A superstar, his fans, and some hypocrites

On Thursday, as I sat watching non-stop television coverage of the funeral of India’s beloved superstar, I was intrigued. I had no idea that the passing away of Rajesh Khanna would be accorded such importance by TV news channels that gave priority to it over the voting for the presidential elections.

English news channels cancelled their regular programmes and ended up giving a blow-by-blow coverage of Kaka’s final journey. This breathless coverage may have served as an eye-opener for the younger generation and conveyed in some measure the cult status Kaka enjoyed in his heyday, but to those of my generation — a generation that got a front-row view of Rajesh Khanna’s many highs and lows — this almost theatrical display of public mourning by those who did not spare a thought for Kaka when his life was at its lowest ebb smacked of hypocrisy.
Few know of the trials and travails Rajesh Khanna was subjected to in the past 15 years. Those Bollywood personalities who are now paying him public homilies are the very same people who not only distanced themselves from Kaka but also made fun of him. Today, when the cameras roll, they hail him as the “superstar of the century” without any regret about using their own “star power” to deny Kaka work. Films that were coming his way would suddenly vanish at the insistence of these stars, who would pressure the producer or director to ensure that Rajesh Khanna was not cast in a film. In success, people thronged to him to share and celebrate his stardom. In failure, the very same people deemed it fit to leave him alone. More often than not he would be found killing time in his Sarvapriya Vihar flat in Delhi. Even phone calls from him would go unanswered. Rajesh Khanna would often call me and I would try my best to cheer him up. I would go and visit him, too. Every time I met him, I wondered about the unpredictability and irony of life — there was a time when people were willing to risk their lives by throwing themselves in front of Rajesh Khanna’s car to touch him, and now nobody wanted to hold his hand when he needed them the most.
Tax-related issues about his bungalow, Aashirwad, would often cause him anxiety. Despite all the family issues Kaka faced, he was happy with his son-in-law Akshay Kumar. He told me that by buying his bungalow to ensure that the income-tax department got off his back, Akshay had helped him in a big way.
Rajesh Khanna would also share many of his joys and sorrows with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmad Patel, who would often help him. In fact, just two days before his death he had spoken to Mr Patel. I must also mention that many Congress leaders made fun of Rajesh Khanna and tried to ensure that he remained in political wilderness, but the Congress high command never got influenced by this and fielded him as a Congress candidate on four occasions. In the last Gujarat Assembly elections, he was specially included in the party’s election campaign. Many would often spread baseless rumours about Rajesh Khanna not being able to make it on time and waking up only after noon. I remember, when Kaka and I were campaigning in districts around Surat for three days, he would get ready by nine in the morning and would call me up, asking me to hurry so that we did not miss the scheduled meetings. His popularity amongst the masses was just the same even at that time. Huge crowds would assemble in Gujarat to hear him speak at the rallies. In fact, his meeting in the BJP-stronghold Patan, the seat which is contested by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s confidante Anandiben Patel, saw a gathering of over 60,000 people.
I saw Rajesh Khanna for the first time in 1974, in Mumbai’s Filmcity when he was at the peak of his stardom. I have made many friends in the film fraternity since then, but I can vouch that no other filmstar can match Kaka in his looks. When he entered politics I was able to meet him along with Rajiv Gandhi and that’s when our friendship began and later blossomed. In Parliament, Rajesh Khanna got along with other MPs. His humble nature did not allow him to hang around Parliament or the Central Hall in the capacity of a former MP — a privilege that many former MPs exploit to the fullest.
Years ago, Kaka wanted to serve former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao as his adviser on cultural affairs. He often told me that like Jeetendra Prasad, Rao’s political adviser, he too would like to be his cultural adviser. But the Prime Minister never warmed up to that idea. Thereafter, Kaka drifted away from politics and tried to revive his acting career, spending most of his time in Mumbai. But the powers that be in Bollywood put a spoke every time it seemed the wheels were beginning to move.
At the end of the day the one person who truly stood by Rajesh Khanna was Bhupesh Raiseen, an associate Kaka had made from the Indian Youth Congress. For Delhi-based Bhupesh, Kaka was everything. He would serve Kaka with dedication and integrity, both on the political and personal front. That is why those who are now shedding tears for Kaka before the camera seem nothing more than opportunists to me.
Kaka’s journey took him from the peaks of fame to the gallows of ignominy. He traversed this difficult path all by himself without complaining. At a recent award function, he said the following words in his inimitable style, truly capturing the essence of his life: “Izzatein, shohratein, chahatein, ulfatein, koi bhi cheez duniya mein rehti nahin. Aaj main jahan hoon, kal koi aur tha. Yeh bhi ek daur hai, woh bhi ek daur tha (Respect, fame, love and travails are not permanent. Today, I am here, at this place. Yesterday, somebody else was here. This is my time, my era, that was someone’s time, another era).”

The writer is minister of state for parliamentary affairs

Comments

i am not a movie buff, and I

i am not a movie buff, and I haven't seen any films of Rajesh Khanna. All the same, this story caused in me strong feelings of admiration and sympathy for the departed uber-superstar.

It is sad to know that his friends distanced themselves in his lean days. Sadder still, the man went through physical pain and mental anguish in his last days. That's life, isn't it?

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