Towards the last days of his life, I saw the one-time superstar spending most of his time sitting alone in his office on Linking Road( above the Tanishq Showroom) and looking out of the window which was facing one of the most busy streets of Mumbai and also the lane in which some of his producers who had stopped making films after he fell from grace and no one was willing to put their money on him, were living lonely lives like him in their huge bungalows, especially men like Pramod Chakravorty and Shakti Samanta –Ali Peter John
I used to find time to spend time with him and these meetings lasted till late into the night and we kept drinking and he kept telling me stories I found difficult to believe….
He spoke about all those silent moments he spent in Khanna House, near the Charni Road station thinking about what he would do in the future and worried about failure which he felt he would not be able to take because of his very sensitive nature.
He spoke about the silent moments he spent when he waited for the results of the United Producers Talent Contest organised by the Filmfare magazine and how he was thrilled when he was selected after he had faced a tough contest with another young man called Subhash Ghai and many other young men.
He spoke about his first two films, “Raaz” and “Baharon Ke Sapne” in which the producers, G.P Sippy and Nasir Husain because they had to do at least one film with him according to the rules of the Contest.
He was also in awe of his two established heroines, Babita in “Raaz” and Asha Parekh in “Baharon Ke Sapne”.
He felt totally left out because neither the heroines, nor the producers and directors and even the audience was willing to give him a second look and had a general opinion that he was not star material and that he was a ‘Gorkha’ who could only stand guard outside the bungalows of some leading stars and filmmakers….
He spoke about the time when Manoj Kumar signed him to play the younger and bad brother in “Upkar” and how he had gladly accepted the role and how the news about his doing a film with Manoj Kumar spread among the producers who were the judges at the Contest and how they told him that he couldn’t do Manoj Kumar’s film before he had finished doing films for all the producers who were responsible for making him a star.
He said more than the fear put into him by the other producers he felt scared and nervous when he had to face Manoj Kumar and tell him how and why he couldn’t do the role in “Upkar” (the role ultimately went to Prem Chopra who had worked with Manoj in films like “Shaheed” and “Woh Kaun Thi”).
He was very relieved when Manoj told him not to worry and go ahead and sign other films because Manoj himself knew that he was more of hero material than to play the out and out bad characters..
For the next twenty years, he had no time for silent moments in his life which was full of success and more success and all that went with superstardom.
The next time he had moments of silence was when his marriage failed and he said he had never felt so alone and uncared for when he saw Dimple leave ‘Aashirwaad’ with her daughters, not to return till he was diagnosed for cirrhosis of the liver and the entire family including his son-in-law Akshay Kumar and his son Aarav came back to ‘Aashirwaad’ and gave him the life he could never imagine when he was the superstar…
His moments of silence became worse when he saw failure surrounding him in all sides and trapping him in a cage of solitude, days when he had to live all alone in a room which was the only place in ‘Aashirwaad’ that was left for him.
His afternoons, evenings and nights were the times when the only company he had was his memories of the glorious past and the misery of the present and the fear of an uncertain future.
The only companion which turned out to be the most trusted and also the one which gradually destroyed him was alcohol which he lived with because there was no other way of living, and he finally had to die because of his over dependence on the one (alcohol) he felt and believed would save him…
The worst moments of his silence to which I was a witness to was when we had travelled together to Calcutta for a function organised by women.
He was quiet like he never was during the two and a half hour flight. When we landed in Calcutta, he came out with the truth about his silence during the flight.
He said he had not been to a public function for a long time and had felt nervous about whether there would be an audience to welcome him or not.
His silence returned and lasted till we reached the Grand Hotel and I asked him to have a drink or two which would help him face the evening.
I had a selfish motive behind giving him this idea. I wanted to have a drink or two before we could proceed for the function.
But in his own style which was still intact, he said,“nahi Ali, sharab abhi nahi, function mein peekar jaana theek nahi hai, woh bhi aurton ke function mein”.
I was silenced because I would never imagine the Rajesh Khanna speaking so philosophically.
He was stunned when he saw the entire ground packed who women who gave him the same kind of receiption that they and others gave him when he was the superstar.
During the function, he whispered into my ears and said, “Ali, kya aisa lagta nahi ki main abhi bhi superstar hoon?
“I whispered back and told him that there would never be another superstar like him. He said nothing, but pressed my palm with his famous hands which women were said to be crazy about and filmmakers found every reason to make use of his hands which I saw driving women crazy.
