Millennials Review Classics: Of Genetics & Nepotism In ‘Aradhana’
Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore on the poster of <i>Aradhana.</i>
Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore on the poster of Aradhana.

Millennials Review Classics: Of Genetics & Nepotism In ‘Aradhana’

(Avinash Iyer, 31, watched the 1969 classic Aradhana for the first time. Read his review here.)

You are in a jeep running parallel to a train that has your potential sapnon ki rani. In a world where there are no dating apps that match people based on proximity, how would the two of you meet? Well, if you were to ask Rajesh Khanna this, he’d suggest you sing an SD Burman song and if you’re lucky, the two of you might end up exchanging furtive glances. In millennial speak, it’s a match!

You can even sing the gif text to the tune of the original. Try it out.
You can even sing the gif text to the tune of the original. Try it out.

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Just before this song, in Shakti Samanta’s 1969 hit Aradhana (which means worship), the opening scene shows us Vandana (Sharmila Tagore) being convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. How she lands here is told by way of flashback.

Now, there has been a raging debate online surrounding ‘genetics’ and ‘nepotism’ and there couldn’t have been a better time to watch this classic that directly or indirectly touches these topics (tongue, firmly in cheek). That it has Sharmila Tagore in it is another co-incidence altogether.

Vandana and Arun (Rajesh Khanna) meet and fall in love. Mind you, they’re not your average couple. She’s a doctor’s daughter, he’s an Air Force Pilot, both supremely good looking. In one scene, Arun’s senior, played by Ashok Kumar, even describes him as sabse behtareen officer to Vandana, as if assuring her of his pedigree. You can only imagine the genetic makeup of their offspring.

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One day this couple walks into a mandir and gets married quicker than you and I can make Maggi. Nobody knows of this secret shaadi. It starts raining heavily and they end up in a random bungalow because clearly this dude was not around.

They consummate their insta-shaadi to Roop Tera Mastana, Pyaar Mera Deewana. And even before they can have a post-coital sandwich, Arun is sure that there will be good news, it will be a son, who must be named Suraj and who must grow up to be an air force pilot just like him. He mentions this more than once in the film. At one point, I almost suspected him to be some sort of secret geneticist who was hell-bent on engineering an ideal offspring. But sadly, Arun dies, Vandana cries, inky pinky ponky.

Soon, Vandana is pregnant and gives birth to……….wait for it……a boy (Papa ka first sapna: Check). Technically she’s a bin bhyayi maa (It wasn’t an official marriage. Remember?). She leaves the baby at an orphanage so she can legally adopt him the next day. Now all this wouldn’t have happened had Preity Zinta’s unwed mom guide ‘How to juggle your second trimester and fourth semester’ come a few decades earlier. Anyway, ab jo hua hi nahin uskey baare mein Kya Kehna? (Pun, totally, intended)

This whole ‘baby adoption’ thing is one of the most bizarre sequences in the film. It is shown to be as easy as online shopping. You log into an e-retail site, add an item to cart, pay and it’s yours. Now let’s assume that there’s some delay from your end while paying so someone else ends up buying what you wanted. That’s what happens here. Vandana doesn’t get her baby so she now must be his nanny at the home of the couple that has taken him. She makes sure he’s named Suraj (Papa ka second sapna: Check).

Years roll by. A crime happens, Vandana is wrongfully jailed, she completes her life sentence and the jailer takes her home as his behen (Okay then). The jailer’s daughter (Farida Jalal) is in love with a certain someone. She takes Vandana aunty to meet her boyfriend who is none other than Air Force Pilot Suraj played by *drumroll* a halki moochwala Rajesh Khanna. (Papa ka third sapna: Check). This takes ‘Like father, like son’ to a whole new level.

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Same to same face, matlab genetics zindabad. Now since he grew up in an entirely different household that had nothing to do with the Air Force, it’s safe to assume that there is not a hint of nepotism here. Soon enough, Suraj discovers that Vandana is his real mother and they live happily ever after.

On the side: Aradhana is quite entertaining for the most part, is well-acted and has some great music. And the film is called Aradhana because after older Rajesh Khanna dies, Sharmila Tagore decides she will worship him all her life. Thoda stretched connection, I know, but go for it.

Also, Sharmila Tagore > Anushka Sharma. Anushka couldn’t tell the difference between Shah Rukh Khan with a mooch and one without a mooch in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but Sharmila Tagore identifies her son in an instant. Is this what they call maa ka pyaar?

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 29 July 2017.)