EXCLUSIVE: Rajesh Khanna lived his last year as Anand
‘Soul brother’ and politician friend Bhupesh Raseen reveals rare facets of late superstar Rajesh Khanna on his 79th birth anniversary.
“Izzatein, shohratein, chahatein, ulfatein
Koi bhi cheez duniya mein rehti nahi,
Aaj main hoon jahaan kal koi aur tha
Yeh bhi ek daur hai
Woh bhi ek daur tha…”
The late Rajesh Khanna often recited these lines by Sahir Ludhianvi. They were a hark back to his phenomenal stardom in the early ’70s just as they were a poignant aide-memoire of fugitive fame. As a message for his fans, says close friend Bhupesh Raseen, Rajesh Khanna would add the following lines:
Mujhe iska gham nahin
Ke badal gaya zamana,
Meri zindagi hai tumse
Kahin tum badal na jaana…
Bhupesh Raseen’s 25-year-old relationship with Kakaji Rajesh Khanna was all heart, way beyond motives or manoeuvres. Both Khatris from Amritsar, they met through politics but forged a bond that celebrated the poetry of friendship. “Kakaji and I have shared good times and bad times, the ups and downs. I knew him inside out. In fact, I can claim to be the only one.” The most lingering memory he has of Rajesh Khanna is of the star raising a toast to him humming the lines, Diye jalte hai… badi mushkil se magar duniya mein dost milte hai… The most heartrending moment was when a few days before his demise, Kakaji told him, “Amitabh Bachchan was my reel-life Babumoshai (Anand). You’re my real-life Babumoshai.” In Bhupesh Raseen’s own words…
“Kakaji owed Aradhana to Shammi Kapoor”
Jeetendra and Kakaji were close friends. Sunderlal Nahata and Pothina Dundeshwara Rao wanted to remake the Telugu thriller Gudachar (1966) in Hindi. It was offered to Kakaji after Baharon Ke Sapne (1967). But Kakaji, despite being a newcomer, wasn’t keen. They signed Jeetendra instead. The film was Farz (1967). On the silver jubilee celebration of the superhit, Jeetendra told Kakaji, “Tu toh superstar ban gaya hai. Filmein choddh raha hai!” It was his way of showing concern for his friend. Kakaji left the party, sat on the rocks and cried in regret. But at the crack of dawn, he said to himself, ‘The film was not meant for me Rajesh Khanna’. Few days later, writer Gulshan Nanda told Kakaji that Shakti Samanta had signed Shammi Kapoor for a film. But as the heroine had a double role, he wasn’t sure. He urged Kakaji to hear the story. During the narration an argument ensued between writer Sachin Bhowmik and Shaktida. Consequently, it became a double role for the hero. The film was Aradhana (1969). Kakaji was convinced the film was in keeping with who he was. “Acchi film banate nahi, ban jaati hai!” he always maintained. “Shammiji ka haath tha mujhe superstar banane mein,” Kakaji would say in retrospect.
“Kakaji shot Anand during the lunch break”
Once Gulzar, after an informal evening, told Kakaji that Hrishikesh Mukherjee wanted to meet him regarding a film but was hesitant he being a top hero. Gulzar shared the story in one line, ‘Ek aadmi apni maut se ladh raha hai’. It appealed to Kakaji. The next day at 10 am, Kakaji, usually a late riser, walked across in Bandra to meet Hrishida with Gulzar.
“Aap toh superstar hai. Humari aukat nahin hai aapse milne ki,” said a pleasantly surprised Hrishida. He explained the role poetically saying, “Baarish ki pehli boond jo patton par padhti hai… uss boond ka mitti mein kark ho jaana… main aapko mehsoos kara sakta hoon.” For Kakaji that was a bouncer. He said, “I don’t want to listen to the story. I am doing this film.” Hrishida said he couldn’t afford his fee. Kakaji offered to do it free. But on Hrishida’s insistence that he accept something, Kakaji asked for the Bombay territory.
