How Rajesh Khanna Made A  Comeback In 2016


Great stars  never fade away. Every generation finds a new way of celebrating an icon.

So it is with Rajesh Khanna.

Ram Madhvani’s Neerja was about a 23-year old Rajesh Khanna fan who goes to her death thinking dialogues from Khanna’s most famous films. In one of the film’s most absurdly poignant scenes a terrorist orders Neerja to sing a song.Fighting back her fear and disgust Sonam Kapoor—who became a Rajesh Khanna fan while shooting for the film—sings Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu.

In an earlier sequence when Neerja’s boyfriend is accompanying her to the airport he sings the same song for her, tapping the tune out on the steering wheel.

 But here’s the thing. The irony of this Aradhana chartbuster is that when Rajesh Khanna sang his way into millions of hearts by lip-syncing  this Kishore Kumar number composed by  R D Burman(credited in Aradhana to RD’s dad S D Burman) his ladylove Sharmila Tagore was not even there to surrender to the sonorous serenade. Sharmila shot separately on a train compartment constructed on a set while Khanna drove on an open jeep with pal Sujit Kumar on the curvaceous roads of Darjeeling singing to an imaginary sapnon ki rani .

Using that song as a melodic leitmotif for the lovers in Neerja separated forever by terrorism makesMere sapnon ki rani the ultimate counter-romantic song of Indian cinema.

 Rajesh Khanna loved his women passionately in all his films. But he lost them to death

The story of the airhostess who gave up  her life two days before her 23rd birthday to save hundreds of hijacked passengers got  its thematic threads from a line that Rajesh Khanna said in one of his best films Anand : Zindagi badi honi chahiye lambi nahin.

 Rajesh Khanna repeatedly played characters who went bravely and defiantly to their death.In another of his celebrated roles in Safar , he sang in his playback Kishore Kumar’s voice, Zindagi sebahot pyar humnein kiya maut se be bhi mohabbat nibhayenge hum/Rote-rote zamanein mein aayemagar hanste hanste zamanein se jayenge hum…

Rajesh Khanna’s love affair with death began in his career-making film Aradhana when the airforcepilot Arun perishes leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend to face stigma and ostracization. Khannaromanced the most beautiful women on screen but went to bed with death.

After Aradhana he made a career out of playing doomed characters.A year later in Asit Sen’s underrated masterpiece Safar played an artiste dying of cancer.This was the second fim that proved how comfortable the actor was doing death scenes.He virtually relished the moments when his character gasped his last.

 During the same year as Safar he again smiled his way through cancer into death in Anand, immortalizing his career by taking on death headlong

After the trilogy of great tragic roles Rajesh Khanna did the spectacularly successful guestappeareance in Ramesh Sippy’s Andaz where he dies singing Zindagi ek safar hai suhana yahan kalkya ho kissne jaana.

In 1973 Hrishikesh Mukherjee made Namak Haraam the Indian version of Becket. Neither AmitabhBachchan nor Rajesh Khanna was told who would get the ‘privilege’ of dying at the end. On the day when the death scene was to be shot both the actors arrived on the set to see Khanna’s garlanded photograph.

The biggest superstar of Indian cinema died yet again.

In the 1974 marital drama Aap Ki Kasam an entire mythology of mortality is woven around the songZindai ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo maqaam who phir nahin aate. The penitent husband travels from place to place seeking atonement for his mistaken belief that his wife was unfaithful. He dies at his daughter’s wedding venue.The entire episode echoed Ashok Kumar’s journey and death inHrishikesh Mukherjee’s Aashirwad.

With the help of  directors from the Bimal Roy school of filmmaking like   Hrishikesh Mukherjee, AsitSen, Shakti Samanta and Raj Kosla, Rakesh Khanna repeatedly created the persona of the tragically domed hero.A post-modernist Devdas.

In 1974’s blockbuster Roti Khanna is gunned down at the Indo-Pak border as tries to cross with his girlfriend Mumtaz. By this point in his career Khanna was unnecessarily imposing mortality on his characters.In several of his post-superstardom films like Prem Nagar, Amar Deep, Avatar, and Dardwe can see Rajesh Khanna strugging to bring his characters to a tragic closure merely out of habit.

 He had forgotten Anand’s philosophy. Zindagi badi honi chahiye lambi nahin.

The same goes for mortality. The death wish cannot be used as an extended tool for artistic impact .

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