Coastweek -- Everyone
loved Rajesh Khanna the superstar, but very few actually knew
Peter John, a close friend of Rajesh Khanna, followed his
career closely and kept in touch till the very end.
He shares some
interesting insights about the superstar with Patcy N:
I have been
following Rajesh Khanna for 35 years. I used to meet him
during inter-collegiate competitions.
He was from
Mumbai’s K C College and I was from Bhavan’s. I was junior
to him. He and Amjad (Khan) participated in college
came to the movies after winning a talent contest, and 12
producers had to give him a break because that was in the
were known as United Producers and the head was G P Sippy
who later produced Sholay.
others were struggling, walking from studio to studio for
a film role, Rajesh Khanna ‘struggled’ in an Impala (a
foreign-made car and a status symbol in the late 1960s and
Khanna in Raaz.
His first three
films—Aakhri Khat, Raaz and Baharon Ke Sapne—were flops, even
though they were made by directors like Chetan Anand, Narendra
Bedi and Nasir Hussain.
his struggle began, because no producer wanted to touch
him and all the films that were launched were stalled.
eight reels of the film, (director) Shakti Samanta wanted
to change Rajesh Khanna as the lead star because no
distributor was ready to buy a Rajesh Khanna film.
decided against it and completed the film, with Sharmila
Tagore as the heroine, who went on to do 12 films with
There was no
one in the theatre on the first day, first show at 12
o’clock. But by the evening, the theatre was houseful.
From then on
every film was a super hit. There was a time when all the
major theatres in Mumbai were screening just Rajesh Khanna
films. Some films ran for 100 or 75 weeks.
Even a bad
film was a silver jubilee, such was the craze. It was
complete madness. After Rajesh Khanna, not one star has
got such stardom, not even Amitabh Bachchan.
Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Haram.
filmdom at the right moment”, says Rauf Ahmed.
In 1965, the
popularity of the trinity of Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip
Kumar was on the decline. Shammi Kapoor was big but had
started to repeat himself.
was looking for a change and along came Khanna and brought
in his own freshness, which was an amalgamation of the trio
plus a bit of Shammi.
In Andaz, Shammi
and Khanna came together, and the contrast was noticeable.
Khanna’s freshness was appreciated.”
From there, it
was a quick climb to the top—professionally, financially and
socially. It was heady success that could have bred
arrogance in the saintliest of saints.
After becoming a
superstar, Rajesh Khanna started demanding more money—around
Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) per film. He was paid more than
Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar or Raj Kapoor.
Success went to
his head. When he first started throwing tantrums, producers
did not mind. They thought he was a superstar and it was all
Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana.
He started giving
trouble to the same people who had made him. There were early
morning shoots, but for him the day used to begin at 3 pm. He
didn’t care if people had to wait for him on the sets.
He thought Rajesh
Khanna is God and no one dare deny him or question him.
He was a very good
actor. You give him dialogues and he will finish his whole day’s
work in hours. So they couldn’t complain though they were losing
Once the film was
released, all the money was recovered because his films were
hits. This went on for almost 10 years.
I used to follow him
to see what is this madness... why did girls come from all over
India to meet him and stand outside his bungalow for two, three
days just to get a glimpse of him?
He would make them
wait, then finally come to the window and the girls would swoon.
When his car came
out of his bungalow it was stopped by the girls and smeared with
“Today words like
superstar and icon are loosely used. But he truly was a
“And before he got
lost in a whirl of his own caricature, he knew his acting
chops,” says Jitesh Pillai, the editor of Filmfare, the magazine
responsible for introducing Khanna, a middle class boy from
Thakurdwar in Mumbai, to films in 1965.
