RAJESH KHANNA : ECHOES OF AN ERA.
Chapter 1 : Princely Surroundings.
I was born to my parents after eighteen years of marriage.
After three daughters, they were very keen on a son and my
mother, I am told, organised a special havan for this. No
wonder then that I was an exceptionally pampered child. Those
days they believed that the later they got the child's mundan
done, the better it was for his health. So, my mother who was
extremely superstitious, to ward off the evil eye, avoided
doing my mundan until I was two years old. Now, according to
custom, the child who hasn't got his mundan done cannot be
dressed in stitched clothes. As a result, I was forever
clothed in silk fabrics, much to my mother's displeasure. She
felt very deprived that her only son should be dressed
incompletely. "Wait till his mundan is done," she would always
say, "and I'll show the world what a wardrobe I can organise
for my son." When the time came, she personally sat and
stitched my clothes - little bandis with embroidery and kurtas
with zari kaam. My fascination for clothes started that early.
Even as an infant, anything ordinary wasn't good enough for
me. And how could it be, considering I was reared in princely
surroundings. My parents always made me feel very important.
My naming ceremony was performed in Dhapalpur, a small village
of Karachi inside our kuldevta's temple. Even today, when I
pray, I am somehow mentally communicating to the God inside
that temple. My parents named me 'Jeetendra', but nobody ever
called me by that name. In the house, I was always referred to
as 'Kaka'.'Kaka', up North is a very common pet name for the
youngest child in the family.
The only time my mother yelled at me was when I refused to
drink my milk. I hated drinking milk and looked for ways to
avoid the tall glass coming my way. Everyday, my line of
excuse changed. One day I felt nausea. One day giddy. One day
it was a stomach ache and on another, a headache. Each time,
however, my mother was one up on me. "You think you can fool
Leelavati, do you?" she would say. Holding me tight by the
arm, she'd clasp my nose and force it all down my throat. I
hated the moment.I hated both, the smell and the taste of it.
But there was no escape. The doctor had convinced my mother
that the only way to improve my weight was by giving me lots
of milk. So paranoid was she about my drinking milk that she
had even consulted pundits. One pundit suggested to her that
if she served as cup of milk to a black dog everyday, chances
were that her child would start liking it himself. So
everyday, a servant was sent hunting for a black dog. It
sounds crazy, I know, but that's how obsessed she was.
From the very beginning, our family was deep into rituals and
traditions. I guess that is why I am so religious. My parents
often kept chandi paath at home. In theyear I was to be born,
they organised a paath that ran through all of twelve months
and my busy father, who was a workaholic began leaving his
office early, so that he could personally shop for my
belongings. Even the pacifier I used was obtained from London.
As I grew older, I got used to getting everything I wanted.
Once, I had gone to Delhi for my summer holidays where I
learnt cycling. When I returned, I asked my mother to buy me a
bicycle. She refused. "It is dangerous on the roads," she
explained. I began to howl as if the world had come to an end.
To pacify me, she spoke to my father. My father was furious
that my mother could even entertain the thought. "Cycle, for a
child in a city like Bombay!" he thundered. That should have
been the end of the chapter, but stubborn that I was, I
persisted. Exasperated, my parents relented. But on two
conditions. One, I would ride my cycle only inside the garden
and not on the streets. Two, I would not ride the cycle after
it was dark.
Initially, I kept to my promise but gradually as months passed
by, I became more and more adventurous. One day, I got so
carried away, that I went for a long ride with a neighbourhood
friend. When I didn't return until dark, my parents got
worried and sent servants to search for me. When I got home,
it was past 8 p.m. I can never forget that evening. Father was
by the window, angry. Mother was sitting in a corner weeping.
As soon as she saw me, she broke down and ran forward to
embrace me. But father didn't let her. He first fired my
mother and later me. Prior to this, my father had never fired
me. Never raised his voice, but today he raised his hand too.
I was given a beating I would never forget. I felt scared,
tired, hungry and in my nervousness I peed. My mother was
instantly protective. "Can't you see the boy is frightened?"
She told my father. "He better be," my father yelled, angry
with her for intervening.
Another incident to shake me up emotionally was when I was
about ten years old and had gone to my father's office. Home
and office were close by and I was used to dropping in at the
office to see father. That day, my father was in a meeting and
asked his peon to make me sit in his cabin. It was common for
me to lounge around my father's cabin reading my comic books.
That day too, I was carrying my comics with me. I plonked
myself on father's chair. Just then, my uncle (mama) K. K.
Talwar, who assisted my father in his work, entered. "Arre,
Kaka, how come you are sitting on this chair?" he sounded
alarmed. I looked at my uncle in surprise. "You have to first
deserve it, only then can you sit on another man's chair!".
Uncle seemed angry with me and his words were scathing. I felt
hurt, but more than that I felt confused. What did uncle mean
when he said 'deserve', I wondered. I wouldn't dare ask father
for an explanation, fro I didn't have the courage. But I asked
mother. "What is 'deserving' and why is it that a son cannot
sit on his father's chair?"