Kakaji had no dates to spare for two years. But he allotted an hour and a half every day for Anand (1971). During lunch time, he’d leave the set of the film he was shooting for, drive to the Anand set, give his shot and leave. He was shooting for Dushman (1971), when he started getting congratulatory phone calls for Anand. He hadn’t seen the trial of the film. A screening was organised for him at Anju Mahendroo’s father’s theatre. Mumtaz was also present there. They were sobbing towards the end. It then hit him then that he’d indeed done a fab job.
“Mumtaz made him emotional”
The popularity Kakaji enjoyed was unprecedented. Once they were shooting for Dushman on the outskirts of Pune at 2 am. Though it was late in the night, people had perched themselves on trees and roofs, to watch him. The threat of him being mobbed was so great that after pack-up Mumtaz escorted him to safety. When Mumtaz visited an ailing Kakaji in 2012, he turned emotional. After all they had paired in around eight blockbusters. She consoled him saying, ‘Don’t lose heart’. Kaka would say Sholay’s Basanti was perhaps based on Mumtaz, given her chirpy nature. Even when she came home to see Kakaji, she chatted animatedly. Then she paused and asked, “Should I be only talking?” Kakaji joked, “Only if you put a comma or a full stop… can we talk.” Mumatzji is a pure-hearted lady.
“Shunya se shunya tak”
Kamal Haasan shared that while he was an assistant director for a Kakaji film, they went to watch a film in a theatre. Kakaji quietly entered the hall dressed in a white shirt and khakhi pant. But he was recognised by audiences. When he left the theatre, the white shirt had turned pink with lipstick marks. That night when they returned to the hotel room, Kakaji drew the curtains aside, looked outside and said something to the effect, ‘In this huge galaxy, the earth is a small planet. In the earth there are several countries. India is one of them. In India, there are countless handsome guys but I was chosen to be the ‘superstar’. I came from shunya (nothingness) and I will return to shunya.’ That moment spoke of Kakaji’s greatness and humility.
“Kakaji worked magic with Kishoreda, Pancham and Anand Bakshi”
Most of Kakaji’s superhit songs were composed in his car, while Panchamda (R.D.Burman), Anand Bakshi and he drank. Panchamda would play the tune on the car’s dashboard. Kakaji would say, “Rajesh Khanna is the body, the soul is Kishoreda.” Both their careers took off post Aradhana. When Kishoreda sang for Kakaji, the effect was unique. He would sing in a particular pace in keeping with Kakaji’s style. Panchamda and Shakti Samanta wanted Mohammed Rafi to sing a raag-based song for Kakaji in a film. But Kakaji preferred Kishoreda as he suited his persona. He believed there was an actor in Kishoreda’s voice. Kishoreda rehearsed the difficult song for a week, which was then recorded in a single take. The song was the award-winning Mere naina saawan bhadon for Mehbooba (1976).
Kakaji and Bakshi saab got along well too. Once they were sitting for a song writing session. Even after five to six drinks, Bakshi saab couldn’t write the mukhda of a bhajan. He kept scribbling and tearing the pages. Kakaji told him in jest, “Ya to peena chodhh do ya likhna choddh do!” Bakshi saab went to freshen up. He came back and instantly wrote the lines Chalo bulawa aaya hai (Avtaar 1983). An admirer of both, Kakaji would say that Gulzar saab uses ‘khatarnak’ Urdu words while Bakshi saab wrote in the language of the common man.
“Kakaji was an Ismail Durbar fan”
Seene se yeh dil gaya (Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya 2000), composed by Ismail Durbar and sung by Sonu Nigam, was a favourite of Kakaji. He would play the number in the stillness of the night, at around 2 am, on full volume. He loved the variations in Sonu’s take and Ismail bhai’s music. Once when we were at a wedding in Agra, Ismail bhai met Kakaji and told him, ‘I am your fan’. Kakaji said he was his ardent fan too. On a parting note, Kakaji told him softly, “Your interludes may be inspired by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. But stay away from that. Waise hi tu superhit hai!” Kakaji had promised to visit Ismail bhai in Mumbai. But he fell ill. While in hospital, he wanted to fulfil his word to the composer. He insisted on removing the drips, venturing out through the back door to visit Ismail bhai and returning. I said that was not possible. I called Ismail bhai to the hospital instead. “Aapne sar par haath rakh diya, samajhiye aap mere ghar aagaye,” said an emotional Ismail to Kakaji during the meeting.
