Category Archives: General

GOODBYE, SIR ! (There Will Never Be Another Like You !)

rajeshkhanna_new(My piece written on the greatest superstar India has ever produced just a few days ago. Rajesh Khanna passed away today, July 18th 2012)

Last week I was taking an early morning flight to Banglaore and as we headed towards the Western Express highway after crossing the Bandra-Worli sea link , the famous mustard-colored Lilavati hospital gradually appeared in view. It felt acutely strange. The Phenomenon was there somewhere on the 11th  floor apparently struggling with an unknown, but surely, a debilitating illness. I believe there have been very few visitors. At close proximity to several film studios where his appearance once created traffic jams, a commotion hard to contain. Screaming fans sporting his trademark guru-kurta, film-photographers battling the mayhem , love-struck Juliet’s ready to slash wrists and kiss his car’s bonnet, curious onlookers simply amazed at the uncontrollable hysteria. Not too far away from that famous address in town either, Aashirwaad on Carter Road, where people from all parts of the world would come to just see where the King lived, at least momentarily fooling themselves that they were merely a few hundred feet away from the greatest superstar India had ever seen. Or will ever see; Rajesh Khanna.


I first saw Khanna in the ultimate romantic classic Aaradhna in the memorable scene where Sharmila Tagore throws a bucket of cold water on him inadvertently . The audience went  completely berserk. It was to happen again in Andaz when he appeared suddenly on a Royal Enfield ( Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana) with a scarf circumventing his neck, black goggles perched tantalizingly on his nose bridge as Hema Malini hung precariously as a pillion. It was to be seen to be believed. And when he sang Vaada tera Vaada in Dushman, a rogue truck-driver with a golden heart,  a still poor India threw coins right on the aisle and danced alongside. Unparalleled , unprecedented, unmatched since. To understand Khanna’s maniacal craze  ,  one needed to be have been born in the sixties. What you see today is a mere rewind into shredded fading memories .

The golden phase of  Khanna’s  career included sensational hits that came in breakneck speed and rapid succession; Do Raaste, Ittefaq, Bandhan, Kati Patang, Anand, Safar, Amar Prem, Roti and Sachcha Jhoota. It was intoxicating stuff, could drive the sanest cuckoo . Khanna was but human. Worse,  hugely egotistical, a toxic combination. A string of eminently forgettable films which turned out to be box-office turkeys abruptly halted that serendipitous honeymoon in the zenith.

Khanna made dying into an art form, and audiences wept inconsolably in deep throbs in Safar, Namak Haram and Aaradhna. His haunting Babu Moshai in Anand’s final scene can give you the goose-bumps even today . But it was with Haathi Mere Saathi that Khanna captured those susceptible cuddly hearts , the entire young brat population as well . He was the fountainhead of family entertainment , with the sobbing -sentimental  women and  the young romantics queuing up for the first day first show.  The Phenomenon was unassailable, invulnerable, insuperable. Only he could destroy the hard-earned kingdom. He did.

Namak Haraam in 1973 became the turning point in Khanna’s career, as it did for Amitabh Bachchan, his real  nemesis whom he had once contemptuously dismissed . Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film based on inter-class conflict between the license-raj industrialist’s wayward son and his labor-leader lower middle-class best friend was an epic drama. But the author-backed role of a sulking, emotional fireball suited Bachchan. Khanna’s mild-mannered , mature, mollifying character though brilliantly underplayed got murdered, like Shashi Kapoor’s in Deewar. The superstar’s reign had begun raining off as Bachchan became his direct adversary, who chose films with greater circumspection.

Fortuitous circumstances favored the lanky Bachchan too , albeit immensely talented. One of them was the 1975 declaration of Emergency , which created an inimical, imperceptible anti-establishment mood. The aura of soft, charming romanticism gave way to violent, unrestrained tumult. The Angry Young Man was born, intemperate, resolute, a muscular one man demolition squad. Bachchan’s unusual towering height, impeccable baritone and long side-locks helped. Concomitantly, Khanna chose pedestrian, egregiously bad  films like Maalik, Hamshakal, Shehzada, Aaina , Maha Chor , Chalta Purza , Raja Rani etc.

Khanna’s abrupt marriage to teenager Dimple Kapadia looked like a trite script from a tyro film-maker; including melodramatically taking his old steady girl-friend Anju Mahendroo on a false trail to Khandala. Frankly, a starry-eyed Kapadia and a haloed superstar with  quicksilver mood swings made odd bedfellows;  the marriage, of course,  created massive publicity deserving of heavenly misfits. The acrimonious break-up, and their respective high-profile rendezvous and dalliances with co-stars made equal mast-head copy. Khanna’s predicament was that a dissipating professional career was accentuated by a controversial private life ; he stumbled and fell.

Bachchan lorded Bollywood becoming famously a “ one-man industry”, Khanna had became a peripheral innocuous threat despite a late desperate surge with Souten, Fifty Fifty , Chhaila Babu and Avtaar. Jitendra, Rishi Kapoor and a resurrected Dharmendra and the like had also surreptitiously nibbled away at Khanna’s  core audience. That era also coincided with a sudden spurt of multi-starrers  which saw the re-emergence of mediocre heroes,  but which Khanna’s ego studiously, strictly forbade. His later choices in the same genre were terribly abysmal. Superheroes don’t need deadly villains to decimate them, they are perhaps self-destructive.

