The generation we grew up in, Amitabh Bachchan was the reference point for everything, and so, to believe that there was a star bigger than him sounded nonsensical. I had heard in passing legends about Rajesh Khanna, and his rapid ascent to such dizzying heights of success that he was called the first SUPERSTAR of Indian cinema. Even those who have flippantly followed the history of Indian films must have had their imagination inundated with female fans swooning everywhere Rajesh Khanna went. All these legends, and many more came alive when I picked up Yasser Usman's book, titled Rajesh Khanna - The Untold Story of India's First Superstar.
I met Yasser during the Kumaon Literary Festival, where he was a panelist along with Gautam Chintamani, in a session dedicated to Rajesh Khanna, moderated by Sathya Saran. Owing to an absolute inability to rise early, especially after having willingly succumbed to comforts of a warm quilt in mountain cold, I missed the session. Missing the book was not going to be an option, I decided then.
Here are my thoughts on it.
The book begins on a masala note. This is not your routine linear tale beginning in childhood and maturing along with the character. The prologue piques your interest by depicting a scene which could've easily been picked out of a Bollywood flick. As a reader, you know you are not in the arms of research and regurgitation; but inside a story which will give you much information, and a lot more spice to chew on. So, while the book delineates the spectacle that RK's film career was, it spends a lot more time investigating the habits, inclinations and scandals surrounding the superstar's life.
|The session on Rajesh Khanna at Kumaon Literary Festival.|
The book is divided into neat years of RK's life, yet one wouldn't call it linear. While the career progression is easy to follow and feel sympathy and awe on, the cake is taken by the way details of his personal life are strewn along the book, as a parallel narrative. While RK is indubitably the star, Anju Mahendroo, Dimple Kapadia and Tina Munim also find sufficient space and mention. Without them, the narrative would lose its edge. Good stories carry hints which a reader learns to locate and discern as he dives deeper into it. Which is to say that the author can take the reader along. Since RK's story was full of ups and downs, I could guess in the latter half of the book which swing his destiny would take. A little too predictable, but the drama value kept me hooked on.
The very premise of this biography was prophetic - Superstardom to Super-Loneliness - the pages were nearly screaming this out. We literature students are used to going inter-textual wherever an opportunity arrives - and I kept thinking of Sisyphus as more of RK's life was revealed. And that is the point at which I realised that even highly personalised experiences become universal because in parts, we associate with them. I did too. If someone else's story can make you question the scripting of your own, that is a job well done.
And then I debated - while writing a biography, does an author lose his agency? Which is to say, an author cannot merely be a chronicler - he has to be a creative thinker and writer as well. That is a slightly weaker aspect here. The commentary on RK came exclusively through people who knew him. The role of the author became apparent in a few interrogatives, as an interviewer and chronicler, and that was all.
A man, any man, is a product of his time and circumstances, and hence the contextualization is important. The building up of characters surrounding the central character is necessary - so it is easy to gauge and understand the dynamics of relationships and situations. Anju and Dimple's character were comprehensible, but I probably wanted to understand more people he regularly interacted with. Sub-plots, wherever introduced (like in the case of Amitabh's ascent etc) were fun to read and relate.
I also wanted to see how RK's career and personal emotions were affected when his chaiji passed away, or when Twinkle got married. They would probably have added to the persona and shed some enigma off him. Details pertaining to his family are rather conspicuous by their absence.
It was ironical, incredible, and even kind of cool to see how filmy was the real life of a person who was living and drinking films day in-day out. This is a story told well, simplistically recalled. I had virtually zero idea of who Rajesh Khanna is, beyond Bawarchi, Anand and Amar Prem, but now I will know him for so much more. The generation we grew up in, like I said in the first line, had Amitabh Bachchan as the reference point for everything filmi, and so, to believe that there was a star bigger than him sounded nonsensical - but I know better now.
|Photo - IBNlive.com|
Yasser Usman is an award winning senior journalist and film critic. Want your weekend dollop of everything Bollywood? Connect with him on Twitter - @yasser_aks.