Thursday, July 19, 2012

Life's Journey, What Kind Of A Journey

If only he hadn't appeared in the Havells fan commercial. It would have preserved the romance of Rajesh Khanna and hidden from adoring fans what age and disease can do to a man who was celebrated for his looks and mannerisms not too long ago.

Even more heart-crushing is to watch the video on the making of the commercial. You will realise that even the line, 'Babumoshai, merey fans mujhse koi nahin chheen sakta,' is dubbed by a mimic artiste because the former superstar had completely lost his voice by then. He looks gravely ill -- a pathetic skeleton -- and speaks in whispers to the interviewer, as if he is on deathbed. Well, he already was already on deathbed: just that no one cares about a faded actor unless he actually dies.

Now that Rajesh Khanna is dead, maybe the makers of the commercial did the right thing. They gave him one last chance to face the camera and assert his erstwhile superstardom: 'Babumoshai, merey fans mujhse koi nahin chheen sakta.' They made him sign out of the world in style. The sad part is, he was only 69.

I was not even born when Aradhana released -- my date of birth being 26 December 1970 -- and by the time I was old enough to understand movies, Amitabh Bachchan was already the new star. Yet, I knew Rajesh Khanna -- his superstardom had left its traces just about everywhere, including the saloon in Kanpur where I would be taken by my father on designated Sundays for a haircut. At the saloon, the word 'hero' was synonymous with Rajesh Khanna, and not Amitabh Bachchan. The hairdressers would often ask patrons if they wanted their hair styled in the fashion of Rajesh Khanna.

I was fifteen when I first saw Aradhana -- by then I had seen most of the famous Amitabh Bachchan films, including Sholay -- yet I was struck by the handsomeness of Rajesh Khanna. How can a man be so charming? And the song, Roop tera mastana -- I still rate it as the most sensual song ever created in Hindi cinema.

I saw Rajesh Khanna in person only once, in 1996, when he was chosen by the Congress party to contest the Lok Sabha elections from the New Delhi seat. He was already the sitting MP from the constituency (having defeated BJP's Shatrughan Sinha in the previous elections), and now that he was formally going to launch his campaign, he had invited the media to his home on Lodhi Road (if I remember the address right).

I was a cub reporter back then. Those days there were no television channels, only print media. After a press conference, Rajesh Khanna and his wife Dimple and their two daughters got up on a stationary jeep for the benefit of news photographers. "Dimpy, zara wave karna," he told his wife. The entire family waved at an imaginary crowd while the photographers clicked away.

He lied to the readers back then, he lied to the viewers now. Back then, readers could not tell whether the jeep was stationary, but this time, in the fan commercial, it was evident that the famous journey that began with a song on a jeep was nearing its end.

With Rajesh Khanna's death, yet another solid pillar that stood between our generation and mortality has caved in. Dev Anand died just a few months ago. Perhaps a matter of time before the remaining of the pillars fall and we stand on the edge of the world, waiting to board the plane that never returns. How come so soon?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Script

The Calcutta-born Bengali man — he could be the faceless clerk travelling with you in a train or the elderly sophisticated bhadralok having a drink with you at the club — doesn’t just talk; he reads out from a script. A script that intends to have an effect on the listener, that intends to create drama in the most mundane of locations, such as the stifling compartment of a local train or within the humid confines of a government office. Pretty much the kind of scripts that Kadar Khan wrote.

This trait, depending on the mood you are in, can irritate the hell out of you; but most of the time it makes Calcutta an interesting, a very interesting, place to visit and an interesting subject for a book. Quotes flying around.

The TTE in my compartment of Santiniketan Express was one such Kadar Khan.

“Age proof achhe (Do you have proof of age)?” he asked the elderly bhadralok sitting across the aisle.

Haan achhe (Yes, I do),” the bhadralok replied.

Ektu dekhan (Please show).”

Just as the bhadralok was about to stand up to reach his suitcase, the TTE gently patted him on the shoulder and said, “Na, na, thhaak. Eto boyesh hoeche, mithye to bolben na. Theek ache, theek achhe (No, it’s ok. You are too elderly to be lying about your age. It’s alright, it’s alright.”

The TTE moved on, leaving the old man shocked and speechless. About an hour later, the Talkative Ticket Examiner found me standing by the door.

Mone hochche cigarette khete chaan (Looks like you want to smoke),” he told me.

Haan, kintu matchbox ta hariye phelechhi (Yes, but I’ve lost my matchbox),” I told him truthfully.

Ei je, neen na (Here, take this),” he handed me his lighter. “Eikhanei daanriye khaan. Keyo kichhu bolle amake daakben (Stand here and smoke. If someone tells you anything, call me). The emphasis was on ‘me’: he was the supreme authority in the compartment.

But I did not listen to him: what if another Kadar Khan came along and questioned my right to smoke in the vestibule? So as soon as I lit the cigarette and he returned into the compartment, insisting once again that I should call him in case someone objected, I hid myself in the lavatory and took quick drags.

While the TTE read from the script to exert his authority and to amuse himself and the passengers, the others, such as singing-beggars and hawkers, used the ‘dialogue-delivery’ effectively to stuff their pockets, even if with smaller currencies.

During this short trip to Calcutta, even though I carried along a notebook, I did not take notes; I find it too tiresome to start working on another book right away. But the scripts from this trip remain fresh in my mind: they will ferment over the next few weeks and maybe then the first line of the book will crystallise. Once the first few lines are ready to my satisfaction, I only have to follow the script.