“The king of
romance, he was quite the Casanova. Girls wrote to him in blood
and he made no bones about being king of the screen and tabloids
— he had the shortest but most mammoth spell as a superstar,”
He started the trend
of wearing jeans or pants and a kurta, a trend followed even
He dated Anju
Mahendru and was going to marry her. She lived with him, but
ultimately, he presented her the bungalow in which she lives
even today. He saw how popular Dimple (Kapadia) was and married
Dimple was a huge
fan of Rajesh Khanna. She was one of those who stood outside his
bungalow. Rajesh Khanna’s career had started dipping and he
thought marriage to Dimple would keep him in the limelight. He
would do anything to be in the limelight.
There was a film
called Majnu which Kamal Amrohi was going to direct.
The mahurat for the
film was very grand. The whole industry was invited and a huge
set was created. Rakhee was the heroine of the film. But it was
After his marriage
to Dimple, his career started going downhill, but he did not
reduce his price or change his attitude.
Rajesh Khanna was a
very good friend of Jaya Bhaduri.
Jaya was madly in
love with a then struggling actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Rajesh Khanna would
openly tell her not to roam around with Amitabh. “Kyun tum is
aadmi ke saath ghumti ho? Tumhara kuch nahi hoga) (why are you
going out with this man. He is not going to amount to much),” he
After Namak Haram,
Rajesh Khanna was so scared of Amitabh Bachchan’s success that
he made his producers sign him for a movie to show that he was
still the bigger actor.
Rajesh Khanna was so
depressed with Amitabh’s rise that he showed suicidal
tendencies. He told me that one day he went to the terrace of
his home and cried bitterly.
He would insult
Amitabh Bachchan. When he and Jaya were working together in
Bawarchi, Amitabh would come to meet Jaya on the sets. Rajesh
Khanna would not even acknowledge Amitabh.
Jaya was very upset
about this and one day she told him, “Ek din dekhna yeh kahan
hoga aur tum kahan hoge (One day you will see where he will be
and where you will be).”
Her words came true.
I was there when
this incident happened at Ranjit Studio. Rajesh Khanna did not
care for anyone.
He changed lines, he
changed dialogues, he chose his scenes—he wanted dying scenes in
every film because he thought that all the films where he died
in the climax were hits.
He wanted to die in
Namak Haram too, but the role demanded that Amitabh should die.
He wanted dramatic deaths. He asked for a death sequence in
Safar and Khamoshi.
He was obsessed with
death because Dilip Kumar had died in his film and become a
legend. In his first big hit, Aradhana, Rajesh Khanna dies in
the first half and that was a hit. So he wanted to die in every
The only director he
was scared of was Hrishikesh Mukherjee with whom he worked on
Anand, Namak Haram and Bawarchi.
Later, he was
invited by Rajiv Gandhi to join politics. He lost his first
election to L K Advani by a narrow margin, but defeated
Shatrughan Sinha in the by-election held after Advani vacated
the New Delhi seat.
He did not know
anything about politics and did not do any work. He would ask
Anand Bakshi to write lines for him and recite those poems at
all his speeches. But he started losing and he failed in
There was no work at
all. Marriage, career, politics, production house... everything
He would come to his
office at 3 pm and look out of the window till 6:30 pm. After
that, he would start drinking till 4 am!
Rajesh Khanna was
wise in his investments though. Even though he was not working,
he had lots of investments. He lived like a king.
Once, the makers of
Bigg Boss called me to fix a meeting with him; they wanted him
in the Bigg Boss house. But he said, “Nahin, nahin, Rajesh
Khanna aise show thodi karega (Rajesh Khanna won’t work in such
I tried to convince
him, but he said no. The Colors (the television company that
produces Bigg Boss) people told me they were willing to pay him
Rs 3.5 crore (Rs 35 million) for every episode he appeared in,
but he said no.
A few days later, he
called me and said he wanted to do the show, but by then Colors
had lost interest.
I met him
two-and-a-half months before his death and asked what had
happened. He told me, “Agar Ghalib daaru peekar mar sakta hain,
toh main kyon nahin? (If the legendary poet Ghalib could die of
excessive drinking, why can’t I).