By Jyothi Venkatesh
While I am now sitting and penning my memories with the actor who died this day in 2012, I just cannot believe that the only superstar to leave indelible imprint in the history of Bollywood who was loved to such an extent that nubile nymphets vied with one another to write love letters in blood in front of his bungalow Aashirwad in Carter Road-Rajesh Khanna is no more.
Very few stars have I come across in my professional as well as personal life as loveable as Rajesh Khanna was. Though he has been hailed as an extremely egoistical star, Rajesh Khanna used to make it a point to stand by a friend, if he felt that he was genuine. It is true that I met Rajesh Khanna when I was just his crazy fan at the Shanmukhananda Hall at a Filmfare award function, when he did not even bother to sign an autograph for me as he was more interested in signing it for the young girls who literally chased him and left me behind. I was just 20 then and he was the super star who wore his Guru shirt, as his fashion statement.
I became a freelance film journalist and when I had an assignment to interview the star Rajesh Khanna, I grabbed it and rushed to Ranjit Studio which was right in my alley at Dadar as I was staying at Worli. I remember when I introduced myself to him easily as a journalist as there was no secretary, manager or bodyguards to screen or filter me from him in that era. I was in seventh heaven literally when Rajesh sweetly asked me to join him for lunch the next day and interview him and I rushed to Ranjit Studio half an hour before the scheduled time to have lunch with Kaka over the interview.
Only disappointment awaited a cub reporter then like I was, as I knocked at the door of his makeup room after entering Ranjit Studios. There was no vanity van in those days and every star had a dilapidated ill painted makeup room with A/C at his disposal. Rajesh Khanna’s errand boy opened the door. Rajesh Khanna , who was closeted with his chamchas inside, as was his wont, asked his Man Friday to make me to wait for sometime outside. Though hungry, I waited for two hours. At 4 pm, the director came to take him to the sets. On seeing me waiting for him outside, Rajesh politely excused himself, and requested me to come the next day.
This continued the next day and it was only on the third day that I managed to get an interview of his, after he finished his lunch and I waited outside ‘hungrily’. Rajesh Khanna’s sweet smile made me forget my anger as well as hunger and I became a star journalist overnight when the interview appeared in a leading newspaper and since then I have not looked back. This was long before the lean and lanky angry young man Amitabh Bachchan had zoomed ahead of Rajesh Khanna and stole the limelight as well as the thunder away from him.
A decade after, I remember I was in Ooty to cover the shooting of Dil E Nadaan at the invitation of PR person Rajaram Pathak . When director R. Sridhar was shooting during the day, Shatrughan Sinha quietly invited me to his room in Hotel Fernhill after pack up for dinner but when Rajesh Khanna asked me to join him for drinks and dinner after the pack up was announced in the evening was offended when I told him that I had to go to Shatru’s room since he had asked me even before Rajesh had asked me to join him for dinner. The same evening when I went to Shatru’s room, Shatru told me that Rajesh was upset that I did not go to his room and hence took me with him to Rajesh Khanna’s room where I politely declined to have scotch and asked him to fetch me chilled beer.
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Rajesh Khanna admonished me and said that I’d die of cold if I had chilled beer and asked me to have scotch. It was my first attempt at scotch. When I told him that the room service would be over by 10 pm and told him to order for dinner, Rajesh told me that though it was Ooty , even at 2 am he was in a position to order as he was ‘Rajesh Khanna’ and get ‘garma garam’ food. The director Sridhar, who, incidentally, was the star maker who had introduced Jayalalitha in his Tamil film Vennira Aadai, Shatru , the PRO, the late R.R. Pathak and I had our late night dinner, believe it or not, at 3 am.
When he was at his peak in the early 80’s, I had flown down to Chennai to cover producer Chinnappa Devar’s film’s shooting. Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Tima Munim were acting in that film. When I asked him if I could do his interview, he said he had already promised an interview to a female colleague who was working with Filmfare and sitting on the sets with him, I was very upset. The female colleague came back after three hours of ‘waiting impatiently’ for Kaka , as Rajesh Khanna used to be addressed as , fretting and fuming as Rajesh Khanna , she said, made her wait outside his Suite and did not invite her in.
