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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Legends don't die. But they sometimes fade away. And that's worse than death especially when they've known the kind of super-stardom that Rajesh Khanna experienced between 1969 and 1974. Between Aradhana and Aap Ki Kasam.
I should know. During my school and college days I was a major Khanna fan... watched every film of his at least thrice... loved Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz only because RK seemed to jell so well with him. I was first-hand witness to his stardom. And trust me; in all my years as a film person I've never seen such hysteria for anyone.
There was a time in the early 1970s when virtually every theatre in town screened Rajesh Khanna films. I even remember their names: Kati Patang, Anand, Do Raaste and Haathi Mere Saathi... all jubilee hits, all playing side by side...
And then it was all gone. Mr Khanna lost it all. Super-stardom, family, friends, self-confidence...Today he lives in abject isolation.
There's nothing more heart-breaking than to see your idol with defeat of clay. What do you do with the legends when they are in oblivion?
"The best way to avoid that almost-inevitable heartbreak of disenchantment is to not come face-to-face with your idols. You nurture a certain image of them. And the reality is bound to be far removed from your image. This is why I've chosen not to meet my absolutely idol Lata Mangeshkarji. I'd rather connect with her singing than to meet the person behind the voice," says my friend Sanjay Bhansali.
Do your idols always disappoint you? Not necessarily! As a teenager I was completely besotted with Shabana Azmi... still continue to be! When I met her for the first time in 1986 she was at the peak of her career. I still remember how generous and warm she was, and how tolerant of my nervous volubility. "Aap mujhe bhi kuch bolne denge?" she had chided me with her Mona Lisa smile when I insisted on jabbering incessantly.
Would my idol have fallen off her pedestal if she had been patronizing and arrogant? I've been singularly lucky with the legends. They have invariably turned out to be every bit an embodiment of their mythical image.
I thought I'd never meet Lata Mangeshkar. I thought she could never possibly live up to the reputation and talent that I had grown up with. I remember my first call to her with trembling hands. Fumbling over my words, disbelieving that I was actually speaking to the single-most talented woman God had every created, I spoke to the Nightingale... and never looked back. Over the years I've discovered her to be simple unspoilt and great fun to be with... In our first meeting she had me in splits when she described a vain and self-absorbed actor as an 'I Specialist'.
"Never stop to think about your success. Never get carried away and never take yourself seriously," that's the formulaic mantra of Lataji's uninterrupted superstardom for sixty years. Lataji shares this trait with that other legend Dev Anand.
You can laugh about his failed attempts at filmmaking in recent times. You can sneer at him for continuing to make films long after his prime. But you can't take away from Dev Saab's unique ability to connect with people.
Every time I speak to the legendary Dev Anand he makes me feel ten feet tall with his generous comments. To be able to look beyond your own startling success and to reach out to people as fellow-human-beings rather than a swarm of deifying fans... that's what makes a legend stay that way.
Look at Amitabh Bachchan. Having known him from fairly close quarters I can vouch for this living legend's utter disregard for vanity and self-promotion. He hates flatterers and generally keeps away from people who keep reminding him of how great a celebrity he owns.
"I don't take appellations like 'superstar' and 'icon' seriously at all. I've gone through a lean phase (late 1990s) when producers had stopped knocking on my door. I know I can lose it all in one minute. And I'm prepared for the downslide," says the amazing AB.
I think that's where Rajesh Khanna went wrong. Constantly surrounded by sycophants and yes-men Mr Khanna began believing in his own myth. He took his success so seriously that he forgot it was as temporary as you make it out to be. He was surrounded by people who flattered him out of all objective assessment of his success. The downslide was sudden swift and irreversible. No one wanted to give Rajesh Khanna a second chance, not even Rajesh Khanna.
I didn't want to meet this idol from my adolescence who played such a large hand in being a friend and companion in my formative years when I was confused lonely and disoriented. That's what legends do. They jump out of their pedestals and fill your hearts with sunshine.
Two years ago I had one opportunity to speak to Rajesh Khanna when his publicist called and asked me if I wanted to speak to him. Since the former icon was sitting close by I couldn't say no.
I reluctantly spoke to my one-time idol. "Sir I'm a big fan of yours," I blurted out to the mega-star who rocked Bollywood even before the terms mega-star and Bollywood were invented.
And then, confused and embarrassed I quickly hung up.
Legends are what they are not because of who they are but what they do. Sooner or later the karmic cycle catches up with the best of them. It takes a Lata Mangeshkar or Amitabh Bachchan to defy the cycle of success and failure.