The man who loved women

During the 1960s-70s, besides superstar Raj Kapoor, he was the other RK. Today, he is remembered fondly, essentially by the 40-60-plus...

The evening was going, going, gone. It was 7 pm, 8 pm, then 8.30 pm… then… The phone remained stubbornly silent. He had promised to call, confirm the appointment, pukka pukka, no last-minute cancellation. I was getting as impatient as someone waiting for a long-delayed flight to a much-dreamt-about destination.
Or Raj Khosla, the man who raised the bar of the director. Schooled in the Guru Dutt and Navketan styles, he evolved his own identity. Hoardings of his films would carry an insignia of the director’s chair and his hand-written signature.

During the 1960s-70s, besides the incomparable, superstar Raj Kapoor, he was the other RK. Today, he is remembered fondly, essentially by the mid-generation, in the 40-60-plus age bracket. Every Khoslaite has a personal favourite. Manic memorabilia collector S.M.M. Ausaja goes into raptures over the black-and-white Bambai Ka Babu in which Dev Anand romanced Suchitra Sen; it boomeranged at the cash counters because it touched on the taboo topic of incest.
Music lovers rewind to the melody-suffused songs he extracted from O.P. Nayyar in (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina) and Madan Mohan (Woh Kaun Thi?). As for yours sincerely, I’m truly convinced that Mera Gaon Mera Desh is an outstanding, undervalued precursor to Sholay. In it Laxmi Chhaya stole the thunder from its leading lady Asha Parekh. Chhaya twirled to Maar diya jaaye ya chhod diya jaaye a lyric that’s so simple and yet Rampuri knife-sharp.
Superstar director Raj Khosla actually looked like one: tall, ramrod straight, with that thin bristly Errol Flynn moustache. A neat dresser, hair pomaded, combed and parted. So there I was hell-bent on doing this analytical series on directors — a trifle heavy for the fanzine approach of Filmfare. Still, as long as I could make the copy readable, the editor was okay about apportioning me six to eight pages. Great, after chewing the brains of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Anil Ganguly (Mr Kora Kagaz), Prakash Mehra, J. Om Prakash, Raj Khosla was next on my hit list. Editor sir said, don’t even try. He’d say yes, mean NO.
Why, why? Because there were some dark areas in the director’s life, he didn’t want to be asked about that. Editor — Bikram Singh — was his long-time friend from Dehradun. The director called editor by his pet name “Folton”, the ed called him “Impossible”. And so there I was, still waiting for that expressionless, black desk phone to ring. It will ring, it will not, it will ring… dammit, forget it. Newsroom buddies suggested a beer at the Press Club to drown my persistence. Then it rang, a raspy voice announcing, “No interview please. I have another evening engagement.”
“So what? I’m coming with you to this engagement.”
“What!”
“You heard me. You’ve already cancelled thrice over… this time, no way.”
“Sorry, I will explain to Folton.”
“You won’t. And sir, I won’t ask you any questions about your private life. I’m just crazy about Mera Gaon Mera Desh…”
Silence.
“I also love CID, Kala Pani, Woh Kaun Thi… didn’t like Anita so much… Do Badan, Do Raaste… should I sing you Bindiya chamkegi?”
Silence.
“Or Yeh reshmi zulfein… should I?”
“Nahin baba nahin,” he laughed. A pause, and then he said benignly, “Bachche, come, aa jaao. Aaj tumhen meri duniya dikhata hoon.”
Zoom over to the bar at the Juhu Centaur Hotel, utterly classy then. Raj saab stood up courteously to usher me into a chair between him and a pleasant-natured woman in a blue, sequined sari. It was said that he was in love with her. That he felt guilty about his ailing daughter, that his marriage was rocky, that he drank too much because of such fissures in his personal life. Over Scotch, he told me details about what was eating him up. I didn’t have to ask any questions, he told me his story, unpunctuated. The woman with him didn’t flinch, she let him speak. Unaccustomed to Scotch (neat!), I was flying.
Aware that I wasn’t getting my “serious, analytical” interview, I rounded off with film-related questions. He answered them, too, getting particularly sentimental about Sadhana. “Now that’s a woman. God must have created her with special care,” he sighed. The woman smiled, “Raj-ji… he’s mad about his heroines, falls in love with all of them.” Not surprisingly, his women characters were infallibly steel strong. He wept a bit, then, recalling the memory of his mother.
The interview got its eight-page spread. Folton shook his head, “Don’t know how you did it.” Neither did I. Khosla saab had said it all, without a prod.
I met the master director once again at Folton’s house, his valet was carrying an ice-box, Scotch, and the only crystal glass he drank from. “You are dangerous,” he chuckled. Editor and I watched him drink through the afternoon. Again, his eyes moistened, he left abruptly, saying that he needed a nap.
His oeuvre fluctuated. The Rajesh Khanna-Mumtaz Prem Kahani was disappointingly turgid. His Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki saw him at the peak of form. But his heart was breaking. During the shoot of his last film Dostana — Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Shatrughan Sinha — trade types whispered that Raj Khosla wasn’t quite there.
A director who had narrated terrific stories, could no longer be the raconteur he was.
Raj Khosla died at the age of 66 in 1991. And no one even asked me to write his obituary.

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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