him, and by the time his car returned home it would be covered in different shades of lipstick colors. The fan following was a singeing sea of passion; a generation of estrogen stimulated by the likes of no one India had seen before. A woman could have been changing her child’s nappy, studying for her exams, tending to an ailing relative, sadly waiting for her boyfriend’s call or living a mundane life – but the minute ‘O Mere Dil Ke Chain’ (My Heart’s Peace) song played on the radio, life would become all rainbows and unicorns again.
Khanna was known for the songs that were picturized on him and each went on to become a classic, thanks to R D Burman and Kishore Kumar, without whose ‘voices’ he would perhaps not have tasted this kind of maniacal success. Those Cupid’s arrows, in the form of songs from ‘Sacha Jhoota’ (True Lies), ‘Mere Jeevan Saathi’ (My Life Partner), ‘Kati Patang’ (Broken Kite), and ‘Andaz’ (Style), made it easy to fall in love. ‘Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana’ (This Journey of Life is so Beautiful) was the anthem of the ‘daredevil’ boys of the seventies who imitated the ‘Guru shirt’ long haired-motorbike look of Rajesh Khanna – a surefire hit with the ladies. You could find a procession of these specimens outside all ladies’ colleges in India, thanks to Khanna-wannabes.
Khanna’s impulsive marriage to Dimple Kapadia, a wide-eyed debutante, left a sea of heartbroken female fans who would throng outside his house in Mumbai for a ‘darshan’ (holy glimpse) of him. It was said that tourist buses stopped outside his house due to public demand.
Khanna was best known for awakening women’s passions and their dormant feelings, which could be projected without guilt. He was the man who women felt could understand and respect their deepest fears or saddest thoughts; the ‘icon’ who was always there for them. He could be their brother, their father, son, or friend (in accordance with their age group). He was rightly described as a ‘phenomenon’ by a popular Indian magazine, as the fan following he enjoyed was something truly unprecedented.
“Pushpa, I hate tears” and “Babumoshai” are dialogues from his films that are quoted often. In his most memorable film, ‘Anand’ (Happiness), a dying Khanna says “I don’t want to die… He is very weak, he will not be able to bear my death!”, referring to doctor and friend, Amitabh Bachchan. In the film, Khanna dies of cancer and in real life, he also succumbed to the Big C at the ripe age of 69. Is it life imitating art or a case of art imitating life?
Rajesh Khanna taught an entire generation to laugh, love, serenade, woo and be larger than life. All his adoring fans and admirers out there, please don’t cry for him… Because Pushpa, you know he hates tears.
By Priyanka Saligram
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