Ziya Us Salam

No fan could match this whirlwind

Rakesh Khanna in Havells ad   | Photo Credit: mail pic

Rajesh Khanna quietly walked into the sunset of life, lonely, ill and maybe, sorrowful. His last hit film had come a little under three decades ago. New films were seldom offered to him. And those that did come his way were helmed by rank amateurs, doing little for his reputation or career, a far cry from the days of super stardom when every producer, director, heroine, wanted to work with him.

On the personal front, he was stricken with cancer. And except a friend or two, he had only his daughter, Rinke, for support. Slowly, he was losing the battle with the debilitating disease. Yet he chose to spring a surprise. He came back virtually from the dead. His diehard fans, starved of a staple diet of his films, turned all misty eyed as Rajesh Khanna, frail, wrinkled, sunken jawed, hollow cheeked, a world removed from the charismatic hero of the late ’60s and early ’70s, addressed his fans one last time in the Havells fans television commercial. “ Mere fans mujh se koi nahin chheen sakta,” went his last dialogue.

That he managed to shoot for the advertisement was a tribute to the remarkable resilience of the man. When noted director R. Balki, who had directed Amitabh Bachchan in films like Cheeni Kum and Paa, ventured to offer him the Havell fan advertisement, many were sceptical. Rajesh Khanna was going through the terminal stages of cancer. Yet he agreed to do the ad. What was even more surprising was the fact that throughout his career, he had not done any television commercial; his only advertisement appearance was for a Bombay Dyeing print ad campaign many summers ago.

The challenges had only begun. A little before the shooting was to commence in Bengaluru, Rajesh Khanna suffered a hairline fracture of the foot. Great swelling made mobility almost impossible. He could not put on his shoes. Two days before the shooting, he was moved to Nanavati hospital in Mumbai. He took painkillers, mustered up all courage, and decided against postponing the shooting. Maybe, because of the disease, he had a premonition that time was at a premium. He went straight from the hospital to the airport. The ad was to be shot in a stadium. Unfortunately, unlike during his heyday, this time, his car was not allowed inside the stadium, and Kaka had to enter in a wheelchair. For the ad, he took along his make-up man and donned a white shirt with a bow, his suit hanging limply on his weary, emaciated body. Yet he managed to smile.

The ad, a Balki classic, was all about a man with a great fan following, reminiscing about his glorious days with a punchline, “My fans can never leave me”. Rajesh Khanna, who had experienced unprecedented heights of glory in the early part of his career, before swiftly being overtaken by Amitabh Bachchan as the most popular hero, fit the bill perfectly. And he was sporting enough not only to do the campaign but also to mouth the line, “ Mere fans mujh se koi nahin chheen sakta”.

In the ad, Balki decided to show cheering fans, and initially only the silhouette of the star while playing snatches of the famous song, “Yeh sham mastani…” before the camera got close to the superstar. And Kaka, who had an immaculate sense of the camera, played his part to perfection. “ Fans kya hote hain, mujhse poochho…hawa badal sakti hai, lekin fans hamesha mere rahenge….,” he said, the reference seeming more to his legion of fans than the Havells fans meant for circulation of air! The ad hit the television screens in April 2012. A little over two months later, Rajesh Khanna breathed his last.

Well known author-critic Gautam Chintamani described the ad as “a specimen of copywriting brilliance and infused with a tinge of nostalgia” in his book “The Loneliness of being Rajesh Khanna: Dark Star”, while noting that only Kaka could have carried it off. “He had the flair, the charisma, the romantic touch that drove fans mad. He was at the top and then he stopped being on top...but people still remember the pinnacle,” Chintamani wrote.

Incidentally, Balki had also shot more footage of the commercial which was not used in the brief snatches on television. In that part, we had Rajesh Khanna doing a little jig in his trademark way while his popular song, “Achcha to hum chalte hain” played in the background. It seemed a real salute to the superstar. At the end of the shooting, Khanna announced “pack up” for one last time in his career, waved to all his screaming fans in the stadium, probably knowing, the journey was near its end. Everybody gave him a standing ovation.

Incidentally, it was in Bengaluru that he had first tasted heady success when he made an appearance for promotion of the film Andaz, and his fans fell over each other to touch him, see him, get a picture taken with him. He had, reportedly, turned misty eyed then. He surely left many with a tear or two with the Havells ad.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 6:40:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/no-fan-could-match-this-whirlwind/article6818787.ece

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