By Jyothi Venkatesh
I really miss the eccentric Raaj Kumar. Two days ago, it was his death anniversary. Though I was not at all a victim to the eccentricity of Kishore Kumar, because I was very new as a reporter when I used to see Kishore Kumar singing at the Famous Recording t Studio at Tardeo and did not even dare to ask him for an interview, I not only had the privilege of meeting Raaj Kumar off and on but also interviewing him. Though Raaj Kumar was impressive as a stylish actor, he also had the ‘audacity’ to ‘insult, people at random, though he did not mean ill of any one.’
Late Prakash Mehra was a victim of Raaj Kumar. Victim in the sense that when Prakash Mehra approached Raaj Kumar to play the lead in his songless action venture Zanjeer before he had zeroed in on the new lean and lanky flop actor Amitabh Bachchan, Raaj Kumar just had one look at him and told him that since he did not like the oil which he had applied on his hair, he would not like to act with him. It was just an excuse he invented to not sign his film because it had no songs.
I was the victim of Raaj Kumar at the wedding of Shatrughan Sinha, who is better known as the father of actress Sonakshi Sinha to the Gen X today. The wedding reception was at the Taj way back in 1980, when I had put in only eight years in the field of journalism and Shatrughan Snha was good enough to invite me to his wedding reception. After exchanging pleasantries with several actors who had come to wish Shatrughan Sinha, including Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra , Sunil Dutt and Jeetendra, when I came face to face with Raaj Kumar, I could not resist the temptation of saying Hi to him.
I was to say the truth a wee bit flabbergasted when Raaj Kumar looked at me from top to toe and asked me “Do I know you? Who are you?” Without getting scared, I told him I was a journalist. When Raaj asked me which press did I belong to, whether yellow, white or blue press, I told him that I was not from the yellow, blue, green or white press, but from the free press. It was not a smart answer on my part but I had just blurted out that since I was writing for the Free Press Journal. Raaj was impressed by my frank and fearless answer and patted me on my back and said “I like you, young Man.”
The next meeting I had with the eccentric Kumar was at the Hotel Sun N Sand where there was a party to celebrate the completion a film starring not Raaj Kumar but another actor and Raaj had put in a belated appearance. All of a sudden, when Raaj Kumar entered the dance floor and started drawing the then reporter from Filmfare- the young slim and trim Indu Mirani towards him for a dance, Indu who was not at all glamour struck thwarted his attempt and shouted at me who was a bystander and yelled at me for not rescuing her from the clutches of Raaj Kumar. I went up to Raaj Kumar and gently rescued the damsel from him. This was in the days of yore 40 years ago when there was no #MeToo lurking around. And as far as the media was concerned, we were just a handful of print journalists and at most one or two still photographers around at any party at any given time.
I interviewed Raaj Kumar at last when I spotted him sitting alone at the mahurat of Surya which was produced by my friend Pranlal Mehta. He was in a really good mood and instantly let me interview him and spoke at length about various issues and topics in the film industry. I was overjoyed when the interview appeared in a Malaysian monthly called Movieland. When the late PR person Mohan Iyer invited me to cover the shooting of a film of Raaj Kumar in which Raaj Kumar was playing the lead role, I carried along with me the copy of the magazine to give it to the actor. I met him at the shoot and even had lunch with him after I gave him the copy. Raaj Kumar asked me to leave the issue with him so that he can read the interview and give me his feedback in the evening.
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However, in the evening when I was about to enter the floor in Madras, Mohan Iyer rushed towards me and asked me not to step into the floors and worse still avoid meeting Raaj Kumar. When Pranlal Mehta came and told me to go back and stay in my hotel room, I told him that I had given the issue to Raaj Kumar who had promised to give me the feedback for my interview with him. I went to the sets inside and Raaj Kumar lambasted me, “How dare you write in the interview that I told you that I consider producers like beggars with begging bowls and I decide which bowl to put my alms, as you have attributed to me? I have never given you any interview and the only interview I have given is to Khalid Mohammad for Mid-day.
I told Raaj that Khalid Mohammad was employed with Filmfare and would not interview him for Midday as Khalid Ansari was the publisher of Midday and told him that I had interviewed him on the sets of Surya at Film City.”Before things could get ugly, it was Moushumi who rushed in and told me that there was a call waiting for me outside the floors of the studio. When I wondered who on earth would call me there, Moushumi whispered to me that it was her idea to save Pranlal Mehta and me from the embarrassment that Raaj was causing both of us.
Raaj Kumar used to wear the most expensive wigs of which he had many and had the habit of insulting even the best of writers, by tearing mercilessly the pages on which they wrote dialogues for him and then wrote his own dialogues. Moushumi also narrated to me in private an incident when Raaj misbehaved with her on the sets of Chambal Ki Kasam during the song shooting when they were under the water and when Raaj persisted, she whispered in his ears that if he repeated his faux pas the next time, she will just throw away his wig outside the pool and Raaj never ever irritated her after that.
Do you know that Raaj Kumar had asked his family not to inform anyone in the industry about his death due to cancer of the throat at the age of just 69 and asked them to just wrap up his body in a white sheet and take his body to the Shivaji Park electric crematorium and before the industry could know the bitter truth and tried rushing to his house at Worli, he was already a heap of ashes. If only Raaj Kumar were alive today, he would have turned 93.