On that day, mother told me something that I have never
forgotten. And in her explanation, came a message of life. My
father, it seems, was only ten years old when he lost both his
parents. At this tender age, he was shifted to his aunt's
home. One day, over some misunderstanding, he left his aunt's
house never to return to it again. Accompanied by my mother,
he came to Bombay, all set to start a new life.
Those were desperate days. They had no money, no home, no
friends. Father rented a small room in Thakurdwar, even though
he had no money at that time. Somehow, he managed to convince
the landlord that he would work hard and pay him his rent.
Somehow, the landlord trusted him. And my father didn't let
him down. Within a month, father found a job as a supervisor
that paid him enough to get him and his wife one meal a day.
For this, he had to leave early in the morning and return very
late at night.
Mother came from an affluent family and was not used to
hardships. Reared in comforts and luxuries, she had never
known the meaning of struggle. But not once, during his
struggle, did she complain or lose hope. On the contrary,
mother happily supported him, boosted his morale when times
became really bad. Because father could not come home for his
afternoon meal, she skipped her lunch too. Both ate just once
a day. That too late at night. Her sacrifice was natural. She
wasn't even conscious of it. Her prayers were a conscious
effort though. "If you don't forget God, He does not forget
you." Her prayers didn't go unanswered. After years of
struggle and toil, prosperity came my father's way. And the
triumph was cherished deeply because they had both worked very
hard for it. Beginning as a supervisor and graduating to be a
Railway Contractor, my father was now ready to launch his
independent venture. One by one, he spread his companies
outside Bombay. First Madras, then Delhi and finally Calcutta.
"The 'deserving' your uncle mentioned to you is about your
father's this struggle. He has poured his blood and brains for
everything he possesses today. For everything we enjoy today.
The big empire rules, is built on the foundation of hard work.
As his family, we can enjoy the luxuries, but we have no
claims on his glory. His success, his position, is his own,
and it is his greatness that he does not make us conscious of
The simplicity and clarity with which mother explained this,
made a deep impression on my psyche. After this incident, I
never sat on anyone's chair again. Not even those inferior to
me, for how could I be sure that I deserved to?
I got attracted to theatre while I was still in school. All
the boys from the neighborhood would collect on our building
terrace and enact plays. We drew up curtains with sarees
stolen from our mothers' cupboard and created a stage out of
discarded benches gifted by the shopkeepers. My favourite
role, those days, was of a gypsy. I longed to get into
colourful costumes, longed to paint my face and mouth long
dialogues. But more than anything, I loved watching plays. I
never missed an opportunity of visiting the theatre. Slowly,
however, as I grew older, films began to replace my passion
The first film I ever saw, must have been from my mother's
lap, but the first one, I remember was A. R. Kardar's Dastaan
starring Raj Kapoor. Veena played a vamp in this film and God,
what a vamp! She was so effective that years later, when I had
to shoot with her for Do Raaste, I was petrified of her. I
could not wipe away her stern memories of my childhood. I had
a very evil image of her in my mind. But of course, she wasn't
like that. Over the years, I learnt of course, that an actor
isn't what he appears on the screen. His true personality,
very often, is a contrast of what he projects in his films.
Strangely those days, whenever I was asked what I would become
when I grew up, I always said, "I'd become a pilot." This,
even though it had been drilled into me since childhood that
when I grew up, I'd have to join my father's business. I was
only in high school, when my father opened an independent bank
account for me. I could not operate the account, being still a
minor, but all the same, the account made me feel very
powerful. Aid I liked the feeling of power!
Chapter 2 : Peer Pressures.
By the time I was in college, my pocket money of Rs. 500 was
hiked to Rs. 1000 a month. A sum nobody else received in my
group. Also, while in school, I was driven on a scooter, now I
was given a car of my own. My mother was worried but had
learnt to mellow down. She just accepted that she had to
change. And she changed...
The relationship between my father and me was changing too. He
watched me enjoy myself with friends but didn't say anything.
One day, as I was getting ready to go out, he said, "going
out, are you?" I said, "ji." He said, "it's fine that you plan
your holidays so well and I hope that when the time comes, you
will plan your career as carefully too. You will have to, some
day, begin working, won't you?" Very subtly, yet very clearly,
my father had got his point across. It set me thinking. I was
not seriously attempting to become a pilot. And I was
definitely not keen on joining father's business because it
didn't interest me. What interested me was theatre, but how
did one join theatre?
My only link to the theatre those days was a distant cousin
attached to the INT Drama Company, where V. K. Sharma, whom we
called Sharmaji, was the director. I liked Sharmaji and would
often hang around the place during his rehearsal time just to
stare at the actors. Strange ideas came to my mind, watching
these actors. Maybe I fantasised being one, but didn't have
the courage to say so. But I haunted the place because I
secretly hoped and wanted a break. And one day, I got my
chance. One of the INT actors fell ill and didn't show up.
