The 1 a.m. call from Rajesh Khanna

Rajesh Khanna. Photo: Shanker Chakravarthy  

“Hello, main Rajesh bol raha hoon [Hello, this is Rajesh],” said the slightly slurred voice at the other end of the phone. I looked at the clock, it was 1 a.m. I thought it was a bogus call.

“Kaun Rajesh?” I asked, unable to recognise the voice that jolted me from deep slumber.

“Rajesh Khanna,” said the voice, making me sit up and reach for a pen and paper.

He was the Congress candidate against BJP leader L.K. Advani from the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency in 1991 — an election the BJP stalwart almost lost to the star.

“Aare, itni raat ko … boliye [So late, please go on],” I remember saying.

He started off. “Aap Dili ki press mujhe support nahi kar rahe ho. Main Bombay se aya hoon. Mujhe foothold chahiye aur uske liye aap log help nahi kar rahe hain. [The Delhi media is not supporting me. I have come from Bombay. I need a foothold and you people are not helping me].

I (then with the Hindustan Times) told him he was not correct, and that we were giving him as much coverage as to Mr. Advani.

“I know Advaniji is a big leader and I am a newcomer to politics but if you media cooperate with me, give me good coverage, I can win,” he went on as if he had not heard me.

The call was so long that my sleep vanished. It was only after the call ended that I realised I had received a call from the superstar, the ‘phenomenon’ girls would give their right arm to get a smile from. I woke my family up and shared the conversation.

The next morning, his secretary called up and apologised for the late-night call, saying “Aap samajhte hain… [You do understand…].”

Rajesh Khanna exuded superstardom even though he was not active in films then. He had a charisma that drew women of all ages to him instantaneously.

Always dressed in crisp white clothes for elections — mostly kurta-pyjama — he came with a handful of affluent-looking women dressed in white from Bombay who accompanied him in his initial campaign.

It was obvious that nobody in his team had an idea about Delhi or the Delhi crowds, which often lunged towards him, making him visibly uncomfortable. But when he spoke — and he spoke little — he mesmerised people. A smile and a wave of the hand was enough to make people pledge their vote to him.

Meeting Rajesh Khanna was an adventure. First, one had to break away from the crowd of journalists on the lawns of his house for his team to place you. Then, one after the other, several smiling guys would usher you to the verandah, from there to the hall and to a room which would lead to the sanctum.

Once, I found the superstar ready to leave for his campaign. Suddenly he turned around, raised his arm and showed me his kurta, which was torn at the pocket. “See I am wearing a torn kurta.”

I suggested that with so many people waiting on him he could get it mended or simply go in for a new one. Perhaps too proud to admit his loneliness, he did not answer.

A naughty wave

It was towards the end of his campaign that his estranged wife Dimple and daughter Twinkle — unmarried then and an actress in her own right — came to stand by him. Visibly pleased to have his family by his side, he held a press conference flanked by them.

Suddenly, he waved to me and called out a greeting, making Dimple turn her head sharply and look at me. Quite naughtily and out of context, he yelled: “How are you? Are you fine?” and then leaned over to whisper something to his wife. Frankly, I didn’t know where to look.

Rajesh Khanna lost that election to Mr. Advani by a whisker. But he went on to win the same seat in a by-election after the BJP leader, who had also contested from Gandhi Nagar, gave it up. He defeated colleague Shatrughan Sinha and entered Parliament.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 4:39:11 PM |

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