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Raaj Kumar: The Power of Gravelly Rhetoric

 Coastweek -- “Aapke paon dekhe. Bahut haseen hain. Inhe zameen pe mat utariyega. Maile ho jaayenge (Your feet are beautiful. Do not let them on the floor. They will get soiled).” - Pakeezah “Jinke ghar sheeshey ke hote hain woh doosron ke ghar pe patthar nahin phenka karte (Those whose houses are made of glass don’t throw stones).” - Waqt Crowd-pleasing, whistle-evoking lines. That was Raaj Kumar’s gravel-voiced display of vocal pyrotechnics, writes DINESH RAHEJA.

He defined aplomb.

He inspired writers to pen bombastic lines; he also enthused them to conceive larger-than-life characters to suit his image as a personality suffused with wit and sarcasm.

He was born as Kulbhushan Pandit in Panjgur, Balochistan, Pakistan to a Kashmiri Pandit family.

In the late 1940s he moved to Mumbai, India where he became Sub-inspector of the Mumbai Police.

Raaj Kumar made a quiet entry into Hindi films with Rangeeli opposite Rehana in 1952.

For the first five years of his career, the one-time police inspector with antecedents from Baluchistan in Pakistan relied on grit to keep him in the public eye.

After some obscure films like Aabshar opposite Nimmi, Ghamand, co-starring Shyama, and Lakhon Mein Ek with Asha Mathur, he struck gold with Mother India in 1957.

 

Coastweek -- Raaj Kumar was born as Kulbhushan Pandit in Panjgur, Balochistan, Pakistan to a Kashmiri Pandit family.

In this Mehboob Khan classic, Raaj Kumar played Nargis’s husband who loses his hands in an accident.

Anguished at his inability to provide for his family, he slips out of his house, never to be seen again.

After the release of Mother India, Raaj Kumar was an overnight superstar sensation.

One evening he and his friend director Prakash Aurora and his wife were out for an evening drive.

Raaj Kumar pulled up to a local paan store to eat a paan.

While standing there with his friend, a few men gathered around and started to heckle Raaj Kumar and bother him.

Finally Raaj Kumar could not take it anymore and major fight broke out.

At the end of it, one man lay dead and Raaj Kumar was arrested.

The trial lasted a year and Raaj Kumar was acquitted of all charges.

Raaj Kumar’s police background was said to be one of the deciding factors that helped Raaj Kumar.

After Mother India, Raaj Kumar was flooded with roles.

He didn’t get the best, but carved his niche.

In Paigham (1959), he played Dilip Kumar’s elder brother and Pandhari Bai’s husband with a marriageable daughter to boot.

As the exploited but obedient mill worker who rebels only at the end, he stood his ground.

As he did in the Shammi Kapoor-Mala Sinha starrer Ujala (1959), where he played a grey character wooed by Kum Kum.

In an age when actors would go to lengths to play the lead, Kumar chose roles according to the quality of his character.

In a later interview, he said, “I’ve never done roles I disliked. Every role that I’ve performed has been my choice. I only select what I like.”

 

Coastweek -- Raaj Kumar and Meena Kumari in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960).

For a while, Ujala established his position in Hindi cinema.

He ranked below the trinity of Dev Anand-Dilip Kumar-Raj Kapoor, but was far more stylish to be put down as a character actor in the Balraj Sahni mould.

Ardhangini (1959) and Shararat (1959), his first two ventures with Meena Kumari, gave no indication that the pair would go on to make memorable films together.

In the early 1960s, Raaj Kumar made a popular pair with Meena Kumari (Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi, Dil Ek Mandir, Kaajal).

In Sridhar’s Dil Ek Mandir (1963), Raaj Kumar played the role of a cancer patient for which he won the Filmfare Award in the Best supporting actor category.

Raaj Kumar had to wait for B R Chopra’s Waqt (1965), to join the topmost echelon of stars.

In this multi-starrer directed by Yash Chopra, Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar vied for Sadhana’s affections.

Sunil won Sadhana’s love, but Raaj Kumar got the limelight with his dialogue delivery.

Generations later, people still remember the lines ‘Jaani, ye chaaku hai, bacchon ke khelne ki cheez nahi’.

Waqt also established Kumar’s screen presence.

Sunil Dutt clashed with Raaj Kumar once again in another B R Chopra film, Humraaz.

Dutt had an audience-friendly role as the bachelor who offers to marry the frail widow, Vimi.

But Raaj Kumar stole the show as Vimi’s husband mistakenly presumed to be dead.

This despite the fact that for a sizeable portion of the film, all one saw of Raaj Kumar was his shoes!

Next, he stole the thunder from Manoj Kumar in the popular song, Tujhko pukare mera pyaar in Neel Kamal.

