An Open Letter to Anurag Kashyap and his 12.12.12 project. #kractivism




( Within 3 hours after putting this post- picture abhi baak hai dost :-P)

“Shilpa has been refunded the expenses she incurred on making the film and Showhouse’s Large Short Films has promised to give her copyright over her work soon subsequent to the circulation of the open letter. She is waiting for it in writing. She stands by the issues she raised and thanks everyone for the immense kind support” Thanks Kamayani this would not have been possible without you. You are really awesome!

I am a Mysore based woman filmmaker who was chosen by you to be part of the Mega Movies project 12.12.12 executed by Showhouse Entertainment’s Large Short Films Wing. I am writing this open letter because I think public discourse is important given that over the years you have come to occupy such an important space within what you call ‘independent cinema’.

Also no one from the company that you endorse, as well as you, thinks it is important to have a dialogue with me about unpaid wages, disrespect and unfair dismissal which has caused me tremendous amount of financial, emotional stress. There is also a much touted save indie cinema doing the rounds and what it fails to add to the discourse (not surprising going by the kind of signatories it claims) is what I want to talk about. Changing the look of how you produce cinema and being backed by big studio capital isn’t really independent. I think it is important to bring this into the public domain as the silences around working practices result in the perpetuation of exploitative systems and weed out filmmakers based on their class, caste, gender, religion and language.

It was absolutely no surprise when I saw that the list of 12 directors included no woman. So apparently out of 600 entries only I, the sole woman, made it to the shortlist and because I decided to speak up and not be quiet about how my film was going to tortured and beaten into becoming the kind of objects that you seem to grant your blessings to, 12.12.12 is now officially an all male production.

I bring your notice to this because the tone of the company with regard to objections I raised has been patronising, condescending and dismissive. Well meaning friends and critics will tell me that’s how it works, that’s the industry,
the industry that works on free labour, meant for those who have the money to afford the time to chase dreams. It’s not meant for women like me who have no big daddies or brothers or husbands supporting them. It isn’t meant for women
like me who choose to work in a language other than Hindi and it definitely isn’t meant for women like me who don’t know how to waddle along consenting to practices that make people like you and the companies you endorse just richer
on the back of such exploitative practices.

You sent me an email stipulating that I would not be in touch with any of the other 11 directors (an effective way I must say to curb dissent and this goes by the name of being collaborative!) The contract also stipulated that I would be paid once I handed over the film contrary to what the rules on the contest page initially stated wherein I was supposed to have been given the money before Ivmade the film. This I was informed after having worked a full month on the project. I did sign it and I take full responsibility for that sign because you were the carrot dangled to me, the one ruling the roost in the film festival circuit and of course the Indian public funding circuit, what seemed like the only way to make one’s film. And since you must have been paid handsomely to be the carrot, I only ask that you own up to the full responsibility of it and be accountable to the carrot desirers you create.

After insisting that I get paid at least half I went ahead, after funds were released, and borrowed money to complete it. I hand over the film and fulfil my contractual obligations and then am bullied into changing and reshooting it for a mistake made by Asmit Pathare (Project director not the 12th discovery – check the shortlist!) and Abhijit Das (the godfather of short films in the making). So I naturally said no. You must understand how difficult it is for a director to hurt their stories? It’s kind of like being okay with Abhijit Das (Creative head of Largeshortfilms) adding on a scene where Manoj Bajpai spouts Feminist Marxist dialogues in Gangs of Wasseypur and without telling you! Wouldn’t really fit with the ethos of the film no? Your company even told me that since I do not have the resources I cannot be involved in the reshoot. At such a juncture I asked you not to use my film if I was not being reimbursed and no, you go ahead and use it. The matchbox still from my film is still up on the company’s website.

In a country with absolutely zilch funding for independent films you exploit the hopes of thousands of aspirants. You reiterate a certain way of working which accommodates only a certain type of filmmaker. This in my world is called cheating, it’s called immoral and it’s called unfair. In your world all this is grey, this hijacking that you do of a space that has seen so much struggle and such amazing cinema, this hijacking of language – calling it collaborative when it’s more dictatorial, this hijacking of image, of new film waves, of new ways of working. One of the most exciting things about globalised capitalism’s current avatar (as Hardt and Negri will tell you) is that even though it creates systems like you it also provides for ruptures like me.