The function was over and we drove back and I could see the revival of a new Rajesh Khanna which lasted till we came back to Mumbai and the reality of his being nowhere and no one hit him in his face when no one at the airport was even willing to offer him a sit and he finally had to sit on his own bag.
Who could have imagined that a time would come when the greatest ever superstar would be reduced to this kind of a situation.
The man who once sat on all kinds of thrones was now waiting for someone to offer him a seat which no one was willing to offer him and he had no other way but to ask his bag for help.
The most horrible silences for him was on his birthday, December 29. It was a day when the entire country and people from other countries celebrated, but now he had just one or two bouquets and a few calls coming in to wish him.
I spent three silent nights celebrating his birthday with him and every night ended who him holding my hand and crying and I wondered what thoughts and memories must have made him cry.
But even in the midst of all the crying and drinking, he made sure that he fed me himself with those famous hands and asked his man, Bala to see that I was dropped home safely.
It was another birthday and I could never think that it would be his last birthday. I had forgotten that it was his birthday as I was still celebrating the birthday of my imaginary girlfriend for fifty-five years, but at around eleven thirty pm I received a call from a friend and a failed actor called Shashi Kiran who was the only one celebrating his birthday.
Shashi said, “Ali, yaar please yahaan aa jaao thode time ke liye hi sahi. Kakaji aapka naam lekar bahut ro rahe hai.
“I could fully understand ‘Kalkaji’s’ feelings, but my body was not willing. I was completely drunk myself and couldn’t imagine going anywhere out of my room.
I have never felt so guilty as I felt on the morning after I had ditched the great superstar, but I went to his office the next afternoon and he was sitting all alone puffing one cigarette after another and as usual, we started drinking as soon as the sun set and drank till next morning and this time he didn’t have to feed me as we were only busy drinking and who cared for any fool?
Bala however kept the snacks coming. Little did I know that it would be the last birthday we would celebrate together….
The news about his being stricken with cancer had spread and I remembered how he used his stories about dying of cancer whenever his career was down and how he had hit new highs of popularity when he played the dying cancer patient in films like “Anand” and “Safar”.
I rarely visited him when he was very sick and was lying at home with his family helping him to cope with the greatest battle of his life, the enemy being sure death.
I used to often wonder what thoughts must be crowding his mind as death kept spreading its icy hands towards him and I especially thought of what he must have thought on the night he was dying, I wish someone could let me know what his thoughts must have been as he saw his last breath ebbing away….
It may be some coincidence or some quirk of fate that I should be close to him in death like I was in life.
He died at 1:40 in the afternoon when I was ringing the bell outside Aamir Khan’s door when a friend rang me up to say that it was all over for the superstar.
I rushed to ‘Aashirwaad’ to see no signs of such a great ‘accident’ happening at ‘Aashirwaad’.
I was lucky to be the first outsider to see his dead body being brought down the stairs in what looked like a large bedsheet or a carpet and the body was placed on the floor in the main hall of ‘Aashirwaad’.
Some men put up a framed photograph of his younger days on the wall and others got busy clearing up the place before the crowds which had run away from him would rush back to have one glimpse of the superstar, the kind who would or could not come back again.
Our parting was however of the kind I never expected and I will never like as long as I am alive.
I couldn’t attend his funeral because of some tough people who become the owner of the show that a star funeral becomes, who didn’t let me go anywhere near the crematorium and I could only see the decorated vehicle in which his body was brought speeding away after it had done its job and the boys in charge behaving as if they were just recalling from a picnic.
I also couldn’t attend his prayer meeting after going to the Taj Lands End where it was being held and I was rudely told that the prayer meeting was for ‘invitees only’ I had to return from both the places where ‘the Rajesh Khanna’ was being given his last farewell and some holy people all dressed in white prayed for him at a five-star hotel as if God would hear their prayers for Rajesh Khanna better if they were prayed in the posh ambience of a five-star hotel, but for me it will always be ‘Kakaji mare nahi, Kakaji marte nahi’.
How can I tell all those who say they know all about Rajesh Khanna about the golden but silent moments we spent together.
AASMAAN AUR ZAMEEN PAR AAJ BHI SITAARE CHAMKENGE . LEKIN RAJESH KHANNA JAISAA SUPERSTAR SITAARA SIRF EK BAAR CHAMAKTAA HAI AUR UNNKI YAANDEIN ZINDAGI BHAR CHAMAKTE REHETE HAIN. AISE HI UNNKE CHNENEWALE NAHI KAHETE THE , ‘ UPAR AKA , NICHE KAKA , BAAKI SABKAA ….’