Free Press Journal

Book Review: Dark Star: The Loneliness of being Rajesh Khanna


Chronicling the films and the times of Rajesh Khanna, Dark Star looks at the phenomenon of an actor who redefined the ‘film star’.

This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary actor. Gautam Chintamani gives a complete account of how Rajesh Khanna became a superstar, slumped to rock-bottom but was not wiped out. He is remembered primarily as a romantic actor. He had a vulnerable, lost air about him that made women of all ages feel very protective. His sensitive portrayal — as in Anand – of a man struggling against an unrelenting destiny with enduring humour and courage, will always be counted as among the finest.

Head slightly tilted, nodding on cue, and a voice guaranteed to wreak havoc in a female heart, he delivered some of the most cherished lines ever in Hindi cinema. He starred in fifteen consecutive hits, a record still unbroken. But, the tidal wave of the Rajesh Khanna craze receded as suddenly as it had begun. It left a scarred thespian in its wake. It is one of life’s ironies that while contemporaries of Kaka (his pen name), Amitabh in particular, moved from strength to strength, Kaka became inconsequential.

Gautam Chintamani in his first book presents a wholly neutral account of the Hero and   more as a human being than just a Superstar who had his own ups and downs. The author was not helped by his close family members.

Rajesh Khanna’s claim to greatness lies in his achievements over a period of barely three years. On the strength of those three years, 1969 to 1972, he will always find a place in the history of Hindi cinema. He was India’s first-ever Superstar. He won three Filmfare Best Actor Awards. He was awarded the Filmfare Special Award for completing 25 years in the industry, and for appearing as the single lead hero in more films than any other male actor in Hindi films within 25 years of his debut. In 2005, he was awarded the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. He married Dimple Kapadia, eight months before her debut film Bobby was released and had two daughters from the marriage. Khanna has been posthumously awarded India’s third highest civilian honour Padma Bhushan. On 30 April 2013 he was officially bestowed with the title The First Superstar of Indian cinema at Dadasaheb Phalke Academy Awards.

We learn of  the meteoric rise of Rajesh Khanna, some of his average movies too turning out to be blockbusters, some of his good movies turning into failure , the trust and confidence he enjoyed  from filmmakers even during his low period, his flair of giving at least one major hit ever year even in this period, the rise that he went on to enjoy all over again in the 80s,  his entry into the world of politics, his personal life that saw a few major love affairs, his adjustment to the changing equations around him, his rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan.

Khanna’s descent into oblivion was embroidered by stories of all-night drinking binges in a durbar, his perpetually late arrival on sets, his almost pathological dislike of his biggest rival, and a string of women, only one of whom he married.

His best years were 1969-72 and his films broached themes such as embracing of death in Anand, premarital sex without guilt in Aradhana, romancing a widow in Kati Patang, having a child out of marriage in Aakhri Khat. Khanna had done it all on screen, all by flicking his neck just enough and closing his eyes for just that fraction.

Music built his persona. The combined talents of Anand Bakshi, R D Burman and Kishore Kumar have etched him in our minds – as a comet, racing across the fields in an Enfield and laughing into the setting sun on the beach. Note his range, from the suspicious husband of Thodisi Bewafai, to the psychopath of ‘Red Rose’, from the cynical politician of ‘Aaj ka MLA’, Ramavtar, to the father deserted by his children in ‘Avtaar’, he was more than the twinkle in his eyes and the half smile delivering those immortal lines and singing those legendary songs.

We read of Khanna’s gradual descent into irrelevance as Bachchan’s star rises, his fallout with the writer duo of Salim-Javed whom he helped with an independent writing credit on his hit film ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, his abandonment by Yash Chopra, and one of the biggest letdowns of his career-he was passed over for Shashi Kapoor for the male lead in Satyam Shivam Sundaram by Raj Kapoor. Everything Khanna pins his hopes on turns to dust.

Rajesh Khanna’s, films were sold by his name; he easily upstaged the triumvirate — Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor. With films like Dushman,Aradhana,Safar, Aan Milo Sajna , he turned bear- immortal. His 10-minute cameo, including a song, ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’ turned ‘Andaz’ into a roaring hit. He became insufferable. He could snub Amitabh Bachchan more than once; he would refuse to take calls from even Shakti Samanta for whom he had delivered films like ‘Aradhana’ and ‘Amar Prem’. Kaka played God.