Whenever we talk of Rajesh Khanna, we cannot but talk of those wonderful melodies that came to pretty much defining him. Yes, those magically memorable songs that he didn’t sing or write or compose music for.
That was the beauty of his greatness. Somebody else worked for it. The only other place where such a thing regularly happens is — allow us to blow our own trumpet — journalism. For instance, the correct spellings, punctuation, grammar you may find here are actually the handiwork of an unknown ‘copyeditor’, while as the nominal author of this piece, I get to encash his salary cheque.
Ha. Ha. I am of course exaggerating. I don’t do anything of that sort. The ‘copyeditor’ himself usually transfers the money to my account.
Getting back to ‘Kaka’, which is what Rajesh Khanna was popularly known as, many people keep asking the question as to how he, a quintessential Hindi star, managed to hold sway over the youngsters of Tamil Nadu in the late 60s and early 70s. Well, without me needing to point it out, the obvious answer is: Anti-Hindi protests. The point is if the students of that era had not bunked their classes to show their displeasure against Hindi, they could not have made it to the theatres and Rajesh Khanna could not have become the legend that he ended up as.
This piece of information may disappoint the protagonists of that anti—Hindi agitation. But I urge them to look at the brighter side of the picture, which is: If they hadn’t endorsed Rajesh Khanna, the Tamil hero they most likely would have catapulted to stardom was — drum roll — Ravichandran. Okay, perish that thought.
It was around the time of Rajesh Khanna’s arrival on the scene that Hindi cinema also started to become much more accessible to Tamil audiences. Personally speaking, Dharam Veer, starring Dharmendra in the lead, was one of the first Hindi films that I remember seeing as a kid. As someone from a small town, and someone with very little exposure to Hindi, I obviously couldn’t understand much of what was happening on the screen. (Much later I was told that had I known Hindi that movie would have made even lesser sense. It was that kind of film). Anyway, if I remember Dharam Veer to this day it is because of the fact that it featured one of the shortest skirts ever seen in a Hindi film (even shorter than the one that Ash wore in Dhoom). And the one sporting the dress with the tantalizing hemline was the sensuous and gorgeous, well, Dharam paaji. That day, I also understood there was reason to call him the ‘loin of Punjab.’
Sholay was another film from around that time. I caught it in its second or third run in our town. Over the years, I have seen the film several times in very many locations. But the beauty of this timeless classic is that it manages, on every occasion, to create in me a sense of surprise, and impels me to raise the same question that it triggered in me the very first time I saw the film as a young boy. The question of course is: How at all did Asrani become a leading comedian in Hindi films?
Also, possibly, Tamils may have actually found Asrani funny because of a technicality: Asrani was not Mehmood. (The uninitiated are requested to look for Mehmood in the Thesaurus, under the heading: Crass and crude, Tamil. In the depiction of.)
Into the 80s, the epochal Ek Duje Ke Liye made history. It’s the celluloid saga that established that love knows no language barrier, especially if it involves a ‘Tambram’ youth, because he will always try to show off his English skills. The Mumbai girl, however, sticks to chaste Hindi, confirming that there is one force even bigger than that of true love —- yes, the fear of Shiv Sena goons.
Soon after Kamal’s entry, Rajni also made it to Bollywood. There was this film, Geraftaar, featuring the two Southern stars and the Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan. One of the highlight scenes of the film is the way Rajni lights up his cigarette. He does it — nothing fancy here — by merely throwing it up and — as a matchbox was not at hand — he opts for the most obvious mode: Firing a bullet at it.
But the point I want to highlight is not about Rajni. It’s about the filmmaker. It’s about how he conveyed the pulsation of the scene:
Shot 1: Cigarette thrown up. Shot 2: Bullet fired in the general direction of upwards. Shot 3: A flaming cigarette in Rajni’s mouth.
It would have been less tacky and more exciting if there had been mere subtitles running on the screen with the explanatory line: ‘The cigarette you see on Rajni’s lip was lit by a bullet fire’.
Anyway, after the 90s, Hindi films stopped being the stuff of ‘other language’ and they became more agreeable and acceptable. And that is how it has remained till today. From Khanna to the Khans, Tamil Nadu has accepted them all with enthusiasm even though in reciprocation we have got much worse — Udit Narayan and Sharukh as a Tamilian in Ra.One, to give two glaring examples.
So today it doesn’t surprise many when they see obituaries (in these parts) more elaborate, more extensive and more evocative for Rajesh Khanna than what were offered for that Tamil actor, whatishisname, Sivaji Ganesan.
But what is there, especially in a situation when the terms to slyly ingratiate others and to like Rajesh Khanna are virtually the same: Kaka pidikaradhu!