Before you come back with a reply to this I ask you to re‐look at emails that you sent me and words you relayed to me through the company about my filmmaking. Everything that I have said is backed by evidence (I know too well
how important that is) I know this open dissent will cost me. I’m not naïve not to understand as to how you rule visibilities around distribution and production but I will walk away knowing that I have spoken and that this is just the beginning not the end of the road for me. For those of you reading this I understand that within the larger framework of what we call injustice in this country this is nothing but when we start to look at continuums everything does matter and support for this would really help not just me but for all those who are engaged in changing the way images speak.

From the 12th director who so mysteriously disappeared
Shilpa Munikempanna

contact- 9611843981

Fearless Nadia Hunterwali, once more #Sundayreading #cinema

India may have forgotten Mary Ann Evans, but the world is heaping praises on her. As Australia, her birth country, pays a tribute to India’s original stunt queen, Saadia S Dhailey ruminates on the life and times of Fearless Nadia


FEARLESS Nadia, aka Mary Ann Evans, burst onto the screen in the 1930s, juggling whips, swords, guns, and sometimes even landing mean punches with her bare hands, to set the villains straight. In this blonde, blueeyed ballet dancer, filmmaker JBH Wadia found his feminist icon, who could carry a social and political message at a time when Indian actresses played dainty damsels in distress, waiting to be rescued by their knights in shining armour.
From her first film, Hunterwali (The Princess and the Hunter) in 1935, Evans was a huge hit and went on to redefine the image of a woman on screen. She changed her name to Nadia after being advised by a fortuneteller and her nom de plume ‘Fearless Nadia’ was acquired from her days as a circus acrobat. To the pre-Independence era audience, Fearless Nadia was the first of her kind.
She would single-handedly fight a gang of men, jump from one moving vehicle to another, hang from chandeliers, and spout dialogues like no woman ever had till then, anywhere in the world. Author and documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir watched Diamond Queen sometime in the late 1970s, and she will always remember Nadia’s famous dialogue that still rings true: “If India is to be free, women must be given their freedom. If you try and stop them, you’ll face the consequences”. Says Kabir, “In the early days of Indian cinema, our stunt films copied the Hollywood films of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. But it was Nadia who made this borrowed genre uniquely Indian by her very presence and unique stunts. Fearless Nadia represented a significant model. She played an original character at a time when the role of women in society was largely conservative and repressive. The
audience knew that she was not Indian, and perhaps the fact that a Westerner was fighting on our side was doubly appealing to them.”
A blonde, blue-eyed girl with Indian character names — Mala (Jungle Ka Jawahar), Savita (Miss Frontier Mail), Madhurika (Diamond Queen) — championing the common man’s causes and fighting for women’s rights was unheard of and unseen before.
Nadia went on to star in about 50 films, (some sources say 60), but as she mainly performed in the stunt genre, unfortunately, she was seen as less of a thespian, largely ignored by Indian cinema historians. That, however, changed in 1993, three years before her death, when Wadia’s grandson, the late Riyad Vinci Wadia, introduced her to the world through a documentary on her life called Fearless: The Hunterwali Story. Screened at various international film festivals, it brought her to the attention of the world, including Australia, where she was born as Mary Ann Evans. Riyad’s brother Roy Wadia, director, Wadia Movietone, tells us, “The documentary generated a lot of interest. When Australians realised the connection Mary had with them, she became very special.”
The ongoing Oz Fest in India has a segment dedicated to her. Australian composer Ben Walsh, who has been providing the music score in an unique live-orchestra format, as one of Nadia’s most famous films Diamond Queen is screened all over India, says, “Why India? I don’t think she still has parallels in the rest of the world.”
Australian journalist Michelle Smith after watching Nadia’s work recently, described her unique style as “a 1930s-esque innocence, juxtaposed with incredible stunts and spiels about women’s rights”. As a gift to India, the Australian High Commission has also undertaken the task to restore the print of this film. “It’s the most mature Nadia film of its kind and really elevated the stunt genre to story-telling,” Roy tells us. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal credits Nadia for giving Indian cinema its first angry young ‘man’. He explains, “She stood for the good and the right in society, which is what Amitabh Bachchan did as an actor in the late 1970s, and became a champion of the common man. Without Fearless Nadia, there would be no Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man.”
Roy, who had the good fortune of knowing her (Mary was married to JBH Wadia’s brother Homi Wadia), says fondly, “She was the only grownup in my family who cracked adult jokes. One among the boys, she loved whisky and had no airs. Mary aunty didn’t buy into her legends and myths!”
Veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed says, “In those days, Fearless Nadia did stunts that even men didn’t attempt.” Nadia’s grandnephew, Bollywood choreographer, Shiamak Davar, reveals how Nadia’s onscreen persona even charmed Angelina Jolie, who told Shah Rukh Khan once, she would love to play Fearless Nadia if her life is ever captured on celluloid.
With a renewed interest in the life, times and art of Nadia, a film on her, played by one of the most recognizable faces in the world, may not seem like a pipe dream anymore. But Davar still rues the lack of interest in her by the Indian film fraternity. “They pay tributes to everybody, but they have forgotten Mary mai.”

