There have been days when she has sacrificed her daily intake of television soap operas for the sake of this movie. It's not a mean feat. No one else has managed to do it, not even me. My mother, on more than one occasion has refused to take my call because she was in the middle of a serial. So you get it now. It is a big achievement, perhaps Khanna's life's biggest achievement, bigger than becoming India's first superstar.Owing to this strange obsession she had with the movie (and with the star, though she won't admit), I had developed a certain amount of hatred towards it and towards the actor as well. When she told me about girls sending him blood written letters, and about them sleeping with a Rajesh Khanna postcard under their pillows, I branded an entire generation of women lunatic. How could anyone be this mad about a man who carried a paunch, wore clothes which resembled curtains and danced like he was being bitten by ants? I never got the fuss.
While she thought that "Yeh aansun poch dalo Pushpa...I hate tears" was a line which could make any girl blush, I found it cringeworthy. One time, she again sat watching the same film for the 'Nth' time. The very same day, Zee Cinema was playing Sholay and I wanted to watch it. When I tried to change the channel, I was asked to mend my ways and concentrate more on studies rather than watching reruns of same old overrated Dacoit-Cop drama.There were many such days when we bickered and finally fought over Khanna. I hated him. And I had my reasons."Oh come on!" she would say, "he is a fine actor, much better than your Shahrukh Khan, who tries to pass off stammering as acting." Yes, she played dirty and mean, when it came to Khanna.
Having been born to a mother who loved Bollywood almost as much as her children, if not more, it was hard to not get addicted to movies. I grew up watching just too many films. At the age of eight Hariyali aur Raasta for some reason was my favourite movie and not Hum Aapke Hai Kaun! So, I had obviously seen a lot of Khanna movies as well. Aradhana, Haathi Mere Saathi, The Train, Kati Patang, Safar, Anand, Bawarchi, Namak Haram, Amar Prem(of course), Mehbooba, Souten, Agar Tum Na Hote, Avtaar, Thodi Si Bewafai, Swarg( the list could go on), I had seen all, and more than one time.
I don't know why. Or perhaps, I do.
These films were honest entertainers, the music, often given by R D Burman and the songs often sung by Kishor Da, were mellifluous, beautiful and soulful. If Khanna couldn't dance, so couldn't my father and most of the people of his generation, hence it wasn't a sought after quality. After all, for a long period of time Shammi Kapoor was the best dancer in Bollywood (and for some he still is).
A few days back, the magazine that I work for, did a story on Tom Alter. The thespian, like my mother was a Kaka(as Khanna was lovingly called) fan. In the interview he told us that it was after seeing Aradhana, that he decided to make a career in acting, and was thrilled to core, when he finally got his chance to meet his idol. While I brushed it off as just a funny anecdote, my mother was overjoyed. "I always thought that Tom Alter was terrific actor," she said.
While Khanna remained a topic of discussion in our household, he was, for almost a decade or even more, wiped off the nation's collective conscience. Recently while reading an article on Khanna (It read You know Rajesh Khanna, don’t you? If you are a young man or woman reading this, you may have heard of him as Akshay Kumar’s father-in-law or Dimple Kapadia’s husband or Amitabh Bachchan’s one-time co-star.) in the Open magazine I got reminded of an incident which took place aeons back.
A few days back when Khanna appeared in a Havel's fan commercial, he managed to create a spur. I, like many others, was surprised. What had happened to the man? Was he the same Khanna my mother talked about? He looked like a skeleton in a tux. He was laughing at himself and perhaps at people like me, who could never understand him and his charm.“Babu Moshai, mere fans mujhse koyi nahi cheen sakta” says he in the commercial and when I look at my 50 something mother, I know he is not lying.
So today, after I came to know about the actor's demise, I called my mother. I told her I might write something on her and her love for Khanna, and started asking her questions about him. She answered some of them impatiently, and ignored the rest. Finally, I asked her about why Amar Prem of all the films was her favourite movie. She thought for two minutes and said "Amar Prem? That's not my favourite movie. It's Sholay."
Rest in Peace Kaka. You may have gone from the material world, but you continue to live in the hearts and minds of my mother and others like her.
PS: Anand is my most favourite movie of all time. Not Sholay.