ScreenSavour: Tune into khanna

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Who can deny the fact that songs in his films added another dimension to Rajesh Khanna’s romantic personality

Long ago in the ’90s, Rajesh Khanna had remarked to a journalist that the audience may have forgotten him, but after his death he will be remembered through his songs. He was not quite off the mark because though the films he had acted in were super hits and are still being played on television, it is the songs that layered his superstardom.

Khanna, who would have been 74 on December 29, is referred to as the first superstar of Indian cinema, much before the mantle passed on to Amitabh Bachchan; and his uniqueness lay in the manner he wooed his heroines on screen. Keeping with the great Indian screen tradition of ubiquitous songs that peppered most films, what better way to court the lovely voluptuous ladies of yore than through songs?

The voice that came to be associated with him belonged to Kishore Kumar, that maverick genius who had a unique ability to mould his voice to match and suit the actors he sang for; and when he lent his voice for Khanna, there was no mistaking the mellow, seductive and flirtatious tone that tinged the delivery of the lines which found their mark straight into the hearts of the beautiful ladies who went weak on their knees.

Kishore’s rendition of Roop Tera Mastana in Aradhana (1969) as Rajesh Khanna wooed a scantily clad Sharmila Tagore around a bonfire is still remembered for its stark eroticism; the fact that Khanna did not lip-synch the song but went through the gestures that exuded controlled passion waiting to burst forth as he keeps looking at a shy Tagore is amongst the highlights of his screen performances. The other song from the film, Mere sapno ki rani, that precedes this song has similarly achieved iconic status.

The songs from Amar Prem (1972) add another dimension to Khanna’s romantic personality. He sings some of the loveliest compositions by RD Burman to Sharmila Tagore who plays a sex worker with a golden heart. Kuch toh log kahenge and Chingari koi bharke bring out the pathos that marks Khanna’s love for Tagore, who unlike in the song from Aradhana reciprocates with muted expression that hardly conceals her feelings for her introverted and lonely client.

Pyar diwana hota hai and Yeh jo mohabbat hai from Kati Patang (1970) convey yet another aspect of Khanna’s personality: a betrayed lover who finds love in Asha Parekh whom he woos by singing Yeh shaam mastani, that evergreen, carefree song that still evokes fond memories.

Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thi (Khamoshi, 1969), Zindagi ek safar hai suhana (Andaz, 1971), Chala jata hoon kisi ke di pe and O mere dil ke chain from Mere Jeevan Sathi (1972), Mere dil mein aaj kya hai (Daag, 1973), Main ek chor tu meri rani (Raja Rani, 1973), Mere dil ne tadap ke and Aate jaate khoobsurat from Anurodh (1977) are some of the other songs that immediately conjure up the phenomenon who girls, it is reported, wrote love letters to in their own blood from all over the country.

Khanna’s pairing with Mumtaz resulted in some of the most memorable song situations. The bhaang song from Aap ki Kasam (1974) — Jai jai shiv shankar and Chup gaye sare nazare, sung by Rafi from Do Raaste (1969) evoked a playfulness tinged with eroticism. Yeh reshmi zulfein sung by Rafi again, from Do Raaste is yet another song that comes to mind.

Mumtaz, with her earthly spunk and curvaceous figure exuded an unbridled sexuality that acted as a perfect complement to Rajesh Khanna’s flirtatious ways. The iconic Lata Mangeshkar song Bindiya chamkegi from Do Raaste where she tries to seduce Rajesh Khanna on the terrace is one moment where she takes away all the glory from the superstar. Eroticism oozed from every fold of her orange Gujarati sari and Khanna is reduced to just giving reactions to her seductive moves.

Rajesh Khanna was lucky to have competent directors and strong stories to guide him through his career; but undoubtedly the songs in his films were a major contributory factor towards his stardom which he frittered away with his arrogant ways and unprofessional attitude. Amitabh Bachchan was just waiting to happen.

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)

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