Mary Ann Evans, aka Fearless Nadia, was born in Perth, Australia, and came to Bombay in 1913, when she was five. She lived in Colaba with her father Herbert Evans, a Scotsman in the British army, and mother Margaret. After her father’s death in World War I, Evan’s mother took her to Peshawar. There, Mary learned how to hunt, fish, shoot. In 1928, she returned to Bombay with her mother and a son, Robert Jones, about whom not much is known. Nadia decided to learn ballet and recognizing her star quality, her dance teacher invited her to join her troupe that would travel all over India. And not much later, Indian cinema got its first feminist icon. After her glorious stint in films, in 1959, Nadia married Homi Wadia after a long-standing relationship. She then took a sabbatical to enjoy her domestic life and took to breeding race horses.
There’s a lot of interest worldwide about Fearless Nadia. Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has shown interest in playing Nadia’s role if a film on her is ever to be made

When going to the Movies was an art #Sundayreading #cinema

When going to the movies was an art
As Regal cinema enters its 80th year, here’s a look at the ‘theatre of firsts’
Yoshita Sengupta , Mumbai Mirror , Oct 27, 2012

It was a regular school day back in 1957 when a group of primary students of Rosary High School from Dockyard Road in Mazgaon made the trip to Colaba. It was to catch a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Rope. The venue — Regal cinema.
One of the boys, then five, was hooked enough to spend the rest of his life making repeated trips. Rafique Bagdadi, now a noted film critic and one among Mumbai’s bestknown amateur historians, is brimming with stories of the glorious days. “Going to Regal was like going to Rome or another European city. Behind it was the Taj Mahal hotel. In front of it stood the majestic Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall, which is now the NGMA. The insides of the theatre were as dreamy as the set of Hollywood films screened here,” he says of the Art Deco architecture style that Regal shares with other South Mumbai cinemas like Liberty and Eros. Inaugurated on October 14, 1933 by Mumbai governor Sir Frederick Sykus, Regal was built by film exhibitor Framji Sidhwa and his friend KA Kooka. And it had quite a few firsts to its credit. Asia’s first centrally air-conditioned theatre, it was also the first to introduce Cinemascope and offer basement car parking to its patrons.

The reinforced concrete structure built at a lavish cost was conceived by Charles Stevens, son of famous 19th century English architect Fredrick Williams Stevens, while the interiors were designed by Czechoslovakian artist Karl Schara. Old-timers remember the sun ray Cubist motif in orange and jade green in the atrium.

For Deepak Rao, retired IPS officer and member of the Bombay Local History Society, Regal stands for an afternoon Arlem beer. While working at the Mumbai police headquarters across the road from the cinema, he’d hop over to its refreshment room that could house no more than six guests.
Regal’s historic value preceeds its construction, says Rao. “The lane behind Regal is not named Battery Street for nothing. The site at Apollo Bunder on which the cinema stands was owned by the British army, and was occupied by an old saluting battery. When viceroys and VIPs arrived, they were greeted with a gun salute. The British government decided to lease the property in 1926, which is when it was acquired by Mr Sidhwa and Mr Kooka of Globe Theatre Ltd.,” says the 62 year-old.

