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December 29: Rajesh Khanna’s biographer Gautam Chintamani on the superstar’s birthday

Rajesh Khanna was born on December 29, 1942. His biographer Gautam Chintamani, author of Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna, talks of momentous events that took place on the star’s birthday over the years.

Rajesh Khanna Dark StarFrom the time he burst upon the scene and became the first of the superstars that Hindi cinema has seen, Rajesh Khanna made every single day a celebration. This mood touched a fever pitch on his birthday, which was a far more exclusive affair in the period that he reigned over.

Decades before the 24×7 media frenzy and a frenetic social media, star birthdays hadn’t become an excuse for national celebrations. And unlike today, when full-page advertisements in national dailies or hour-long television and radio specials eulogise them to high heavens, the bygone days didn’t have fans indulging in wild revelry across the street where the star resided. In fact, a star’s birthday was considered the day when something truly special or important happened to him or her.

Of the two people in the industry that Rajesh Khanna respected, G.P. Sippy and Raj Kapoor, the latter always had a soft corner for Khanna. Khanna practically revered Raj Kapoor and was elated at the prospect of being directed by the legend himself in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). He was looking forward to the film keenly.

Ironically it was on his birthday that the star received the news that Shashi Kapoor had replaced him. Khanna fondly remembered the lost opportunity for years, but the manner in which the news was broken to him by none other than Raj Kapoor himself might have comforted him. There were rumours that the legendary actor-director’s family wasn’t too kicked with the showman’s decision to cast Khanna in a RK Film. This would be the first time that an outsider would be playing the lead in an RK Film and legend has it that the ‘kids’ coaxed Kapoor to change his mind.

Khanna was getting ready for his birthday party in the evening and was surprised to hear from his staff that Raj Kapoor was already there. Khanna saw the patriarch of Hindi cinema’s first family waiting for him in his living room with flowers. The moment he saw Khanna, Kapoor offered him the flowers and with folded hands said, ‘Kaka, main bachchon ke saamne haar gaya.’ (Kaka, I have lost to the kids.)

Although Raj Kapoor gave in, he never let go of an opportunity to lament his choice. Given Shashi Kapoor’s propensity to sign a film with almost everyone who approached him, Raj memorably said it was as if ‘he was working with a taxi’, who could be hailed at will by anyone passing by.

A few years later Khanna came close to working with yet another legend, and it was on his birthday where the world was regaled with the mahurat of Majnoon, a film that was to be directed by Kamal Amrohi. But barring a lavish mahurat that was the talk of the town, nothing came of Majnoon, which was supposed to have starred Rakhee and featured Raj Kapoor.

If Raj Kapoor had shocked him on his birthday a few years earlier by dropping him from Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Mohan Kumar gifted Avtaar (1983) to Rajesh Khanna on his birthday. Mohan Kumar had already signed Amitabh Bachchan and was all set to start Avtaar (1983) with the reigning star, but surprised everyone when he opted for Khanna. And how did Mohan Kumar think of Khanna ahead of Bachchan?

Well, Kumar was attending Khanna’s birthday bash and something came over him that evening. He picked Khanna as Avtaar Krishan, the middle-aged factory worker forced into hardship by his thankless sons. Unlike Majnoon, Avtaar did get made and ended up being one of Khanna’s biggest hits, even giving the star the impression that he was back in the reckoning.

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