When the erstwhile The Phenomenon entered electoral politics in 1991  , it signaled his grudging acceptance of his fragility in tinsel-town. Here too  fate dealt Khanna a lethal blow; he almost blew LK Advani off in New Delhi constituency finally losing by 1000 odd  miserly votes, although comeuppance happened in 1992 when he trounced Shatrughan Sinha. But by 1996 the Congress had become extremely wobbly, and he seemed caught in a dilemma between occasional character roles and New Delhi. He floundered once again. This time more fatally as he misread the changing entertainment space and political dynamics.

What you see in the Havell’s ad is a nebulous apparition of a superstar that never can be replicated in a digital download, multi-screen multiplex age where a golden jubilee is an anachronism. There is no endurance anymore beyond two-weeks even if its Rs 100 crores.  But Rajesh Khanna’s  transitory madness has endured. He must endure even now. After all, “ Zindagi Ka Safar Hai Ye Kaisa Safar,  Koi Samjha Nahin Koi Jana Nahin” still needs to be told in his own words. His tale is incomplete. To have seen such preternatural heights of exhilarating fame and then to experience such impenetrable oblivion requires some inner toughness. The pain of loss, the deep inner turmoil can be devastating. Anonymity can be dreadful for someone accustomed to being serenaded wherever, whenever. Especially when your contemporaries reveled in the new electronic age.

But more later. Right now it is important that Rajesh Khanna leaves the hospital in a happier, healthier state. Get home soon , Sir ! I want to stand outside Aashirwaad once again as I did as a school-kid and be mesmerized , like when I came to Mumbai for the first time. And I know I am not the only one wishing to do the same !

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The Lonely Dudhwalla: India’s Shame

Verghese-Kurien-1I had just entered my teenage years when I discovered the power of the idiot box. As we sat huddled before the eye-popping technology in a rectangular shape , my first memories are those of hearing a deep baritone voice, intellectually refined , possessing extraordinary depth and talking esoteric stuff. I did not understand much, but was hugely impressed by the missionary man. It was Verghese Kurien.

When I last heard the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government was working over-time to ensure that Kurien was forthwith denied some luxurious privileges; a cook, his car and a security guard. Modi’s government, frequently lauded as a development model by cosmetic analysts , gullible scribes and super-sized CEOs , is obviously looking at cost-cutting in times of difficult financial crunch, I guess. Perhaps that explains the charitable excesses of lollipops sops and tax-breaks being provided to industrial houses , who therefore hail Modi as a bearded messiah, the accessible magical alchemist. Kurien, is in no Fortune Top 10 billionaire list like Ambani bro’s and matching Mittal’s. He does not own colourful cricketers and hold yacht-parties even as his companies sink in deep waters. Neither is he giving tall spiel on corporate governance in a US business school. And neither has he written management potboilers on the emerging shape of the world. He is just simply greater; much bigger than all of them put together.

My father, an old-fashioned economist and a devout champion of the co-operative movement , once told me, “ Verghese Kurien is one of India’s greatest freedom-fighters who never went to jail”. Once again, I was flummoxed. I could never fathom why these profound characters always spoke in such obfuscating language. But I solved the ambiguous puzzle soon enough. Kurien, a Michigan university graduate in mechanical engineering, had single-handedly transformed rural Gujarat through creating local co-operatives in dairy farming, thereby ushering in what became famous as India’s “ white revolution”. And had successfully outsmarted well-entrenched transnational companies.

In the corporate world today, CEOs and management gurus talk of profit-sharing and employee empowerment. Kurien , in then Third World India considered third-class by a supercilious western world, created a cooperative infrastructure that changed lives of whole villages and poor farmers , creating prosperity, ensuring fair remuneration, enriching communities and making a remarkable distribution structure that redefined the model of India’s rural development. And soon enough, a brand called Amul was born. It’s market valuation ( if possible) would exceed that of Citibank for sure.

India is today the largest milk producer in the world, and Operation Flood was named such, because Kurien made a household necessity available across the vast country-side. He humbled the mighty multinational Nestle, and Polson butter disappeared back to it’s Occidental shores. The Indian buffalo had out-performed the Swiss cow. And through a cooperative framework that performed to exceptional detailing, he altered India’s rural landscape. The world came calling. Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Ramon Magsaysay and several international recognition followed. But Kurien stayed put in his little shy hamlet of Anand in Mehsana district even as Amul became the butter of the nation.

But then dramatically in 2006 they unceremoniously dumped him from the same homes from where he created , what I believe, is India’s first multinational ( sorry, Tatas), the best distribution system ( apologies, ITC) and a revolutionary breakthrough in community welfare and employee engagement ( no offense, the tax-shelter seeking IT firms).

Some say he is terribly arrogant, and a demanding leader. The truth is that he is an exceptional genius, and the least concession that we can give him is his high exacting standards; that is not arrogance, it is just fundamental expectations of a superlative dreamer , but ordinary mortals will not understand that. Neither will Narendra Modi.

The dodgy Indian media has conveniently forgotten Verghese Kurien. There is more precious ROI in featuring new-age business commanders serenading Modi. It makes for higher TRPs and newsprint spend-value. I have seen no real protest, no genuine remonstrance , not even a tiny editorial against the shoddy humiliation of the greatest technocrat India has ever produced.

I met Kurien much later ten years ago in his humble home in Anand . The supposedly arrogant man helped us to a chair, shared his old stories, and finally saw us off at the door. I consider those few moments chatting with him, an inspiring revelation. And when I told him how awe-struck I was when I first heard him on my Cinevista TV set, he laughed, and said—Thank You! I see what we Indians are doing to him today, and feel ashamed as an Indian.

Verghese Kurien will be 88 years old this year on 26th November 2009.