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
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 hon
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 hu
Rajesh Khanna’s love affair with death began in his career-making film Aradhana when the airforcepilot Arun perishe
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 Sip
In 1973 Hrishikesh Mukherjee made
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
With the help of directors from the Bimal Roy school of filmmaking like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, AsitSe
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
The same goes for mortality. The death wish cannot be used as an extended tool for artistic impact .