Sharmaji spotted me in the crowd and asked me if I'd
substitute the actor? I nodded. Within seconds, I had crossed
over the boundary and was part of the world, I had so far only
dreamt of. But of course, it wasn't all that easy. Despite my
best efforts, on the day of the show, I got nervous and goofed
up my lines. I played a durban in the play and had only one
dialogue which was "ji huzoor, saab ghar mein hain" instead, I
said, "ji saab, huzoor ghar mein hain." The director was
hopping mad with me. After the show, I ran away without
meeting him or anybody else.
Back home I felt miserable. I drank a lot that night and cried
a lot too. My friends, to whom I confided my story, consoled
me. They said it was too small a matter to lose heart over,
but I was inconsolable. I felt so ashamed of myself that not
only did I stop going for rehearsals but also would not look
father in the eye, just in case he got to know what I was
feeling. For by now, father knew of my flirtation with
theatre. Looking back, I feel the disaster was a blessing in
disguise. For it filled me with a challenge to prove myself
worthy again. It has been an old habit with me that whenever I
am rejected, I take it up as a challenge!
I consider myself lucky that I wasn't thrown out of the play.
It hurt my ego tremendously and I had to swallow my pride to
go back to the same people, the same play, defeated, but it
was necessary. And even though I was a mere extra in that
play, I felt proud when our play Mere Desh Ka Gaon went on to
become INT's most popular play.
Slowly, I was getting out of my nervousness, getting used to
being treated like a junior. And juniors never get to play
important roles. In short, nobody took me seriously. The more
patronising they got, the more committed I became towards my
work. My college friends got used to me disappearing between
lectures to attend theatre. Kader Khan, Sagar Sarhadi, V. K.
Sharma were all involved in theatre those days. Except, while
they were stalwarts, an authority on plays and performances, I
was a small lallu panju whom no one took notice of, and no one
Although they ignored me, I loved going there. I loved the
excitement of it all. Ideas, views, opinions clashed. Tea
glasses made rounds and cigarette packets were emptied faster
than they were lit. The room was always smoke-filled. By the
time the rehearsals got over, it was always midnight. We were
tired, hungry and often went for a meal to Bhuleswar. Those
days pau bhaji was only available at Khau gali in Bhuleswar.
And boy! What tasty pau bhaji they served there. Even today,
whenever I want to eat pau bhaji, I only go to Khau gali of
Our other favourite haunt and slightly sophisticated that too,
was Gaylord Restaurant. It is here that I first met B. S.
Thappar, who gave me my lead break on stage. It was
Thapparsaab who introduced me to Anju Mahendroo, my first
heroine. I was waiting outside Gaylords in my bell-bottom
trousers when a striking face, with an extremely long plait,
walked past me. After a while, when I entered the restaurant
for my appointment with B. S. Thappar, he introduced me to
Anju. "She is Anju Mahendroo, your heroine in this play."
Our rehearsals began the following day itself. Sometimes at
the Patkar Hall and sometimes at Bhulabhai Memorial Building.
Memorial Building had a glamour about it because Geeta Bali
had an office in the same building. One day, as I was racing
up the staircase, I bumped into her. She was so graceful. "Are
you an actor?" she asked spontaneously. I was too dumbfounded.
I nodded my head in a gesture which was neither a 'yes', nor a
'no'. "Do you want to become one?" she continued. I nodded
again. "We're looking for a new face to act in a Punjabi
film..." I was so thrilled with this conversation that I went
and told all my friends about Geetaji's compliment. They said,
"maybe it is true. Why don't we go and verify with a pundit?"
We went to one immediately. "You will have nothing to do with
glamour," the pundit said rudely. "The source that will bring
you money is iron. Tum lokhand ka vyapar karoge to faida
As if to prove the fortune-teller right, a few months later, I
read that Geeta Bali was signed for a Punjabi film called Ek
Chadar Maili Si and the new hero to get a break opposite her
was Dharmendra. I was heartbroken!! I still don't know why,
but I was invited for the launching party of this film. It was
at Geeta Bali's residence, Blue Heaven. I went, but felt
miserable. I felt out of my place too. I was sitting by
myself, in their little garden, when Geetaji joined me. "You
are feeling unhappy, aren't you?" I think Geetaji felt guilty
about giving me hopes.And the truth was, had she not told me
about the role that day, I wouldn't have nursed the idea of
entering films. But after a compliment from Geeta Bali, I felt
I was entitled to a good break-in films. Probably she
understood my conflict and tried her best to lessen my pain.
"Look up," she said to me gently. "The sky is filled with
stars, one day you will shine too. One day, fame will be yours
for the asking." I felt choked and even though I felt
hopeless, I felt consoled. What a pity that Geetaji had to die
so early. If she were alive, she would have been the first
person I'd have gone to meet after my success.
Success didn't happen to me overnight. Even thought I was
doing theatre, producers were not taking note of me. Sanjeev
Kumar, who was with IPTA had got a break and so had many
others. But my life was still directionless. My vagabond days,
by now, had begun to worry my father. The man, who had all
along, not uttered a word, called me to his room one day to
have a man to man chat. He said," to pursue a career that
forever rejects you, is foolishness. In life, one has to take
signals. Maybe films are not for you." In a very dignified
way, he had driven home his point. "I'll give you five years
to come to a decision. If after five years, I feel, you are
not making any headway you will have to join my business.