Sidhwa’s life, say documents, was as dramatic as the movies he screened. Born in 1883 in Tarapore, Gujarat, in a middle-class home, he moved to an orphanage in Parel before gaining admission to Bharda New High School, which stands right beside the theatre he would build in 1928 — Capitol at VT. The student of St Xavier’s College had to drop out due to thinning finances and move to Rangoon in 1903 to find a job. Starting out as a clerk in Singer, he later took up an insurance job.
It was in 1913 that he established a small syndicate and launched his film exhibition business in Rangoon. Two years later, Globe Theatre Ltd. was born.
Behram Contractor, in one of his essays, said going to the cinema was an art,” says Rao. And Regal played its part.
Baghdadi calls it an “experience” — South Bombay movie lovers would book tickets way in advance, dress up in finery and land up at the movies. “There was a soda fountain, a pantry for balcony audiences, and we’d dig into ice cream while musicians would perform live,” he shares.
Social worker, champion bridge player and MP Milind Deora’s mother Hema Deora’s memories of Regal stand testimony to Baghdadi’s description. As a 10 year-old in the early 1960s, Deora didn’t understand cinema, but that hardly mattered. “For me, the draw was the ice cream served in the cinema’s restaurant. The cup resembled a wine glass. It was a family affair. I’d wear my best dress, and we’d return home in a tonga,” Deora reminisces.

#Yash Chopra: Such legends come Kabhi Kabhie #RIP

, TNN | Oct 22, 2012,

Yash Chopra: Such legends come Kabhi Kabhie
Yash Chopra‘s grand theme was love and it was seldom a simple affair. But his films were popular because they could be watched across generations.

Till 1973, Yash Chopra had been working under the banner of his brother, the great B R Chopra. In that year, he set up his own production house, Yash Raj Films, Daag (1973) being its first venture. 

The film was among the biggest hits of the year but Chopra dumped superstar Rajesh Khanna because of his starry tantrums. From then onwards, he forged a durable and profitable partnership with Amitabh Bachchan.

His later works, especially those he made under his own banner, had two distinct strands – mature romance (Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Chandni, Lamhe, Veer Zara) and action-oriented human conflicts (Deewar, Trishul). But he also occasionally surprised you with a smart thriller like Darr.

Cover of "Kabhi Kabhie [Blu-ray] (Classic...

Cover via Amazon

Chopra’s grand theme was love and it was seldom a simple affair. In his films, it was usually a high-hanging fruit that could be attained only after navigating through a maze of complications and snuffles. Complex love triangles (Daag and Chandni), convoluted love quadrangle (Silsila), love defying category (Kabhi Kabhie), age-gap amour (Lamhe), fake young serious romance (Dil To Paagal Hai), love as sacrifice (Veer Zara), he tried to capture love in every hue.Nonetheless, his love had its share of class bias; Chopra’s lovers were invariably wellheeled. The deprived never really fell in love in his films – though the great Urdu poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi was a part of his musical team.Yet the beauty and the balance of it all was that you could watch these movies as much with your lover as with your grandmother. No surprise, a majority of moviegoers found them engaging and appealing as the box-office records suggest.

Music was always a hallmark of his romantic movies. He took pride in the fact that his films had some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written in Hindi cinema — and the picturisation did full justice to the lines. Amitabh Bachchan’s sonorous rendition of poetry in Silsila can still induce goosebumps. And he helped revive the career of Khayyam by giving the out-of-job composer an opportunity to give music in Kabhi Kabhie. Khayyam repaid the trust by providing an unforgettable score. Chopra also worked with two classical musicians, Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Shiv Kumar Sharma. It is said Yash briefly worked for the comic genius I S Johar before beginning his career officially assisting his elder brother, B R Chopra in socially conscious movies such as Ek Hi Raasta, Naya Daur and Sadhna.


Veer-Zaara (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His own later work does not have the same social commitment that he first displayed in works like Dharmputra (1961) but to Chopra’s credit he never compromised on his idea of creating entertaining cinema even when he fell on hard times in the mindless 1980s and delivered a succession of box-office turkeys (Faasle, Vijay). Patience has its reward. The director rode on an inspirational second wind; his last three films were all box-office biggies – Darr (1993), Dil To Paagal Hai (1997) and Veer Zaara (2004).

With advancing age, one could see a growing gap between each of his directorial ventures . The Shah Rukh Khan starrer releasing in November was meant to be a fitting swansong to his illustrious career. May be it will. But sadly, its creator won’t be there to see it.

