Rajesh Khanna: Your human side made you a superstar

Published: August 18, 2012
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Rajesh Khanna represents that complexity, that tragedy, called life. PHOTO: AFP

It has been exactly a month since the world lost the superstar, Rajesh Khanna. However, I feel that when an obituary becomes adulatory, it stops being honest. Does an obituary need to be a blind obeisance of the person who died no matter how big or small he or she is? Why take the human out of an obituary and make a person look like an infallible supernatural force?

If you read the pieces written on the film star Rajesh Khanna after his death, most of them ignored his human frailties, his weaknesses, his failings and his tragic and lonely life after the loss of superstardom.

Khanna enjoyed almost ten years of stardom but he lived in oblivion for almost three decades. In his own lifetime, the star became a pale shadow of his former self. In his own lifetime, he became a past and death only completed the process that had already started in his life.

Rajesh Khanna was the king of hearts in his films but in real life he was a tragic king. It is true that for the last ten years he was living a lonely life away from family. The reason he came closer to us, I believe, was not only because of his films but also because of his human frailties and his life where he suffered like any other ordinary human being.

Rajesh Khanna represented that complexity─that tragedy, called life.

Therefore we felt sad that he left us. We feel sad in the same way as we feel sad when we see a tragic movie.

The life of Kaka (as Rajesh Khanna was fondly called) was like the story of a film where a person from a humble background made it big in life and then suddenly lost his grip. He tried to keep himself afloat with varied successes, but he never really came to terms with the loss and eventually died a lonely death.

I think the life that imitated Khanna’s was portrayed in the film like “Aap Ki Qasam” where suspicion takes him away from his wife and he becomes a homeless wanderer. By the time the truth dawns on him about his wife’s fidelity, it’s too late. His wife remarries to give security to their daughter.

One of the popular songs of the film,“zindagi ke safar mein, guzar jate hain jo makam, woh phir nahin aate, woh phir nahin aate…” (In the journey of life, stages that have once passed, never return), sums up the whole life history of Rajesh Khanna.

He reminds one of the Shakespearean tragic hero, like King Lear or Hamlet. Lear lost his kingdom because of his folly and overweening pride. The daughters he trusted disowned him, he became homeless, and despite his best efforts he could not recover his sanity or kingdom.

Rajesh Khanna’s vulnerability as a human being brought him down from the pinnacle of his success. In one of his earlier interviews to BBC, the film star talked about the predominance of whims in all his decisions of life. He was a prisoner to his moods. When he married Dimple Kapadia, a 17-year-old film actress, at the peak of his film career in the early 80s, many in the film industry thought it to be a wrong career move. This reflected in his stardom and very soon he started losing the sheen of a superstar.

Critics and co-actors, close to the star, described him as arrogant and rather unfriendly to those who were junior to him or trying to compete with him. It was this ‘vicious mole of nature’, as Shakespeare describes in the play Hamlet, which became his undoing and led to his downfall.

As an actor, Rajesh Khanna passed his prime in the early 80s, but he maintained that primacy as the original romantic hero of the Indian film industry through his songs. It was his songs that brought people closer to him; the different moods of his numerous songs that have kept Kaka alive amongst the new generation too. Songs filmed in the early 70s and 80s have refused to date and are very much a part of our lives even today.

If you are in love, the chances are that you will have hummed one of Rajesh Khanna’s songs. If you are passing through the pain of a separation, it is again his songs which come to soothe you. If you are sitting on the porch of your house, enjoying the breeze and are in a philosophical train of thought, it is Kaka’s song that gives your inner thoughts an expression.

It is this subconscious presence in the mind of the actor through his films that make it difficult to believe that he is actually dead. When the news of his death came, the initial reaction was a sense of disbelief.

Rajesh Khanna, therefore, lived both the lives; a life under the limelight and one in almost complete oblivion.

It is this persona and these characteristics that differentiate this actor from his contemporaries and predecessors. Some of his predecessors, like Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, came down from the top gradually and in a natural way, and they accepted the reality of fading age. But Rajesh Khanna’s fall was steep and he could not recover nor could he reinvent himself as his popular contemporary Amitabh Bachchan managed to do.

In his four decades of film-hood and 150 odd films, Kaka played the character of a suffering man and how he recovers from the depth of failure and emotional breakdown gradually. He could not reconcile with the loss of stardom and this dejection took him to politics. Once he managed to become a parliamentarian from the New Delhi constituency, in the 1990s, he could not last too long in the hurly burly of political life.

For more than a decade, Rajesh Khanna had been living in as a recluse, away from the public; fighting a lonely battle with some debilitating physical ailment which eventually claimed his life. It is believed that during this phase of his life, he didn’t receive support from his family or close friends.

But such is life. When we live and fly high, we forget to value those most precious to us; we forget our relationships. And many of those who we mistakenly believe to be close to us leave us when we lose importance in the public eye.

Rajesh Khanna saw everything in life. His life was very human and he was as vulnerable as any human being. This is the reason that even a month after his death, I can’t believe that he has actaully left us.

Rest in peace, dear Kaka.

Read more by Sanjay here or follow him on Twitter @destinydefier 

sanjay.kumar

Sanjay Kumar

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (twitter.com/destinydefier).

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