Fair?" "Fair," I replied. And I sincerely believed this. As a
father he could have put pressures on me. He didn't. He didn't
even make me feel guilty.
Strangely, not just my father, but my entire family took
rather positively to my theatre craze and later my struggle in
films. In fact, both my parents, always came to see me perform
on stage. I still remember the day I received the selection
letter from the Filmfare-United Producers Contest. Out of 1000
candidates, I was the chosen one. I was so happy that I went
screaming about the house. My father came out of his room and
I said, "looks like we will not have to wait for five years."
He smiled. As weeks passed by, I understood the meaning behind
my father's smile. Despite the victory, producers were not
exactly queuing outside my house. After what seemed ages, Raj
Sippy came to me with an offer for Raaz opposite Babita!
At last, I was getting a break but my happiness vanished when
the director told me that I would have to report every morning
at 8 a.m. for a nine o'clock shift. Now, waking up early is
just not my style. I am not an early bird. From childhood, I
have always risen late. My mother wouldn't allow anyone to
enter my room and disturb me. During school days, teachers
called me, "Late Latif." In college, it was kind of taken for
granted that Jatin does not attend the morning lecture. I
could not physically get ready so early. So when the director
told me about attending shooting early in the morning, my
heart sank. Still, I hoped I'd manage somehow. I was wrong.
Chapter 3 : Agony and Ecstasy.
On the first day of shooting, I reported three hours late. By
the time I reached the studio, it was 11 a.m. Everyone was
waiting and everyone was visibly angry. Nobody expected this
from a newcomer. Somebody even taunted, "if this is the way he
is going to behave, he ought to pack up before he begins." I
should have felt frightened by their reactions. Instead, I got
defensive. In my usual arrogant tone, I said, "in which case,
to hell with the career and to hell with this film. My life-
style cannot change for my career." I am sure the unit found
me swollen headed. And they not competely unjustified to think
so. What they didn't understand and what nobody understands
even today is that I don't arrive late for shootings on
purpose. It isn't as if I am sitting at home, enjoying
troubling the producer or maybe they thought that I was
probably drinking till late night and so found it difficult to
wake up. It was not so. What can I do if I cannot mentally
tune my body to get ready early? I was slow. I still am. I
like to settle down slowly. I take this time to prepare the
actor within me. A good actor ought to do his homework at home
and not on the sets. I came on the sets with my homework done.
But that is not how it was taken. My late arrival was made
into an ego problem, when it wasn't. I am wise enough not to
let my ego spoil my performance. Besides, I never forget a
golden line my father often repeated and which has over the
years become my favourite line as well -- "the more fruits a
tree bears, the more it bends. The greater the man, the more
humble he should remain."
Consciously, I have never been rude or uncooperative with
anyone. Unconsciously, I am sure it has happened several
times. I am human, after all. So what if I am Rajesh Khanna?
In fact, I soon realised that being Rajesh Khanna had more
deprivations than advantages. Now I could never stand on the
road and enjoy my pani puri or chaat like old times. Times
change and even though inside you, you are the same person,
outside, a lot of things transform...
For someone who was used to being referred to as 'Kaka' at
home, I was learning to adjust to the sound of a new name.
Rajesh Khanna. Jeetendra, my original name wasn't good enough,
for there was already one actor by the above name and there
were bound to be confusions. Jatin on the other hand was too
short and too familiar. "It isn't impressive," said my uncle,
so we dropped that name too. It was mamaji's idea to call me
Rajesh. "Rajesh Khanna sounds nice," uncle said. "Rajesh means
king of the kings. May God give you such prosperity too."
"I don't know how prosperous I am but I was quite certainly
amongst the most privileged of all actors then. If I could
report and get away coming so late for my shooting, I had to
be a very special star. During the outdoor shooting of Raaz at
Kulu, one evening, after pack up, I invited a few technicians
to my room for a drink. I t was biting cold and just as we
were getting ready to raise a toast, in walked the production-
controller of the unit. He yelled at everyone for sitting down
to drink. "Don't you know that we have an early morning
shoot?" Then looking at me, he said, "Aur aap... yeh sab
nawabi thaat pehli film mein shobha nahin dete! You have come
here to shoot, not to have fun." I was mad. I couldn't get
over the way he had yelled at everyone. I said, "Look, this is
not your set. This is my room. What I do after pack up, is not
your problem, but mine." He wasn't prepared for this. In
frustration, he picked up a plate and threw it on the floor. I
was equally mad. I said, "you break a plate and I'll break the
table." The argument continued. Ultimately, I said, "if this
is how you will behave, I walk out of the film, this minute.
All the expenses incurred due to my involvement, I'll
reimburse it on reaching Bombay." "We'll see tomorrow," he
said in a mysterious tone.
