The year was 1974. Dad was posted in INS Shivaji, near the famous hill station of Lonavala.
Our trips to the town from the naval base would be very infrequent, may be once in two months. It was during one of those trips in the military bus meant for families, I overheard my mother telling a neighbour: “Look, that is the spot where Yeh shaam mastani was filmed.”
That song from Kati Patang, released almost three years previously, was on everyone’s lips, courtesy Vividh Bharati and Binaca Geet Mala on Radio Ceylon.
But as kids we had not seen the movie (younger readers, please note: we did not have a TV set at home till 1983).
So I saw the location of that famous Kati Patang song much before I could watch the movie!
In fact, I couldn’t see it till 1978, until I started going to junior college in Pune. But watching movies wasn’t as important in our teenage years; listening to Hindi film music was.
In the early 1970s, every Wednesday, we would sit around the radio and hear Ameen Sayani take us through the weekly countdown of best songs. And invariably one would hear a Kishor-Kumar-RD Burman number for Rajesh Khanna among the top five songs if not the top song.
By the time I fell in love with Hindi movies on big screen (1978 on wards), Rajesh Khanna was a waning star. The reigning deity for us in college then was Amitabh Bachchan. He of lanky gait, baritone voice , an eternal rebel.
Deewar, Trishool, Muqadar Ka Sikandar, Kala Patthar, in one movie after another Amitabh’s hero represented the angst of the time.
Music was in Amitabh movies was incidental, almost marginal. By contrast in Rajesh Khanna movies, music was the central character, its very soul.
As my interest and passion for the celluloid grew with each passing year, I kept making an effort not to miss re-runs of Rajesh Khanna’s movies. So whenever the matinee shows ran Aradhana, Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Safar, Anand, Haathi mere Saathi, a group of friends with similar tastes and interest made it a point to go and enjoy the movies, and especially the songs.
When I look back and try to figure out what made Rajesh Khanna the phenomenon, the first thing that comes to mind is great music.
He was extraordinarily lucky to have been backed by the combined genius of Kishore Kumar and RD Burman and not to forget some of the most unforgettable lyrics by the redoubtable but underrated Anand Bakshi.
The songs of Amar Prem or Aap Ki Kasam (especially the philosophical Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jate hein jo mukaam…), Kati Patang, Mehbooba, Prem Nagar and Mere Jeevan Saathi to name some of my own favourites, is what made Rajesh Khanna the star.
Had it not been for RD-Kishore combine, many of Rajesh Khanna’s movies like Mere Jeevan Saathi or Ajnabee would have been deemed ordinary. Even today, four decades later, the Anand-Bakshi-RD Burman-Kishore Kumar songs like Chala jaata hoon, O mere dil ki chaine, diwana leke aaya hai, Chingari koi bhadke, Kuch to log kahenge continue to dominate the FM Radio stations.
Of course, Rajesh Khanna, the actor briefly rose above Rajesh Khanna the star in a Basu Bhattacharyya movie like Avishkar . He in fact won a Filmfare best actor award for it.
But overall he had limited acting skills. The smile may have been winsome in his hey days but as age caught on, even that famous lopsided grin and crinkled eyes, began to grate on your senses.
Naturally, my infatuation with Rajesh Khanna didn’t last long.
Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor with their musicals continue to enthrall me even now.
As one grew older, Rajesh Khanna’s pathetic attempts at a comeback only saddened you. He acted in movies like Masterji (with Sridevi), Alag Alag and Bayein haath ka khel (with his then partner Tina Munim) and countless other turkeys at the box office.
So unlike the lanky Vicky (Amitabh Bachchan) who stole his thunder in their second and last appearance together in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Namak Haram , Rajesh Khanna could never ever reclaim the peak he attained between 1969 and 1973.
Many people think and say Amitabh Bachchan snatched Rajesh Khanna’s crown.
The fact is, Rajesh Khanna did not have the wherewithal to hold on to it beyond a point. Amitabh did not have to make much effort to ascend to the throne. That the man who made a tentative debut in Saat Hindustani continues to rule the roost even now, speaks volumes of his abilities and discipline. Rajesh Khanna never had the staying power of an Amitabh Bachchan or even a Dharmendra.
But that does not take away from the phenomenon that Rajesh Khanna was.
When he charmed, he charmed with full force. Ask a generation before us, and they will continue to swear by that extraordinary gale force that hit the Hindi film industry, swept everyone off their feet briefly and dissipated.
Last week, Jatin Khanna passed away. Let’s remember Rajesh Khanna the star for all the wonderful musical memories he has left behind.