Memorable lamhe 

Born | 27 September, 1932

Birthplace | Lahore

Early life 

The youngest of eight children born to a Punjabi accountant in the PWD of the British administration in Punjab.

Was brought up mostly in the Lahore house of his second brother, B R Chopra (Baldev Raj), who was first a film scribe and later in life a movie baron.

Went to Jullunder in 1945 to continue his education Baldev migrated to Bombay weeks before the Partition.

First steps 

Baldev gave Yash his first directorial opportunity in ‘Dhool Ka Phool’ in 1959, which became a big box-office hit.

Made another four films for Baldev, notably 1965’s ‘Waqt’.

Married Pamela Singh in 1970. Their two sons, Aditya and Uday, were born in 1971 and 1973.

Rise & rise 

Founded Yash Raj Films in ’71 From 1973 produced many of his films but also made movies for Gulshan Rai’s Trimurti Films Made a number of Amitabh Bachchan-starrer films, notably ‘Deewaar’ (1975) and ‘Trishul’ (1978) In the late ’80s, as the romantic genre rose in popularity, a highly successful period began in his career Made the blockbuster ‘Chandni’ (1989), followed by ‘Lamhe’ in 1991, which found favour in metropolitan cities In 1993, directed ‘Darr’ that marked the beginning of the celluloid journey with Shah Rukh Khan Was filming ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ when he took ill. SOURCE: 

Awards and recognition 

Filmfare Awards 

1965, Best Director (Waqt) 1969, Best Director (Ittefaq) 1973, Best Director (Daag) 1975, Best Director (Deewaar) 1991, Best Movie (Lamhe) 1995, Best Movie (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) 1997, Best Movie (Dil To Pagal Hai) 2004, Best Movie (Veer-Zaara ).


2001, Dadasaheb Phalke Award 2005, Padma Bhushan 2008, Officier de la Legion d’Honneur.

National Film Award (Producer).

1998, Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment (Dil To Pagal Hai) 2005, Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment (Veer-Zaara ).

One of India’s most prominent  filmmakers, Yash Chopra, spoke to his favourite hero Shahrukh Khan couple of weeks before he was diagnosed with Dengue

Yash Chopra, 80, passed away this evening after battling dengue for over a week. The veteran filmmaker was admitted to Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai, after being diagnosed with the disease few days ago. His last public appearance was at Amitabh Bachchan’s 70th birthday celebrations.

Chopra has made a huge contribution to Indian cinema in a career spanning over five decades. Known as the King of romance, Chopra has to his credit path-breaking love stories like DaagSilsilaLamheand Chandni. His production house Yash Raj Films is one of the most reputed and respected companies in Bollywood today.

The director, who was all set to release his last film, the Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan, did a media interview with SRK recently, where he spoke about the making of the film, and his journey as a filmmaker. But the director passed away before he could see his last film hit the screens. His son Aditya Chopra will now have to shoot the last portion of the film in Switzerland to complete the movie, which is set to release on November 13, 2012.

Watch the video of Yash Chopra in conversation with Shahrukh Khan – the veteran filmmaker’s last interview.


The Loneliest King of Romance In Indian Cinema- Rajesh Khanna- #Sunday Reading

The Loneliest Superstar Ever

From the dizzying heights of stardom to the depths of despair, the Rajesh Khanna story is unsurpassable
BY Shaikh Ayaz EMAIL AUTHOR(S), Open Magazine
Tagged Under | superstar | Rajesh Khanna | lonely
Stuck in a hopeless time warp, Khanna may well be real life’s closest equivalent to Sunset Boulevard’s delusional ‘I-am-big’ centrepiece

Stuck in a hopeless time warp, Khanna may well be real life’s closest equivalent to Sunset Boulevard’s delusional ‘I-am-big’ centrepiece

You know Rajesh Khanna, don’t you? If you are a young man or woman reading this, you may have heard of him as Akshay Kumar’s father-in-law or Dimple Kapadia’s husband or Amitabh Bachchan’s one-time co-star. At a pinch, you might also be somewhat familiar with his work: such classics as Anand, Aradhana, Amar Prem, Aavishkar and Bawarchi, which play on TV now and then. But to know and understand what and who Rajesh Khanna is and was, ask your mother. Chances are, she may have harboured a secret (maybe even an open and zealous) crush on Rajesh Khanna in her youth. My mother did. In truth, it was an entire female generation’s adulation of this actor that was at the centre of the Rajesh Khanna phenomenon.