“Kakaji believed drinks could only be enjoyed in right company”
Kakaji could not quit smoking though he gave up alcohol during the last year of his life. But he’d always order four drinks – two for him and two for me. The moment I finished one peg, he’d push his filled glass towards me and I’d place my empty one on his side as though he had drunk it. Once an industrialist friend in Amritsar invited Kakaji for a party at his farm. He told Kakaji that a driveway full of rose petals would be laid out for his car, ittar and perfumed water would be sprinkled on him and finally in ‘Chingari bhadke style’ he’d be taken in a boat across the lake to the bar on the other side. There he would be served the choicest wines to be enjoyed with some friends. After hearing this dramatic invitation, Kakaji nonchalantly asked who those friends would be. He said he was not interested in the rose petals or the liquor. It was the company that mattered.
“Kakaji was an introvert”
He was like coconut, hard outside soft inside. While he could overlook severe issues, he could get hurt with the slightest thing. He was extremely sentimental. He wouldn’t discard his old Gypsy car saying there were memories associated with it. Imagine how much he could love people, if there was someone to receive it. He never cried in front of anyone. Lekin unke aansoo mere kandhe par gire hai. Once in a sad mood he said, “Agar tu nahi hota…” before turning quiet. When asked whether he felt lonely, his reaction was, “I am not lonely, I am alone.” People didn’t understand him. Being an introvert, he didn’t care to clarify the misperception about him. Kuch toh log kahenge was his rejoinder. He had obliged so many people. But during his downturn they forgot it all. Kakaji’s love for his daughters, Twinkle (Khanna) and Rinke (Khanna) was beinteha (limitless). I have seen him miss them. His eyes would well up just at their thought. He had high regard for Dimpleji (Khanna), Akshay Kumar and Rinke’s husband Sameer Saran.
“Kakaji’s first love was Aashirwad”
He’d say Aashirwad is the place where the first superstar was born. Though Aashirwad, the bungalow, is no longer there, it’s still considered a tourist spot for Mumbai darshan. Kakaji enjoyed having tea on the porch and waving out to the morning walkers there. In his weak moments, Kakaji would go up to the terrace, look wistfully at the sea and smile. He believed sharing a conversation with the sea gave him the answers. On special days like Kakaji’s birth and death anniversary, I go there to pay my respects. At times when I’m disturbed, I sit near the bus stop near Aashirwad or in my car and I can feel his presence.
“He lived his last year as Anand” When he was diagnosed with cancer, Kakaji asked the doctor, “Mera visa kab expire ho raha hai?” The doctor replied, “Jisne visa di hai woh hi bataayega.” Once while in Lilavati Hospital, I saw him looking at the air-conditioning duct lost in thought. I asked him, “Are you scared?” After a long pause, he said, “Zara jaldi ho raha hai. But it’s okay.” There were times when he’d suddenly turn silent. I guess he would be in pain. But he never shared it with anyone. He opted for medicine over chemotherapy. His last wish was to visit his birth place Amritsar, which we did in 2011. “Main apni janmabhoomi ko chumna chahta hoon, aakhri salaam karna chahta hoon,” he said.
He’d play some of his songs on loop during the illness. Like Gila maut se nahi hai mujhe zindagi ne maara (Alag Alag 1985) and Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye (Anand). When Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo makaam (Aap Ki Kasam 1974) would play, he’d turn quiet. He’d say, “I have no regrets in life. If reborn, I want the same friends and the same enemies.”
As per his wishes, he passed away in his mother Chaiji’s room. He took his last breath on 18 July, 2012. According to his wishes, I was part of his last rites, including the asthi immersion. He’d said, “Celebrate Rajesh Khanna, don’t mourn him.” Kakaji had the DNA of a superstar. The final farewell was attended by around nine lakh people including his fans from Surat, Ahmedabad, California, Singapore... It reiterated his dialogue from Anand, “Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi.”