In the morning however, the production guy had changed his
mind. He apologised for his behaviour and as far as I was
concerned, all was forgiven and forgotten. It was only on
reaching Bombay, did I realise that his friendship was a mere
facade. Not wanting to inconvenience the shooting, he had at
that moment decided to toe the line. That was my first taste
of film politics. National politics, of course, came much
On reaching Bombay, this man complained about me to Sippy
saab. I was summoned to his office where I was grilled and
rebuked. Now, I had no option but to give my version of the
story. The good thing about the incident was that the
misunderstanding brought me closer to Sippy saab. Both,
personally and professionally. And in the coming years, we did
many more films together.
After Raaz, which didn't do well at the box-office, producers
were slow in coming with offers. Producer-director Chetan
Anand contacted me for Aakhri Khat. It wasn't a mainstream
subject but I was drawn to my role. A small budget film,
Aakhri Khat offered me no monetary gains, but as an actor, the
role was satisfying. More than anything, the film introduced
me to a new cinema. A fascination, that continued all through
my career. I did films like Baharon Ke Sapne, Khamoshi,
Aavishkar at a time I was doing relatively well for myself. In
fact, Khamoshi came to me because, apparently Waheeda Rehman
herself, recommended me for this role. So did Sharmila Tagore.
She had seen a photograph of mine and mentioned me to Shakti
Samanta. They were planning Aradhana and were on the look out
for a face that could click, both as the father as well as the
son. Aradhana was meant to be Sharmila Tagore's film. It's
destiny however that it became my launching pad. Nobody knows
this but the film went through deep trouble before it could
make it to the theatres. The distributors didn't think the
project was a hot cake because one, it had a newcomer in the
lead (that too in a double role), and two, more importantly,
sex-kitten Sharmila Tagore was deglamourised as she played a
widow after the interval. They predicted doom! "The film will
not be accepted," everyone said. They were wrong. Aradhana
created history! For months after its release, there were
serpentine queues outside all theatres.
I was happy. The adulation I received lifted my confidence.
And as days went by, I got used to raining hits -- Bandhan, Do
Raaste came around the same time. Both these films had Mumtaz.
Like Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz and I were turning into a popular
pair. Do Raaste had Anju Mahendroo, my first heroine too. The
two of us had a fight over something as a result of which both
of us behaved extremely unprofessionally while shooting
together. Everytime I said my lines, she looked in the
opposite direction and everytime she said her dialogues, I
looked away. This continued throughout the schedule and the
hassled producer was utterly confused as to what was happening
and why. Nor did we, frankly. For, if we did, we wouldn't have
behaved in so juvenile a fashion. I know it all sounds foolish
but one cannot disassociate an incident from one's life, just
because it was foolish or childish...
B. R. Chopra was one of the producers belonging to the United
Producers Association with whom I was under contract to do a
film at a salary of Rs. 2000 a month. Chopra wanted me to do a
film with him at a time when I was riding the crest of
success. Legally, I could not refuse him since I was bound by
my contract but ethically, I had different views on this
topic. Anyway since the film had to be completed in a month's
time we wanted a simple, uncomplicated subject.
Ittefaq was a murder mystery. Tautly written and tautly
directed, the film was gripping until the last frame. No
actor, no matter how brilliant can work miracles by himself.
The script, the direction had its contributions. I worked very
hard on my roles. I'd carefully work out character traits,
mannerisms, etc. There were times, I'd wake up my director in
the middle of the night because there was something disturbing
about the scene. Yet, the press, ironically, always attributed
my success only to my good luck. Journalists never ever said
that I was successful because I was talented, or because I
One film I worked very hard over and which didn't do well was
Maalik. Even today, I maintain that it was an unusual film, in
the sense that the conflict between science and religion is
contemporary and relevant. The film proclaims a theory. The
hero believes in God, the heroine, in science. I feel that the
film failed because the people don't believe in God any
longer. Even a hit pair (Sharmila and I) could not save this
All of us knew that Safar would do well. Partly because of the
cancer-struck hero and partly because of the unusual casting.
Feroz Khan, Sharmila and I were coming together in a film for
the first time. Even Ashok Kumar and Nadiraji had important
roles. The director, Asit Sen was so sensitive to the film.
What I had not anticipated was the backlash from my fans.
Angry letters warning me, not to die in future films, poured
in every day. Their strong reactions filled me with self
doubt. I realised then that I had a responsibility towards my
audience. The more letters I received, the more confused I
became. It's strange, but the true struggle of an actor begins
only after success. Because now the expectations became too
many. Also suddenly too many enemies sprang up on the scene.
They say success brings its own set of problems. I was facing
my set of problems too. And yet I was enjoying my stardom. My
In the meanwhile, contradictions continued. I hated being
mobbed. And I loved the adulation. I hated the internal
politics and I loved the glamour. I kept my head on my
shoulder, at least, I tried... For I knew, that the people I
meet while climbing up today would be the same people I'd meet
while coming down one day.
Haathi Mere Saathi came to me because other heroes didn't want
to share the credit with elephants. Also because working with
animals isn't always comfortable. The film not only proved to
be a smashing hit but it was a trendsetter of sorts. An
unforgettable incident happened during the making of HMS. As I
entered the set one day, I saw Chinappa Devar hitting a small
boy with a stick. When I asked Devarsaab, why he was doing
this, Devarsaab replied, "this boy is paying for your crime,
Sir. You report late for work everyday. I cannot tell you
anything because you are a superstar. But I have to give vent
to my anger." After this, on Devarsaab's set at least, I never
reported late for shooting.
