A star only too human

Yasser Usman’s book on Rajesh Khanna offers hitherto unheard stories of the actor

Published - December 12, 2014 03:37 pm IST

Rajesh Khanna

Rajesh Khanna

Rajesh Khanna was a phenomenon, king of romance and symbol of tragedy too, living his character on the screen with rare dynamism. He was a producers’ darling and favourite of many directors. A confirmed ticket to success at the box office. “Rajesh Khanna, The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar”, penned by Yasser Usman and published by Penguin, is a story dedicated to one of the most intriguing characters of Indian cinema.

Why Rajesh Khanna? Why not Dev Anand or Amitabh Bachchan or Shammi Kapoor, stars who commanded a legendary following, actors who gave joy to different generations. Says Usman, “They say you don’t find the stories, they find you. I was in Mumbai when Rajesh Khanna passed away and as part of my job as a television journalist, I was assigned a documentary on him. I must admit I wasn’t a great fan of Rajesh Khanna. Sure I loved him in films like Anand, Aradhana or Namak Haraam but I could never identify with the stories of his mass hysteria, girls going crazy over him or writing letters in blood.”

But it changed on the day of his funeral on July 18, 2012. Remembers Usman, “It was befitting a king. There were thousands of people in the procession. This intense devotion of his fans made me more curious. This was a story to be told. I had to tell the story and in a manner where he doesn’t appear as a fallen superstar but a star who was only too human.”

It did not really matter that Usman did not know the superstar. “I don’t think it was a handicap. The work for this book started after he passed away. I agree, it would have been so much better if I’d an opportunity to interview him at length. But can you imagine the incredible media coverage that a superstar of his stature would have commanded?”

The challenge for Usman was to “gain access to archives and segregate the chaff from wheat. I’ve attempted to tackle all the divergent facts and opinions about him in a manner that, I hope, pieces together a balanced, coherent story in all its three-dimensional capacity. Also, I strongly feel not knowing him was, in a way, an advantage because it allowed me to write about him without any pre-conceived notions.”

The book has many anecdotes and some shocking facts. As Usman shares, “I was shocked to discover that Rajesh Khanna was in complete denial of the existence of his biological parents. His life before Aradhana has hardly been documented. It is common knowledge that he was an adopted child. But during my extensive research, I noticed a stark absence of any mention of his biological family in all his interviews. In fact, he went to the extent of fabricating stories and providing fictitious names of his sisters. His Man Friday tells me that there was not even a single photograph of the real parents in Aashirwad nor ever a mention. It seems Rajesh Khanna had undone his past in his mind.”

Biographies as a genre either tend to become academic or lopsided. This is well-researched and different. “I’ve tried to tell the story with a novelistic flair retaining all the ingredients of a Rajesh Khanna blockbuster. My book offers hitherto unheard stories. We have a young theatre actor being offered a one rupee signing amount. We have a debutant film actor being shown the stars by Dev Anand and Geeta Dutt, a teary-eyed Rishi Kapoor in the Rajesh-Dimple after-wedding party. And a young Dimple explaining how the marriage eventually disintegrated step by step. We have stories of secret meetings where he was warned against working with Lambu (Amitabh Bachchan)? What was the last story that Rajesh Khanna wanted to tell the world even from his deathbed? This book is that story.”

In his foreword, Salim Khan admits, “When I read this book I feel that, really, truth can be stranger than fiction. A person whom I knew as a living, vibrant being now appears to me through a different prism, and I can see new facets of his life in this book.”

Written in a racy style, the book is a fine tribute to the phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna. A must for his fans; and the rest too.

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