People Will Sing My Songs When I’m Long Gone: Rajesh Khanna
(This piece was first published on 28 December 2016)
“In showbiz it’s never over... till you pack up” Rajesh Khanna said in an interview conducted in the late 90s, when he had temporarily moved out of his Carter Road bungalow and moved into his Khar office. Those were days when he was active in politics and his film assignments had reduced considerably. Around this time, one day, I was visiting the jewellery shop below his office building Pancham, and as I looked up I found Rajesh Khanna in the balcony, signalling me to come up. I did.
The glass door of his office was open and Khanna clad in a white kurta stood in the centre of the room. We were meeting after almost a decade, and a lot had changed in his life and career. He led me to the balcony facing the busy street below. The office boy served us adrak chai in transparent green cups and we chatted of days gone by and of days to come...
Q: How does it feel being in Mumbai after such a long time?
Rajesh Khanna: Being in Mumbai always feels good. Delhi is very different and no matter how comfortable life gets in the capital it can never be home. Some years ago when I was in Mumbai for a celebration, I spent time with all the technicians and artistes, and I cannot tell you how good it felt reconnecting with all my old colleagues.
Q: What do you think is so special about the city?
Rajesh Khanna: There is a boundless energy and the spirit is unmatchable to any other city or country. Despite all the petty quarrels and the camps, the rivalry of every Friday, there is something so warm and emotional about the film fraternity which is not there any where else. Yes, we have disagreements and controversies, but that’s a part of life. The housewife fights with the neighbour, the office commuter with a fellow passenger. But when there is a crisis, film folks come together, they always have. This does not happen in other professions. They carry petty politics forever.
Q: Is this the politician talking or the actor?
Rajesh Khanna: I joined politics because Rajiv Gandhi asked me to. The first time I met him, I was in awe of him. I wanted to touch his rosy cheeks to find out if he wore make-up. His composure and ability to smile under all circumstances fascinated me.
Initially, what attracted me to politics was that it was different from show business. After five years in active politics, I adapted to the hard life and said I’ll continue as long as the party needs me. The truth however is that my heart aches for artistic expression. I’m happiest when I’m listening to Ustad Ravi Shankar or Vilayat Khan saab.
Q: Do you think it was a mistake to give up acting for politics, do you regret it?
Rajesh Khanna: I never said I was giving up films. I continued working in films and there were significant projects around this time. I was always hopeful because in showbiz it is never over till you pack up. In the olden days the media debated a comeback with Dimple and me. Aashirward Films' Jai Shiv Shankar starring us never got released because of my income-tax problems.
I pleaded with them to let me release the film and I would clear my debts, but they didn’t. It was unfortunate and extremely painful because we had even obtained the censor certificate. It was not to be and today, it does not matter. One just has to be patient and wait and watch. I’m learning to be patient. My experience in politics has taught me endurance.
Q: If you had been as patient as an actor would your career have taken a different course?
Rajesh Khanna: I'm not sure. I behaved the way I did because that is the kind of person I am. One learns from mistakes. When Twinkle was new in films and asked me for guidance, I said follow your heart and you will find all the answers. Nobody taught me acting. When I was confused and groping, I looked up to my director. Sometimes, we helped each other as colleagues, sometimes we just submitted to the moment.
Q: Who do you miss the most among your contemporaries?
Rajesh Khanna: I miss all those who are no more. Smita Patil and Sanjeev Kumar died so young. When I watch their old films on TV I feel a sense of deep loss. One may not be in regular contact with colleagues, but one was aware of what was happening in their lives.
The other day I was watching an interview of Amitabh on TV and felt sad that there will be no record of the golden 15 years of his career, and only because he was not talking to the media at that time. There are no statements, no pictures for history to remember his mega stardom. What a monumental loss! Who better than me to understand this... Amitabh may not realise this now, but he will regret his long absence from the media someday.
Q: Do you like living in Delhi?
Rajesh Khanna: Let me put it this way, I have got used to being there, but Delhi isn't my home. Home will always be only Aashirwad, Carter Road.
Q: Do you miss your stardom?
Rajesh Khanna: It’s difficult to explain what I feel. People have forgotten me today, but when I’m no more they will remember me and sing my songs.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. You can follow her on Twitter @bhawanasomaaya. Blog: http://bhawanasomaaya.com/blogs/@bhawanasomaaya)
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Rajesh Khanna’s birth anniversary.)