Since the onset of his undisclosed illness, brought to popular notice by his weak frame in a recent TV commercial for Havells fans in which he announces that nobody can take his fans away from him (he can rest assured of that), wellwishers have wondered whether all is okay with the Lord of Aashirwad, that ocean-front shrine in Mumbai that has been his home. But the commercial has served its purpose. It has turned the spotlight back on him, just as he wanted. One of his reasons for doing the commercial was to subtly remind people of his days of refulgence, the time when he more or less owned the word ‘superstar’, a term coined especially for him by Devyani Chaubal of Star & Style magazine.


The Rajesh Khanna story is without parallel. It never had a prequel and can never have a sequel. It stands alone as one with extreme alienation at its heart. He was a soft, uncannily romantic hero at a time of Dharmendra-like masculinity. That look in his eyes, that hint of a smile and that nod of his head all had a magical effect on women. Some of the praise that the critic Pauline Kael once lavished on Cary Grant can apply to Khanna as well: that he was a male love object, and that men wanted to be as ‘lucky and enviable’ as he was, and that ‘women imagined landing him.’ Add chartbuster songs to romantic mannerisms, and—voila—you had a star few women could resist.

In a chapter on the actor in the anthology Bollywood’s Top 20: Superstars of Indian Cinema, Avijit Ghosh writes that without music, ‘Rajesh Khanna became an actor without his best lines.’ There was a touch of the poet-philosopher, notes Ghosh, in the characters he played. In this, as in other things, it was as if Khanna stood alone, like an outsider trying to break into a charmed circle.

Several of his co-stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, have testified to an inability to put in words the extent and reach of his stardom. It’s hard to imagine it now, but there was once a time when Bachchan’s claim to fame was that he had worked with Khanna. The irony of this, however, is that while Bachchan has retained a relevance in another era of cinema well past his prime, Khanna’s appeal remains frozen in its old frame of the mid 1960s till the mid 1970s.

If at all, it is Khanna’s films with Hrishikesh Mukherjee that help him cross over to different generations and lend him longevity as an actor—mind you, only as an actor, not as a superstar. His success is a story cherished only by those who were young when he was at the peak of his power. For today’s youth, he is at best a relic from the past who continues to be his own enemy, trapped as he is by a false sense of propriety and his own image, one who lives in that dream mansion in the comfort of a stardom that is now only illusory at best. In other words, he lives in a hopeless time warp, and in that, he may easily be real life’s closest equivalent to Sunset Boulevard’s delusional ‘I-am-big’ centrepiece.

What happened to him was something rather Norma Desmond-like. Not that the pictures got small (they got big, in fact), but he refused to acknowledge that he was fast fading away. Khanna—or Kaka as he was affectionately nicknamed—and Desmond appear to be lonely inhabitants of their own fame and misfortune. As fellow travellers, separated by nearly half a century, they are prisoners of their own respective worlds of make-believe, even as everything else moves on. Is it their fault that nobody told them about it?

For any superstar, being loved by audiences is nothing short of a life-affirming need, but for Rajesh Khanna, that alone wouldn’t do. There was a time when almost all of India loved him. Not to be left out—and quite in tune with the rest of the country, to be fair—Rajesh Khanna fell in love with himself. The bedazzler of fans had bedazzled himself. It was an act of narcissism, say critics, that needed only one sort of divine sanction: his own.

“At one point, Rajesh Khanna was a god, but the trouble with him is that he started thinking he was one,” says Ali Peter John, a senior film journalist who has known Khanna for a long time.

Ali agrees to meet me outside Costa Coffee in suburban Mumbai to talk about his ‘friend’. When he turns up, he suggests walking over to a nearby Udupi joint. “Cheaper option,” he says, gloating over his decision. For the first few minutes, he merely repeats what most people already know about the actor—that he was the adopted son of KC Khanna, a businessman in Thakurdwar, a teeming neighbourhood in Mumbai, and that Jeetendra and he went to the same school. By the time Jatin Khanna—Kaka’s name then—entered college, he had become a part of the campus theatre culture, and to slake his thirst of becoming a star, had participated—and eventually won—a talent hunt contest. Vinod Mehra was among the contestants, but was knocked out by Kaka in a close encounter. Winning the contest meant a film role, but the name ‘Jatin’ was deemed too business-like for Bollywood. No one knows for sure, but ‘Rajesh’ was a screen name given by either his uncle KK Talwar or film producer GP Sippy.