The more successful I became, the more relatives appeared on
the scene. Their reactions were predictable. While some were
eager beavers, others were downright disapproving. "Do boys
from good families pursue a career in films?" asked some. "He
is my son and if as his father, I have no objection, I don't
see why must you, either?" was my father's answer to them. My
mother was more concerned about my personal life. "Don't you
love any woman who you would like to marry and bring home?,"
she'd ask me. All she wanted from me was a bride. "The house
is lonely, after you go for work." Except for this one, my
mother made no demands on me. "Your choice is mine," she said.
"You have to live with her. So bring someone you can be happy
with... Bring me a daughter-in-law and I'll make her my
My marriage was an obsession with her. From the beginning.
Ever since I was a child, she had been planning my baraat.
When I was very young, we had gone to attend a wedding in
Delhi. There, in fun, someone put me on the dulhe ki ghodi.
Few others, mistaking me for the groom (I had a paghdi on my
head) garlanded me and some more presented me with cash. A
passer-by, assuming me to be the asli groom said to his wife,
"aaj ke zamane mein bhi log bachchon ki shaadi karte hain."
Rather than feel offended by such a comment, my mother was
thrilled to bits and repeat the above incident to everyone at
Mother saw all my films except Anand. I made her promise me
that she would never see this film. And there was a reason for
this. Earlier, after a trial show of Safar, mother was taken
seriously ill and had to be hospitalised the same day. After
this, I did not permit her to see any film in which I suffered
or died. Even though mother understood that films were a make-
believe world, she got affected by my fighting scenes.
Strangely, she did not mind my love scenes, not even the so-
called hot romancing. Curious, I once asked her how come she
didn't mind me romancing with my heriones. She said, "pyar hi
to karta hai, chori nahin." Her only concern was that I should
not suffer. Watching me run on the streets in Ittefaq, she
said , "you have to go through so much trouble, chot to nahin
What hurt her most, and what she couldn't come to terms with
were the constant nasty rumours about my accident and ill-
health. Everyday, newspapers and magazines were forever
killing me or injuring me in accidents those days. And
everytime, she went through tremendous pain each time similar
articles appeared in print. "Mere bete ko duniya ki nazar lag
gayi." she told my father. Eventually to pacify her, my father
organised a big havan at home.
Anand got me an adulation I wasn't prepared for. Nobody knows
this but Anand was shot during the busiest phase on my career.
I was turning hysterical with work pressure. I got a sore
throat telling everyone that I could not sign more new films,
but nobody cared and nobody listened. Now I had films by kilos
and no dates!! I was being criticised for being overworked,
for being disorganised, for being greedy. I wasn't any of
these. My problem was, I didn't know how to say 'no'. During
this phase, once, I reported later than usual on Hrishikesh
Mukherjee's sets. Hrishida wasn't used to such carelessness.
They had been waiting to shoot a very important scene. I had a
very long dialogue to memorise and felt tortured. I kept
addressing the heroine by the wrong name. Frustrated, Hrishida
got up from his chair, "my heroine's name is not Madhu. It's
Renu. Why are you calling her Madhu?. Who is Madhu?" "Madhu is
my heroine of Aan Milo Sajna," I apologised to the director.
Gurnam, my secretary and friend present in the room said, "Of
Kati Patang Kaka, not Aan Milo Sajna."
I don't know how Gurnam coped with me. He worked for me 22
hours a day. We fought like cats and dogs. But at the same
time, we couldn't do without each other for a minute. We were
similar people. We had known each other ever since our theatre
days, so we had, kind of, got used to each other.
Even though I became very successful in films, my association
with theatre did not break. Once, every month, my theatre
friends came home for a long evening. Over drinks and
cigarettes, we discussed plays and performances. We talked
about our good old days. Those days, even after putting in so
much hard work, we were unable to get a full house at our
performances. To ensure a houseful, we friends had worked out
a trick. We'd go to Churchgate station, catch hold of
strangers and say, "arre Chunilal, Murarilal ne ye ticket
bheji hain. Bola hai theatre dekhne zaroor aana" and stuffing
a dozen tickets in his hand, run out of sight. The trick
invariably worked and we managed to get a houseful, even if in
the bargain we spent money from our own pockets. Still, the
effort was worth it and that's what mattered. I think every
phase one goes through has both good and bad memories. Those
days we ate pani puri at Chowpatty and dreamt of five-star
food. Today, one has five-star culture all around and one
craves for chaat pani of Chowpatty.
One day, driving home from a party at Taj Mahal Hotel, I
stopped on the road to eat pani puri. I covered myself with a
muffler and since it was very late in the night, I didn't
expect to be recognised. A group of kids spotted me and it
created a riot! MY driver had to smuggle me inside the car and
take me home. I dreamt of my incomplete pani puri plate that
night. But I dared not even tell anyone for after the chaos
nobody let me go anywhere near Chowpatty.