In the evening, when I did not bother to ask Rajesh for an interview as I was angry with him and was sitting with Shatru, Rajesh called me to join him for dinner and do his interview. During the dinner, when I asked him why he did not give an interview to my female colleague, he retorted, ‘Why should I? This girl writes nasty things about me and also misquotes me and creates embarrassment for me with my co-actors.’ This female journalist (it was not my late guru Devyani Chaubal with whom Rajesh Khanna had a love – hate relationship) also did not bother to interview Shatru as she was busy trailing Rajesh Khanna. Since she was on bad terms with Tina, she had to come back to Bombay without getting any interview from all the three- Rajesh Khanna, Tina Munim and Shatrughan Sinha.
When we came back from Chennai., the then Editor of Filmfare , the late K.N. Subramaniam came personally to my house at Worli early in the morning as he was also staying in the same locality and asked me if I could type out the interviews of Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Tina Munim for him. Remember in those good old days, there was no luxury of Dictaphones or computers and we had to toil hard to note down during the interviews and type out the interviews out on a typewriter painstakingly. When the issue of Filmfare hit the next week, I automatically became the superstar of journalism, as though I was just a freelancer, as not just one or two but three interviews of mine had appeared in Filmfare , that too with my byline and my ‘going rate’ shot up as a freelance film journalist.
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Not many know how humble the so-called arrogant super star Rajesh Khanna had become over the years. When he was down and out, he used to call me to his office at Khar once in a while to have a couple of drinks (he was very fond of only Black Label) as he was really very fond of me and had even made me the In Charge of the Press Cell when the entire film industry went on a one month long strike, way back in 1986.
One day in the evening, when only Rajesh Khana and I were sitting and having our drinks together, looking at the landline in those days when the mobile had not yet arrived, Rajesh told me, ‘I used to ask my Man Friday Prashant to tell the caller that Kaka is having a bath and call up again just to feign importance and attend to the call only when the caller called up four times. God punished me and a time came when I used to stand next to the landline phone hoping that I would get a call and as and when one day a call came, I picked the receiver and said ‘Kaka here and came the reply’ Kaun Kaka? Wrong Number’. That was when I realized that I was not GOD but DOG.’
Rajesh Khanna was one star who knew his humble roots in Girgaum in Mumbai and did not forget to be down to earth even after he emerged as a super star. Whenever I used to go to his terrace office in Khar where he used to stay in the 70’s, one thing he never used to forget is to ask his driver to stay back at night in order to drive me or for that matter any journalist who he was hosting any evening to drop him or her to his or her house wherever he or she used to stay, whether in Nariman Point or Chembur. And he never used to let us stop drinking but continue to be a good host till at least 3 am and let anyone leave his house only after having a sumptuous meal in the wee hours of the morning.
I still remember how Rajesh Khanna insisted on me sitting next to him in a secluded corner at a party to give him company over drinks and asked the PR to not let any other journalist present at the party to even come near to talk to him. I used to sit with him and even offer to make his whisky by adding his large pegs with half soda and half water and treating him with kid’s gloves, making him feel that he was still the reigning super star. Once when a so called chamcha of his sat down next to him and offered to make Rajesh Khanna’s whisky by adding only soda without water to whiskey, Rajesh Khanna got so enraged with him that he shouted at him to leave the table.
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Yet , on another occasion, when Kaka and I used to sit in a banquet hall in a special corner with our drinks, a male journalist from Mumbai Mirror, who has now become a casting director, walked in and without asking Kaka’s permission joined our table only to be told “If you do not mind, please leave our table”. After he left the table angry with me for not convincing Kaka to let him remain with us, in walked a pretty young starlet who was displaying her ample cleavage and sat down with us. Though Kaka was patient for some time, when she started giving him lectures on how she felt that he should control his spree of drinking, Kaka got irritated and asked her to leave after both of them had a verbal showdown, with me just as an embarrassed spectator.
When I reached home that night, Kaka rang me up to tell me not to write about his fracas with the journalist or for that matter this starlet because he did not want any controversy at all. Respecting his request, I did not carry any controversial story in my column but though Kaka was happy with me, the starlet and the journalist stopped liking me.
I miss Kaka very badly. He was fun and used to love me like a younger brother. There was no superstar like him and there will be no more superstars like him. If I am a journalist even today after 49 years of being in this field, all I can say proudly is that I owe it to the one and only superstar Rajesh Khanna.