Rajesh Khanna: Your human side made you a superstar

Published: August 18, 2012

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

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vinny sharma

    very nice piece of observation kudos to you for your unbiased commentsRecommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/Fazidude Farzan

    I really don’t give a Cr*p about him! And I don’t know why our News media has suddenly become so obsessed about him ?! Try watching some of his movies from later days, they show the calibre as an actor he really had!Recommend

  • Heyman

    Sorry to say your write up is not well researched and it looks like a rehash of many write ups that have come up slandering the Great Actor that Rajesh Khanna was…

    Rajesh Khanna is not just remembered for his songs but also for his beautiful movies such as Anand, Safar, Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Avtar, Roti and many more…..

    You say…
    “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.”

    I find more write ups like this and yours is just one of them…Kaka ji’s life is totally different from what you perceive and written here..Kaka ji lived the life the way he wanted and it was his own choice and not forced upon him by any situation…

    Please do not trivialize a great actor by writing such trashy stuff…Recommend

  • anonymous

    Comments on the ‘tragedy’ would be hypothetical- for Khannaji never revealed his mind to anyone. His success was uniquely mindblowing and it made him a different person- he felt above the rest in this world for most of his life. the last ten years of his life were spent in greatest happiness- for he calmed down and enjoyed many other things in his life except the superstardom bit. His was never ever alone for he had two kids and he loved them more than himself. Recommend

  • ravindra

    A extremely heart-touching and realistic analysys of the life of our beloved KAKA! Specially the last paragraph brought tears to my eyes! Still I could not come to terms that KAKA is no longer with us .What ever one may say about KAKA, one thing is for sure, he never accepted defeat in life much like the characters of his movies like AVATAR. He lived like a superstar and died like a superstar.Though the almost entire Hindi film industry neglected him (for a very long period ) due to whatever (mostly personal) reasons, and a big caucus worked against him almost throughout his life,KAKA never gave up and fought singlehandedly and valantly.His working in C class movies like WAFAA must be viewed as his struggle. Till his last breath,he never went to any body for the want of a role,so what if most of the todays big houses might have blossomed through his movies.I always believed that he will make a great comeback but that was not to be! Any way, RAJESH KHANNA will shine in the history of Indian film industry as the BIGGEST AND BRIGHTEST STAR and the most lovable and adorable actor!! Heartfelt thanks to dear KAKA for the lovely moments he gave to us. May his soul rest in peace!!Recommend

  • pooja solanki

    i can not belive kaka-rajesh khanna has left us. i still rememer songs from his films e.g
    meri sapono ki rani kab ayagi to, roop tera mastana,jindi ki safar me ……,jindgi ek safar ha suahana…… etc. etc. he was my heart throbe. he was only suprstar of not only for me,but numerous fans. he was more talented than any other star of the day.his acting in ANAND WAS
    CLASSIC & he proved real ANAND Iin his real life. may GOD rest his soul in peace.Recommend

  • http://google A.K. Roy

    Your statement that Kaka was in oblivion for three decades seems very ridiculous. He ruled as Top Most Star as well in 1980s before his election as Hon’ble Member of Parliament in 90s on special invitation of then P.M. Late Rajiv Gandhi. He won the election only due to his outstanding popularity, where from oblivion comes here? in 2000s he of course appeared in limited films, but had been honoured nationally and internationally since 2000-2012 continuously with several LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS AND OTHER PRESTIGIOUS AWARDS including Dada Saheb Phalke Academy Award in 2008. Where oblivion or escape from public. He appeared regularly in Dahi Handi Festival, Ganesh Mahotsav etc. as well as in other public functions. . Recommend

  • http://google A.K. Roy

    In fact he never fell out as has been mentioned by you here. He gracefully ruled in 70s and 80s and joined politics in 90s. In 2000s he could certainly performed in many films but as a man of principle he never begged anybody for work unlike Amitabh, the money making machine and since most of the film makers of his time stopped making films, barring Yash Chopra, who established his Yash Raj films with the financial help of Kakaji, gradually Kaka stopped working in films except few rare appearance in Jana or Wafa type low budget films, which he accepted to help poor film makers; not for earning money for himself. So this is the true story of the True legend and Original Superstar.Recommend

  • Ashesh Dave

    I do not agree with your views. I know that he was coming late to the shootings of his movies and may have caused some issues with his costars and directors as they lost time and money. But if you read/ listen to those actors( Manojkumar, Amitabh, others) , none of them said any bad remarks for him. If they were treated badly, why would they go to his funeral. He was already dead- they did not need to go to his “chautha”.
    His songs were popular not just because they were good songs, but they were made good by him. There are other actors whose movie’s songs were popular in their times but why is Rajesh Khanna’s songs still very popular?Recommend

  • B.N.M

    i love thet song is hathi mere shthi i verey like & zindagi safar me khabhi rajeshji ko dil se mera salam i (p_good) Recommend

  • Vini

    He didn’t steal the fire, he entered it, for his art. He paid his dues for being all too human on this earth, and has taken his place in heaven, immortalised in our souls, and the threads of our lives that connect us all; Kaka ji will always live in one of the two beats of my heart.

    emphasized textNafrat ki duniya ko chhod ke pyar ki duniya mein, khush rehna mere yaar.*Recommend

  • Adil

    The song from Aap ki kasam is the only one that I could dedicate to his memories.It’s also weird the way you wrote the blog after a complete month since his demise.
    I have never been a great fan of romantic movies and in case of Rajesh Khanna,the movies which I would like to watch are Dushman,Roti and Red Rose.
    And it’s really shocking the way his colleague described him as arrogant given the sweet smile and friendly nature that flashes in one’s mind whenever the name of Rajesh Khanna is heard.Recommend

  • smitha

    Rajesh khanna never went seeking for roles like amit. He lived life on his own terms.

    Yash chopra, when he wanted to start his own production company & direct imself, approached kaka to act in Daag. Kaka also helped him financially in completing the film.

    But it was the same Yash chopra whjo decades later claimed that it was he who did kaka a favour by castinh him in daag, even though kaka had 5 successive flops at that stage in his career.

    It is to kaka’s gentlemanliness that he never refuted this rash statement of Yash.

    Kaka’s consistency in giving hits is phenomincal. He had 11 released in 1986 which is considered the evening of his career. If as you say, his films did not run later in his career, do you think producers would have produced hihs films.

    Jevd Akhtar claimed that kaka was on top only from 1969 to 1971 which is totally false. It is clear he has an axe to grind here.

    When in 1984, when kaka was filming “Aaj ka MLA”, amit was filming “Inquilaab”. Since both films were on politics, amit got jittery & worked day & night to get his film released first. This when amit was at the height of his popularity.Recommend

  • http://www.crazzyweb.com Ayush Jain

    Nice Article Regarding Rajesh Khanna our website also, like it and read post on website http://crazzyweb.com/rajesh-khanna/Recommend

  • Kaka’s Fan

    Dear Friend,
    Your article is the best that I have read of Kaka. I am from Sri Lanka and 26 years. I am an ardent fan of him. I had a habit of googling the keywords “Rajesh Khannna ” + “Dead” because I was afraid of it. One day suddenly my worst nightmare came true.
    Yes, people who bitterly criticized him when he did “Bewafa”, forgot that he is an actor and it is just another role for him. Now the same people praise him like nothing and try to show a supernatural human being.
    What ever it is, Kaka was, is and will be the unmatched superstar of Indian Cinema.Recommend

  • http://www.chaneluk-bagssale.com/ Chanel Handbags

    Very interesting subject , regards for putting up. “Not by age but by capacity is wisdom acquired.” by Titus Maccius Plautus.Recommend