The more hits I gave, the more restless I felt. One day
Hrishikesh Mukherjee caught me in a reflective mood on his
sets. "When was it last that you saw the sun rise, Kaka?" he
asked me. "I don't remember." I said. "And when was it last
that you saw the sun set?" I smiled. I didn't have to answer.
He knew my answer.
Chapter 4 : Family of Four.
Success and fame, sometimes bring people closer and sometimes
draw them apart. Anju Mahendroo drifted away from me due to my
success. Too proud to be a part of my coterie, she went inward
and turned distant. Both socially and emotionally, we grew
apart. Looking back I feel it was nobody's fault. None of us
had anticipated this kind of success to happen to me. Neither
of us knew how to handle it. My success brought a lot of mixed
emotions and successively a lot of changes. All this was very
disturbing. Ideally, we should have sat down and sorted out
our confusions. We didn't.
Around this time, I met Dimple Kapadia. This was sometime in
the late 70's. She was accompanying her father to a film
party. "Meet my daughter, Kaka. She is your fan". Chunibhai
told me. A very beautiful, shy face stared at me. I shook
hands with her, asked her a few questions, like film stars do
and that's all. The second time I met her was on the sets of
Aan Milo Sajna. She was visiting somebody. I don't remember,
who. But the father and daughter spent a lot of time, chatting
with me in my room. When they left, they invited me for a
meal, at their home.
Between Dimple and me, we had just three meetings, but the
chemistry was already at work. We both felt attracted and even
though the age gap was considerable, I must confess, I was
thinking of long term.
In '71, I heard that Dimple was entering films. Raj Kapoor had
signed her for three films and Manmohan Desai was
contemplating signing her opposite me in Roti. Bobby was a
quickie and the film was completed within a year. During this
year, I met Dimple often. After beginning to work, she was
changing and it was interesting to watch her blossom. One day,
I had taken her for a drive at night and we stopped by the
beach for a walk. "Will you marry me?" I asked her. "If you
ask me to," she replied. The rest of course is history.
It was the most talked about marriage. So much has been
written about it, that I don't want to repeat the details.
After marriage, my first film to release was Daag. It was the
first of the extra marital series that followed. A year later
however, 73-74 on the whole proved to be a difficult phase! At
home, there were new adjustments. And at work, the chessboard
was being set for a new round of game. It was a distressing
phase. My films were flopping at the box-office and with each
flop, one more person deserted me. Even my so called friends
My decline came about just as suddenly as my success. Out of
the blue. And this was expected after the kind of
insignificant films I had been signing, left, right, and
centre, I was paying the price for not being able to refuse
producers. Chhoti Bahu, Badnaam Farishtey, Mere Jeevan Saathi,
Shehzada, Maalik went away without a whimper. Slowly but
surely I realised that people's attitude towards me was
changing. I didn't like it. I wasn't used to failure and was
finding it difficult to accept it. I felt vulnerable and in
need of assurance. I wanted to be told that it was a phase and
that this too would pass. Not from those involved with me
professionally, but from those who were my friends. It took me
some time to realise however that there were no friends!
Dimple was there, but she was too young, too inexperienced to
handle such a crisis. Also, to be fair to her, I did not help
her. Had I surrendered to her, she would have coped better
than she did. But I withdrew. For fourteen months, I built a
wall around me, stopped trusting people, stopped signing new
films. Every day, my self-esteem was eroding a little more.
Those days I was forever preoccupied... forever suicidal.
Once, I even attempted walking into the sea, but at the last
minute pulled myself out of the depression. "I will not die a
failure," I promised myself. "I don't want people to say
Rajesh Khanna was a coward."
In early '74, I must have been the most lonely man around.
Lonely, irritable, persecuted. Not a very attractive frame of
mind to be in, but then what to do? I sat all by myself
brooding, thinking. The truth was I could not come to terms
with my failure. Had somebody intelligent and experienced
talked to me, made me understand the games of filmdom, I could
have been consoled. But there was no such consolation.
And then it happened. Like it happens in films. Just when I
was at the end of my tether, optimism came in the form of my
three releases. Aap Ki Kasam, Roti and Prem Nagar. All three
were major hits. Nobody had expected them to be, after the
lean phase I was going through. But the hat-trick restored my
confidence and the confidence producers had in me. I began to
feel better. No more was I edgy and irritable as I used to be.
Later, everyone told me that these lean phases happen to
everyone at the top. Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand. So
why must Rajesh Khanna be an exception. Exactly, only how come
nobody thought of saying these wise words to me when I was
going through the crisis. Why now, when the worst was over?
With experience, I have learnt, however, that when one is
going through a crisis, no logic, no explanation, no advice
helps. At that time you have to bear your emotional cross.
Just as I bore it and I am not ashamed to admit that I did. I
am an emotional man. Only if you are emotional, can you
project emotions on screen. For us actors, unfortunately, we
deal with emotions all the time, so much so, that sometimes,
this affects our personal life. There are times when we ought
to be expressing our feelings but we don't. And sometimes, we
do the reverse. It is not easy coping with a star. It must be
an accumulation of many such similar incidents that ultimately
set the rot in my relationship with Dimple, when she finally
decided to leave Aashirwad in the early 80s, exactly ten years
after our marriage.
