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“I realized that I was not GOD but DOG’

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REVISITING THE LATE RAJESH KHANNA

Rajesh Khanna who passed away on July 18, 2012 would have turned 78 today if he were alive today. JYOTHI VENKATESH pays a humble tribute to the arrogant but simple superstar

Very few stars have I come across in my professional as a freelance film journalist as well as in my personal life, as Rajesh Khanna. Though he has been hailed as a very egoistical star, Rajesh Khanna was one actor, who made it a point to stand by a friend, if he felt that he is genuine. It is true that I met Rajesh Khanna when I was just a crazy fan of his, 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 overshadowed me. I was just 19 then and he was the super star who wore his Guru shirt, as his fashion statement.

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I became a freelance film journalist and when I had an assignment to interview the mighty superstar 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 introduced myself to him easily as a journalist as there was no PRO, secretary, manager or bodyguards to screen or filter me from him in that simple era. Rajesh sweetly asked me to join him for lunch the next day and interview him. I was in seventh heaven and the next day, I rushed to Ranjit Studio half an hour before the scheduled time to have lunch with Kaka and interview him.

I knocked at his door. There was no vanity van in those days and every star had a dilapidated 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, told me to wait for some time outside. Though hungry, I waited for two hours. At 4 pm, the restless director came to his makeup room and took him to the sets. On seeing me waiting for him outside, Rajesh excused himself and told 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 and 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 Amitabh Bachchan zoomed ahead of Rajesh Khanna and stole the limelight away from him.

A decade after, I remember I was in Ooty to cover the shooting of Dil E Nadaan. Shatrughan Sinha had invited me to his room after packing up for dinner but Rajesh being the super star , was offended when I told him that I had to go to Shatru’s room since he had asked me even before Rajesh 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 when I politely declined to have scotch and asked for beer, Rajesh Khanna admonished me and said that I’d die of cold if I had beer and offered me 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 and get ‘garma garam’ food. It happened and at 2 a.m director Shridhar, who, incidentally was the star maker who had introduced Jayalalitha in his Tamil film Vennira Aadai, Shatru and I had our late night dinner.

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When he was at his peak in the early 80’s, I had gone to Chennai to cover Chinnappa Devar’s film’s shooting. Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Tima Munim were acting in it. When I asked him if I could do his interview, he said he had already promised an interview to a female colleague who was with Filmfare. I was very upset. The female colleague came back after three hours of ‘wait’, fretting and fuming as Rajesh Khanna made her wait outside his room and did not invite her in. In the evening, when I did not bother to ask Rajesh for an interview and was sitting with Shatru, Rajesh called me to join him for dinner and do his interview.

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During the dinner, when I asked him why he did not give an interview to my female colleague, he retorted, ‘Why should I? This woman writes nasty things about me and also misquotes me and creates embarrassment for me with my co-actors.’ As this female journalist did not bother to interview Shatru as she was busy trailing Rajesh Khanna and since she was in bad terms with Tina, she had to come back to Bombay without any interview. 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 requested me if I could type out the interviews of Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Tina Munim for him. When the issue of Filmfare hit the next week, I became the superstar of journalism as though I was just a freelancer, as three interviews of mine had appeared in Filmfare in the same issue, that too with my by line and my ‘going rate’ shot up as a freelancer.

Rajesh Khanna

Not many know how humble the ‘arrogant’ Rajesh Khanna was. 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 as he was really very fond of me and had even made me the In Charge of the Press Cell when the industry went on a month long film industry strike, way back in 1986.

Looking at the good old 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 again just to feign importance and attend to the call only when the caller called up three to four times. God punished me and a time came when I used to stand next to the 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.’

I miss Kaka. There was no superstar like him and there will be no more superstars like him. If I am a freelance journalist even today after 48 years, I owe it to the one and only superstar Rajesh Khanna.