Anyhow, the first half a dozen films he acted in were washouts. Ali was in college when Khanna was shooting for his third film, Baharon Ke Sapne. It was 1967. A crowd had gathered at the shooting spot, but nobody was interested in the newcomer. There were a bunch of autograph-hunters around, of course, as often happens at filming sites, but they spotted the lead actress Asha Parekh and went rushing over to her. As Ali recounts, she was an infinitely bigger draw at the time. In fact, the journalist recalls that some unruly boys had taken to mocking the hero, calling him “gurkha”. This, Ali postulates, could have been because of his somewhat Nepalese features.

Although Ali could see sufficient signs of determination in Khanna during the aspiring star’s early phase of struggle, his shyness and reluctance to mingle with everyone (by some accounts) were misconstrued by some as arrogance. Ashim Samanta, whose father Shakti Samanta turned Khanna into an overnight star with Aradhana, 1969, puts it this way: “He was more reserved than shy and he became socially active much later. He used to accompany dad everywhere initially, but once he was on his own, he mastered the rules of the game.”


At the height of Khanna’s popularity, say critics, he developed—or, to be a little generous, succumbed to—what is best described as a superiority complex. Somehow, he never had a good word to say about any of his peers, and was particularly condescending towards a newcomer in the 1970s by the name of Amitabh Bachchan. For Ali, this growing rivalry and jealousy was a subject worthy of many a media report, a theme that he explored whenever an opportunity arose. Even an objective observer like the BBC reporter Jack Pizzey, who filmed a documentary in 1973 on him called Bombay Superstar, felt that the actor was a manic egoist. In his introduction, Pizzey described him as an actor with the “charisma of Rudolph Valentino and the arrogance of Napoleon”. But it is obvious to any viewer that this was Pizzey’s sense of frustration more than admiration speaking. The BBC reporter had been given a royal runaround and was finally awarded an audience by the “emperor” only after a series of unkept appointments. Pizzey’s documentary is as much a testimony to the mass hysteria generated by Khanna’s mere presence at a film premiere as it is a portrait of an insecure, lonely superstar fixated with his position. When Pizzey asked him if he had to fight to stay No 1, Khanna told him he just had to wait and things would happen the way he wanted them to. But part of it did require fighting, he admitted. “One has to fight,” he was quoted as saying, “and fight well and win the battle.” Meanwhile, Devyani Chaubal, the columnist who’d first called Khanna a ‘superstar’, had this to say of him to Pizzey: “He is so insecure, so complex.”


One of the reasons Khanna lost his stardom, as Ali puts it, is that he didn’t value it. In Pizzey’s documentary, Khanna was asked about his fans and the crowds that had encircled him on an outdoor shooting spell as if it were a cricket World Cup final. Khanna’s response? “[Such a] crowd is good for business.”

The more popular he became, the more friends he acquired. But they were not his true friends, in Ali’s assessment. “People wanted to be around him because he was a star,” he says. Although those were the days when Khanna was ‘friends’ with nearly all his colleagues, the regular darbar that he held at Aashirwad had only small-timers in attendance. Among those he hung out with were the producers Mohan Kumar and Johnny Bakshi, writer VK Sharma and villain Roopesh Kumar (claimed to be a cousin of Mumtaz). Do these names ring a bell?

Another undoing of his was that in his desire to stay all-powerful as a superstar, he began compromising his credibility. He always did things on impulse, he told Pizzey: such as his marriage to Dimple Kapadia. As depicted in Pizzey’s documentary, this was a spontaneous decision. But, more than that, it was a ‘publicity marriage’. One day, he’d called Chaubal to offer her the scoop of a lifetime—what bigger news could it be than Rajesh Khanna’s wedding announcement? For many of his fans, it was a shattering piece of information. Girls across the country, reacting at first with shock, went into collective mourning. There were widespread fears that some of them would commit suicide, and several did. Khanna had been right: it was big news. But Chaubal had turned a Khannasceptic by then. What left her unconvinced was the story that led to his wedding. By his version of events, he’d found Dimple drowning in the sea and had fallen in love with her by the time he rescued her. By now, Chaubal knew him only too well to fall for that. “He liked what was happening to him,” she noted, “the attention, the fuss made over him.”