 

Coastweek -- Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Sadhana in the movie Waqt (1965).

Interestingly, his character had some parallels with Humraaz.

Playing a tortured spirit pining for his love Waheeda Rehman (reincarnated and married to Manoj Kumar), Raaj Kumar was theatricality personified.

Difficult to classify as hero or strong character actor in many 1960s’ films, Raaj Kumar enjoyed a romantic renaissance on screen in his third decade in films in the seventies.

He married Jennifer, an Anglo-Indian, whom he met on a flight where she was the air hostess. She later changed her name to Gayatri as per Hindu customs.

A year after Heer Ranjha, Pakeezah and Lal Patthar were released within weeks of each other.

Pakeezah was designed as Kamal Amrohi’s paean to Meena Kumari.

Still, he made his mark in the wish-fulfillment scene when he takes Meena Kumari before his infuriated father while the rest of the family quake in their shoes.

While Raaj Kumar was a natural at his craft, it was his life outside the craft that fascinated people.

Well-read, a florid orator, and a gentleman, Raaj Kumar was often known for his spontaneous, eccentric behaviour.

As the actor himself said in a Stardust magazine interview in 1972, “I believe in things I do, I do things I believe in.”

The statement captured the confidence and measure of the man. A legendary wit.

Scripts in Bollywood, India’s film capital city of Bombay, were specially written for him, while his reclusive and eccentricity created an aura of mystery, making him even more enigmatic and sought after.

Unlike other Bollywood stars, Kumar kept mostly to himself and a small group of loyal friends and little, if anything, of his personal life was featured in glitzy film magazines.

Most of what did appear was either conjecture or had to be withdrawn.

 

Coastweek -- A scene which is both deeply romantic and accurately captures the manners and sensibilities of the era with Raaj Kumar and Meena Kumari in the film Pakeezah.

Though hugely successful and rich he was considered an eccentric in Bollywood because he drove the same ancient Plymouth car for 40 years and retained the same driver, hairdresser and tailor for an equal period.

A keen Urdu poet, Kumar was a witty conversationalist and a moderately good golfer.

An actor par excellence, Raaj has been stereotyped to memory as an actor who hammed it up in larger than life characters.

But his roles reveal an eclectic mix of craft and style in a personality that is increasingly rare in a publicity hounded industry.

In Lal Patthar, he played the bordering-on-insanity zamindar (land lord) who, instigated by his jealous mistress (Hema Malini), suspects his wife’s (Rakhee’s) fidelity.

Possibly his best performance, Raaj Kumar played his character with a hint of manic delirium.

He admitted later that some of his character’s eccentric traits were similar to his own.

His eccentricities are part of film lore now.

He wore bright brocade outfits at public gatherings.

His fashion remains a topic of great mirth for the internet generation.

From purple velvet suits to collar bands, the actor sported a wide variety of styles that can only be defined as unique.

However, he could say, as the designer Coco Chanel did, ‘I don’t do fashion, I am fashion.’

He addressed everyone as Jaani (beloved); refused Zanjeer because he did not like the director Prakash Mehra’s face; suggested a career in films to “the attractive lady” Zeenat Aman when she was at the peak of her career.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Raaj Kumar’s assignments dwindled.

 

Coastweek -- Raaj Kumar and Dilip Kumar together in 1991 with Saudagar.

Known for his choosiness, he consented to do only those films offering him the pivotal role.

He worked with new directors like Esmayeel Shroff (Bulandi, Police Public) and Mehul Kumar (Marte Dum Tak, Tirangaa), showcasing his flair for rhetoric.

Veteran Prakash Mehra’s last-ditch effort to work with Raaj Kumar resulted in two resounding flops: Muqaddar Ka Badshah (1987) and Mohabbat Ke Dushman (1988).

Subhash Ghai then braved bringing ageing lions Raaj Kumar and Dilip Kumar together in Saudagar and the crowds roared in approval.

However, it is well-known that during the shooting of the film the tow actors never talked to each other except for their scenes.

From his screen debut in Rangili in 1952 to his last film God & Gun in 1995, he played memorable characters in 60-odd films.

A throat disease reduced Raaj Kumar’s voice to a whisper.

Just when rumours flew that the illness was fatal, Raaj Kumar’s golden voice was consigned to silence on 3 July 1996 after a tiring battle with throat cancer.

Even in his last days, he remained as he was.

Resolute and adamant.

When director Subhash Ghai paid the ailing actor a visit, Raaj Kumar is said to have remarked, “Raaj Kumar ko bimaari hogi toh badi hogi na, koi zukaam se thodi na marega Raaj Kumar. [Even Raaj Kumar’s sickness has to be grand; he isn’t one to die of a common cold.]”

Raaj Kumar may not have always played the romantic lead, but he was that rare star who was a draw right to the end.

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