When Rajesh Khanna insulted Amitabh Bachchan and made Jaya Bhaduri angry
In the early 70s, Khanna didn’t have it in him to even acknowledge Bachchan’s presence, leave alone hailing him the next superstar.
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For audiences and critics alike, if Anand was largely about Rajesh Khanna, Namak Haraam ended up being mostly about Amitabh Bachchan, although it was the other way round for the director of both the films.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the only director for whom both Khanna and Bachchan delivered stellar performances on every outing, believed that Bachchan was the scene stealer in Anand while Khanna was the one who shined more in Namak Haraam.
A star goes out
It was apparently Khanna himself who, at the premiere of Namak Haraam, told Hrishikesh Mukherjee that his time was up and that Bachchan was the new superstar.
It’s possible to imagine someone in a weak moment admitting the obvious, but people like Shyam Keswani, who knew Khanna at his peak, and film journalist Ali Peter John, who knew Khanna all his life, find it impossible to believe that Khanna could have been so generous.
Keswani simply rubbishes the idea and says that the Khanna he knew in the early 1970s didn’t have it in him to even acknowledge Bachchan’s presence, leave alone hailing him the next superstar. Ali Peter John witnessed Khanna repeatedly insulting Bachchan when the actor used to visit Jaya Bhaduri on the sets of Bawarchi.
Ali recalls how Bachchan, who wasn’t hot property yet, would usually hang out with then girlfriend Jaya and other friends like Asrani at their shoots. On one occasion he saw Khanna taunt Bachchan — who maintained his distance as well as his calm — endlessly. It was when Khanna called him manhoos or ill-fated that Jaya decided that she had had enough.
She walked up within Khanna’s earshot and proclaimed that one day the world would see where this man (Bachchan) would be and where Khanna would be.
Jaya Bhaduri’s prophetic words came true, thanks to the success of Salim-Javed and Bachchan becoming the mainstay of their scripts.
When he approached Rajesh Khanna for a television commercial for Havells fans, R Balki had become more than a genius adman. A celebrated name in Indian advertising, Balki had already directed Amitabh Bachchan in two roles that weren’t just author-backed but challenged the actor unlike mostroles in his much celebrated second coming.
Cheeni Kum (2007), Balki’s debut as a director, gave Bachchan one of the best roles ever in his career as he played not just the 60-year-old man that he was in reality, but also unshackled him from the trappings of his larger-than-life persona.
While in Cheeni Kum, Bachchan played an ageing chef in London who falls in love with a woman half his age, his second venture with Balki, Paa (2009), saw him play a 13-year-old who suffers from a rare disorder called progeria that accelerates ageing.
If Bachchan’s persona made Balki seek stories that box-office considerations didn’t allow the actor to explore, in Khanna’s case there was no other story that attracted the adman.
“With Rajesh Khanna, there was no other story after his stardom happened. He had the flair, the charm, the romantic touch that drove fans mad,” says Balki. Balki needed someone who had it all but lost it: “He was at the top and he stopped being on top.
There was no gradual decrease, but people still remember the pinnacle.”
For him, it was not as much Khanna the actor, but Rajesh Khanna the brand that could be used even after 40 years. When viewed in isolation, Balki’s concept for the commercial is witty and meets most parameters that define a good advertisement.
An unspecified dapper man enters a stadium filled with adulating fans. He is basking in the loud cheering and deafening clapping, and takes a bow to a lifetime spent gathering such a following and his eyes thank his fans; but a few seconds later, we see that the "fans" are actual fans — electrical appliances of all shapes and sizes.
The man looks at the camera and smiles knowingly as he says, “Mere fans mujh se koi nahin chheen sakta.” (No one can take my fans away from me.)
(Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India Ltd, the book is available for Rs 499)