This is a tribute to Rajesh Khanna, who passed away on 18 July 2012. This is how he looked in one of my favourite films--Bawarchi--and this is how I want to remember him always. Yes, I was one of the millions charmed by his looks and style. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, and watching Hindi films, one couldn't not be smitten by Rajesh Khanna's charisma. His acting was theatrical and stylish -- his smile, the way he lifted his eyebrows, the tilt of his head, his eyes, and even the intonation of his voice -- all made sure that hearts went aflutter!
Because we did not have television and internet then, we did not see actors in ads and reality shows, nor could we google them and get images and info. The only source were film magazines like Filmfare and Stardust. Actors were therefore beyond reach, which made them somewhat god-like! I think this is the reason millions of girls would die for one look from him, leave alone a smile (me not one of those!). And one could only hope to get a glimpse of him, if at all, on a trip to Bombay or at an airport, or if very lucky, at a shooting somewhere.
Rajesh Khanna influenced hairstyles and clothes like none other. A whole generation sported his hair style, and growing up in a household full of boys, I was witness to this craze. My uncles also wore 'guru shirts' that became very popular because of this actor. He also made kurtas very popular in a not-yet Fab-India'd world.
My mother often said that Rajesh Khanna was only popular because of his youthful charm and that he was no actor. I used to feel let down when she said this and vehemently defended Khanna...he could do no wrong. But as I became exposed to good cinema, I realised what my mother meant. I partly agree with her today, but despite this, Rajesh Khanna will always be special.
If you see movies and admire actors or singers, they become part of your life and generation. You remember seeing the posters; and looking forward to the release of a particular film with your favourite hero. Sometimes you even remember the evening you went to see it; the people you went with, and the effect the film had on you. I remember being very uncomfortable by the fact that Rajesh Khanna died in Anand. Bawarchi was Hrishikesh Mukherjee's classic in which he played an endearing cook who solves problems in a squabbling household. It was a role that was tailormade for him. Another all-time favourite is Amar Prem, with its soulful and philosophical Kishore Kumar numbers.
Like his other fans, I too am distraught by the recent Havell's fan advert. But, having read that a very ill Rajesh Khanna was overjoyed to have been asked to do the ad, I feel it gave him an opportunity to experience a moment of his old fame before he bid goodbye to this world. Let us forget who we saw in that ad, and simply remember the charmer who will go down in the history of Hindi cinema as the 'phenomenon' and the first real superstar.
Thank you, Rajesh Khanna, for smiling the way you did, when I was 15...
PS: I did get a chance to see Rajesh Khanna at the wedding of a VIP (in Hyderabad...most unusual...I don't normally get invited to these). He was in politics then, and still good looking and smart. He wore a maroon kurta and a waist coat...needless to say it was a bucket-list-tick-off moment!