Our split seemed the most obvious solution at that time. But
relationships don't break just because you shift addresses,
she is still my wife. The mother of my two lovely daughters
and no one can change that. Sometimes, pain builds walls
between people. But when you are distanced, you tend to think
more clearly. Our relationship improved after she moved away
from here. Now we are both more mature and less emotional when
dealing with the problem.
With my daughters, there was never any question of changing.
Dimple never came in the way of our relationship. She did not
poison my kids against me. I am proud of my daughters. They
are strong and sensible girls. In their adolescence, I get to
watch mine and Dimple's childhood. Chinky, the younger one, is
still treated like a kid in the family while Tina, the older
one is treated like an adult. I often ask what they will
become when they grow up. It is their life and I don't want to
interfere. They are still young, I think, and time will make
its own decisions. If either of them wants to join films, I
will not raise objections. How can I, considering both their
parents work in films. I stopped their mother from continuing
in films, I agree, but that is a different matter altogether.
One feels differently at different times.
Today, somehow, I am not averse to Dimple working in films.
But it has taken me a long time to get used to the idea. She
is doing my home production, Jai Shiv Shankar, to be released
sometime this year. An important turning point for me. I am
working with Dimple for the first time and also with my old
friend, Nikki (Anju Mahendroo), who assists me in production.
Nikki and I had been out of touch for almost 10 years and then
a common friend, very casually and very simply made us patch
up. It was as if the 10 years didn't exist. A rather strange
coming together, but not unrealistic. I'd say, today Anju and
I are even better friends than what we were ten years ago. Age
mellows you and one accepts each other with their
shortcomings. She assists me in my work, looks after my office
administration. We share a comfortable friendship.
In contrast, shooting with Dimple, I did feel awkward
initially, but I think she was more nervous than I was. Two
completely confident people at the Jai Shiv Shankar muhurat of
course, were my two daughters, Chinky and Tina.
Chapter 5 - Into The Fray.
My daughter Tina has often asked me why I felt the need to
turn into a producer. Chinky, the younger one wondered why I
couldn't direct Jai Shiv Shankar myself. I guess branching out
at a certain phase of your life becomes essential.
My journey into politics began when Sanjay Gandhi initiated
the Indian Youth Congress. Though I was very busy in films at
the time, I kept abreast with information I got from activists
like Ambika Soni and Moti Daryanani. Talking to them helped me
formulate views and opinions on burning issues of the country.
Still, my involvement in politics, at that time was virtually
For a long time now however I have been thinking of how I can
contribute to the society. As public figures, we owe some kind
of service to mankind and what better than to represent them
in the parliament? My foray into politics, has raised a lot of
eyebrows. The press, in particular has singled me out as a
target for their choicest jibes just because I have chosen to
fight the elections. Why? Why should a conscientious citizen
of the country, who has the progress of his fellowmen at
heart, be criticised for his decision? Why are they feeling
that I am not worthy of this position? Such things don't
happen with just one person wanting it. The party should have
faith in me too. The fact that the High Command chose me,
offered me a ticket, speaks of my calibre and capabilities. I
don't buy this criticism that I am not politically aware.
Even in my heyday, I was more politically aware than any of my
contemporaries. Only, I didn't blow my bugles. Today, however
I have to wield the megaphone, yell, scream. Ideal with crowds
here too, but face to face. It is different. Politics and
films are poles apart. Both have glamour about it. But that's
probably the only similarity. I will not pretend that I don't
enjoy politics. I do. Maybe because it is all still new, but
at the moment I am very stimulated by the atmosphere. Politics
is uncomfortable, taxing. Physically, especially, since I am
not used to dust, heat and inconvenience, but I am learning to
adjust, learning to cope. When I am given the day's schedule,
I study my itinerary. Now, it is not like old times when I got
into my car and drove to my shooting looking out of the
window. Today, I have to think, prepare answers to the several
arguments the fourth estate bombards me with. There are times
when I feel irritated ...angry ... but I am learning to check
my temper. It is not easy because I have been spoilt for too
long. But one cannot take a situation for granted. I am
learning something new everyday. I think it is terrific, for
the day I stop to learn, I know I will stagnate.
I don't care what people say. No matter what anyone feels, I
am going to continue with my political career. I don't care
whether I succeed or fail, I am going to serve the public. I
always knew that the people loved me, but how much, I
realised, only when I walked door to door in my constituency.
People showered me with love and warmth, even though I am not
at the top today. People are so selfless, we actors don't get
time to acknowledge their warmth. It is only now as a public
figure, when I walk on the streets, sacrifice my air-
conditioned environment that I realise how much suffering
exists in the country... It saddens me and I get further
determined to serve the public and never mind the media
backlash, my scoffing colleagues and finally my bickering
detractors. The issue is not that you win or lose, the issue
is that you fight for something you believe in.
(Junior G Rajesh Khanna)