Amitabh Bachchan recalls time spent with Rajesh Khanna

Rajesh Khanna's funeral

I first saw him in a film magazine, perhaps Filmfare. He was the winner of the Filmfare-Madhuri Talent Contest, a contest that I had applied to in the coming year and been rejected.

His film Aradhana was my next meeting with him, at the Rivoli Theatre in Connaught Place in New Delhi, which my mother took me along to see. The packed audience and their reactions to this young handsome man were impermeable.

The early, or shall I say preliminary rejection of my attempt to compete in the Filmfare-Madhuri contest, had made me leave my job in Calcutta. I had come home to seek the possibilities of joining the (film) industry in some other way. But one look at Rajesh Khanna made me realise that with people like him around, there would be little chance or opportunity for me in this new profession!

On working with Kaka

Being cast opposite him in (Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s) Anand…was like a miracle, god’s own blessing and one that gave me ‘reverse respect’. The moment anyone came to know that I was working with THE Rajesh Khanna, my importance grew. And I gloated in its wake.

Witness to the Kaka hysteria

He would attract many visitors on set (of Anand) and was continuously surrounded by them – Hrishi da permitting! The frenzy and the following he garnered was a sight to behold. In the 1970s era, his fans came from Spain to meet him – a most unheard of occurrence then. In his trademark Rajesh Khanna kurta pyjama, he almost always looked the boy next door, one that girls would want to take home to mother.

An ever-gracious host

I visited his residence, Aashirwad, just once, when we were working together, to wish him on his birthday, only to realise when I reached there, that I had come in a day earlier. He was magnanimous enough to understand my awkwardness and asked me to stay back; then after a while driving me to Shakti Samanta’s (who made Aradhana and many other films with him, and Great Gambler and Barsaat ki ek Raat with me) house to join him for dinner!

Inimitable zest

When the shooting of Anand began at Mohan Studios, Hrishi da’s favourite locale, now a concrete housing colony, the one moment that always worried me was that last scene, when I break down after his death and urge him emotionally to speak! Not being able to find a method in my own very limited acting experience, I sought the help of Mehmood bhai, in whose house I was living with his brother Anwar Ali. And I still remember what he told me – he said, “Just think Amitabh, R-a-j-e-s-h K-h-a-n-n-a is dead!! and you will get everything right.”

It was not so much a tutorial in acting that he expounded. It was an exalted acknowledgement of Rajesh Khanna’s presence and position in the psyche of the nation, that he was drawing my attention to.

Times changed, people changed, circumstances changed, but Rajesh Khanna always remained his quiet, elegant, regal self! As I sat at his home on Wednesday afternoon, to pay my respects, soon after learning of his passing away, a close functionary of his, came up to me and told me in a choked voice what his last words were – “time ho gaya hai (it’s time)! Pack Up !”

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