I woke up to more sad news this morning: another Memsaab favorite, Rajesh Khanna, has passed away. It is not a surprise, really; anyone seeing his frail frame over the last months knew that he was very ill. But in typical Rajesh fashion, he kept the facts to himself and his loved ones and let the speculation run rampant. As a latecomer to the phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna, with possibly a slightly more objective view of things (only possibly and slightly), I have always been struck by the frenzy—both negative and positive—around him. Even his appearance recently in an ad for Havells fans brought controversy, with many feeling that he had been mocked without being aware of it. I said it then, and I’ll say it now: I think people, even many of his fans, constantly underrated Kaka’s intelligence, sensitivity and sense of humor. I think he knew very well that the ad was playing on his lost superstardom, and I think he thought it was funny.
With his enormous success came the effects of Tall Poppy Syndrome. People went out of their way to tear him down. Admittedly, he did lose his own perspective at the height of his considerable fame, but who among us can say we know we wouldn’t have? None of us will ever know what it is like to be so universally adored, or so reviled. No wonder he retreated! What I admire about him as I’ve become familiar with him through his films and interviews is that he finally overcame his rather spectacular downfall. In the end he was able to say: I had great fame and success, and partly through my own fault I lost it. He struggled but he persevered, and I believe his love for the craft of acting sustained him through even his worst days. He was never afraid of sharing screen space with actors as powerful as he. Some people say otherwise, but he didn’t NEED to make films during his heyday with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Raaj Kumar, Vinod Khanna; he chose to. And he held his own with them while allowing them to shine too. He was not afraid to try new kinds of roles and films, to risk his image: he was an actor in the true sense of the word.
And boy, he was handsome. He has made my heart melt, made my body want to dance, given me songs to get through the rain, made me cry, made me laugh. Best of all he has given me another sister in the person of Suhan, a die-hard Kaka fan who has escorted me through his career (not always with the desired result on my part!) and who I know is very sad today. He will live on in his films and in the innumerable songs that he helped make immortal. I hope that somewhere, he and Kishore and RD Burman are making music again together.