According to Ali, Khanna loved all things grand much before he could afford the trappings of wealth. Ali narrates the story of his most famous acquisition, Aashirwad, which was earlier owned by Rajendra Kumar. As a newcomer, he had set his sights on the bungalow and wanted it at any cost; the problem was, he was broke. “He went to BR Chopra and said, ‘Give me a cheque and I will do whatever film you tell me.’ Finally, he bought the bungalow, which was called Dimple (named after Rajendra Kumar’s daughter). He wanted to retain the name, but Rajendra wouldn’t part with it because he either had another place by that name or was constructing one, I don’t quite remember clearly. Rajesh wasn’t happy about this. Any other man would have been over the moon, but not Rajesh. He hated being refused.”


The fall from stardom was as quick as the ascent. His worst fears came true when the industry suddenly started talking about Amitabh Bachchan, the lanky actor with a baritone. Now, it so happened that Hrishikesh Mukherjee had planned to cast the two actors together in Anand. According to an essay that Ali wrote for, Khanna asked Mukherjee to replace Bachchan. That was not the end of the superstar’s unkindness to the young actor. Here is a blunt episode from the said article: ‘Rajesh Khanna, who lived in a world of his own, was told about this new actor and he just brushed his name aside and told his friends, ‘Aise attan button aate jaate rahenge, lekin Rajesh Khanna ko koi chhoo bhi nahi sakta. Main kya aise aire gaire logon se darr jaaunga? Aap log agar sochte bhi ho toh aap ko humaara darbar chhodna padega.’ (Such Johnnies-come-lately will come and go, but nobody can touch Rajesh Khanna. Do you think I’ll get scared by such newcomers? If you think that way, you ought to leave my group.)’

Ali cites another occasion when Jaya Bhaduri had to stand up for Bachchan on the sets of Bawarchi. Piqued at the kind of treatment Khanna meted out to Bachchan, Jaya lost her temper. This is how Ali describes the scene: ‘The superstar neglected Amitabh every time he passed him, even though he reluctantly wished and greeted Jaya. I was there in the studio that afternoon when Jaya kept seeing how the superstar was behaving with Amitabh. A stage came when she couldn’t control herself and burst out saying, “Woh aadmi apne aap ko kya samajhta hain? Woh Khuda toh nahi hain. Ek aadmi ko doosre aadmi ko thodi izzat dene mein kya jaata hain?” (What does that man think of himself? He is not God. What does he lose in giving a man some respect?) Then she took the form of ‘goddess Kali’ and screamed, “Dekhna ek din yeh jo aadmi mere saath khada hain woh kitna bada star hoga aur woh jo apne aap ko Khuda samajhta hai woh kahin ka nahi rahega.” (Mark my words, this man here will be a top star someday and that man who thinks he is God will not be anywhere close.)’

Bachchan’s success caused Khanna immeasurable pain, says Ali. Recounting an incident from a party at Sun-n-Sand hotel in suburban Mumbai, Ali writes that Khanna staged a walkout when he saw Bachchan swamped with more autograph requests than him. Ali writes: ‘That night he went to the terrace of his bungalow and cried his heart out and in his drunkenness called out to God and howled, “Oh God, why me?”’

Khanna just couldn’t accept his eclipse by someone he’d scoffed at. But Bachchan soon attained superstardom of the kind Khanna had merely fancied. He turned a recluse.

Recently, it was a surprise to see Khanna resurface at an award ceremony; the bigger surprise was that he had agreed to receive the trophy at the hands of Bachchan. At most public appearances since then, he has been going out of his way to remind people (and himself) that, “Yeh bhi ek daur hai, woh bhi ek daur thha.” (This is an era, and that too was an era.)


Life’s ironies, aside, Ali points out that in his illness, Khanna has come to terms with not only the ephemeral nature of stardom, but also his own mortality. His family is back by his side. Ali says the actor’s only wish is to restore Aashirwad to its past glory. “If you pass by Aashirwad at night, you’ll see it lit up like a film set. That’s what he desires most.” Maybe, like Norma Desmond, Rajesh Khanna is ready for his close-up. Are we, the audience, going to behave like “those wonderful people out there in the dark” as he’d expect?


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September 2022
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