What else can one blog about the news that's just in - the death of India's first superstar. The thing is that I was never a particular fan. When he was at the peak of his career, my parents didn't allow me to watch Hindi films. And when I did watch his films later in college, I always found his acting to be a shade stylised and theatrical, particularly that ubiquitous tilt of the head and the crinkly-eyed smile. There were some memorable performances: "Ittefaq", "Khamoshi", "Anand", "Namak Haram", "Amar Prem", "Aavishkar". However, the music of his films was stupendous. SD Burman, RD Burman and Kishore Kumar certainly had a lot to do with his superstardom. Here are some of my favourites from Khanna's films:
Kuch toh log kahenge
Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye
Yeh shyam mastani
Woh shyam kuch ajeeb thi
Maine tere liye hi saat range ke sapney chune
Hasne ki chaha ne
Nadiya se dariya
Mere sapnon ki rani
Actually what fascinates me is the course of this man's life. It is so much a modern day morality tale. He was raised by foster parents. Does the separation from his biological parents in any way account for the obvious problems he had with making emotional connections with people? He soared to dizzying heights without the help of any godfather or filmy relations after winning a talent contest. Such was the blinding, inebriating effect of his superstardom that he thought his fame, unlike that enjoyed by countless other movie stars, would last forever. "That's the advantage Amitabh had over me," he said once. "He knew fame was fickle because of my career. I didn't."
While other stars were all cloak and dagger about their affairs, Khanna lived openly with Anju Mahendru for many years. And then, he abruptly left her to marry the teenaged Dimple Kapadia. She couldn't put up with his fawning entourage (people who would light his cigarette and cup the ash in their hands) and so they parted ways. But they were never divorced. Once again, he had an open, extended and tumultuous affair with Tina Munim who would later become the wife of a multibillionaire.
Apparently, women swooned when they saw him; they wrote to him letters in their blood; some took their own lives when he got married. He wasn't particularly handsome; he didn't have a marvellous physique. He didn't beat up goons single-handedly. In fact, he looked rather vulnerable. That's probably why he appealed to women. They wanted to take care of him.
After the release of Zanjeer, Khanna's days at the top were over as abruptly as the flip of a switch. Romance was out, action was in. A certain tall and angry young man was set to take Hindi cinema by storm. Khanna did not have the imagination to star in off-beat, realistic cinema in order to keep his career going. He tried television, but with limited success. He tried politics too but he was not cut out for it.
So this man finally came back on our small screens after being absent for decades because of his mysterious illness. Thankfully, his family rallied around him. After many years of loneliness, he had his estranged wife and his daughters beside him. What did he think of in those last days, staring out at the ocean from the window of his bungalow? Did he see a man drunk on bhang doing an unselfconscious jig? Did he see a man on a military jeep playing a mouth organ and singing to his sapnon ki rani? Did he see a guru kurta-clad young man with multi-coloured balloons in his hand walking along the beach towards the edge of the horizon and disappear?