Bollywood Buzz

How Rajesh Khanna gave Amitabh Bachchan a tutorial in acting

Among the chorus of celebrity voices raised in lament for actor Rajesh Khanna who died at home in Mumbai yesterday, none is more poignant or credible than that of Amitabh Bachchan. Mr Bachchan co-starred with Mr Khanna in Anand (possibly Mr Khanna’s most famous role), and Namak Haraam. Together, they were they highest paid actors in Eighties’ Bollywood.

Amitabh Bachchan, usually prompt with opinions on his blog and Twitter, was late to the online dirge for Mr Khanna because he rushed to be with the bereaved family at Aashirwad, the Khanna bungalow on Mumbai’s Carter Road. But he more than made up for his tardiness with this heartfelt tribute to his former co-star on his blog.

Mr Bachchan begins his piece by recalling the time he first saw Mr Khanna in Filmfare magazine. He had just won the Filmfare talent contest, to which Mr Bachchan had also applied and been rejected: “I first saw him in a film magazine, perhaps Filmfare. He was the winner of the Filmfare-Madhuri Talent Contest, a contest that I had applied to in the coming year and been rejected. His film ‘Aradhana’ was my next meeting with him, at the Rivoli Theatre in Connaught Place in New Delhi, which my Mother took me along to see. The packed audience and their reactions to this young handsome man was impermeable.

The early, or shall I say preliminary rejection of my attempt to compete in the Filmfare-Madhuri contest, had made me leave my settled job in Calcutta. I had come away home to seek the possibilities of joining the Industry in some other way. But one look at Rajesh Khanna made me realize that with people like him around, there would be little chance or opportunity for me, in this new profession !”

Mr Bachchan also wrote about what an honour it was to be cast opposite the more famous actor in Anand:

“Soon after I was being cast opposite him in ‘Anand’. This was like a miracle, God’s own blessing and one that gave me ‘reverse respect’. The moment that anyone came to know that I was working with THE Rajesh Khanna, my importance grew. And I gloated in its wake. During the breaks in the shooting of the film I would return to Delhi and gleefully describe the scenes and dialogues of the film, as also its music to all that I met – and I met many during that time ! There were no CD’s then, just the spooled tapes, and getting Hrishi da to part with one such for me, was an exercise in futility. But I was able to get one and ‘kahin dur jab din dhal jaae ..’ played endlessly on my very repair stricken tape recorder.”

Mr Bachchan remembers Mr Khanna as being “simple and quiet” with a “quiet elegance.” He talks about how the late actor’s fans travelled from far and wide, even from Spain, to meet him.

He relates an anecdote about showing up a day early to wish Rajesh Khanna on his birthday. Mr Khanna made light of the ensuing awkwardness and asked Mr Bachcan to stay to dinner. The next day, on Mr Khanna’s actual birthday, he asked Mr Bachchan to dinner again.

But Mr Bachchan’s most telling recollection is this one:

“When the shooting of ‘Anand’ began at Mohan Studios, Hrishi da’s favorite locale, now a concrete housing colony, the one moment that always worried me was, that last scene when I break down after his death and urge him emotionally to speak ! Not being able to find a method in my own very limited acting experience, I sought the help of Mehmood bhai, in who’s house I was living with his brother Anwar Ali. And I still remember what he told me –

He said, “just think Amitabh, R- a- j- e- s- h K- h- a- n- n- a is dead !! and you will get everything right”.

It was not so much a tutorial in acting that he expounded. It was an exalted acknowledgement of Rajesh Khanna’s presence and position in the psyche of the nation, that he was drawing my attention to.

Many years later, Mr Bachchan was to present Mr Khanna with the IIFA Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bollywood lore suggests that the rise of the Angry Young Man in the late Seventies did not sit well with Rajesh Khanna, the reigning star of the time, and that he treated the young Amitabh Bachchan quite unkindly on the sets of Bawarchi, where Mr Bachchan used to visit his future wife Jaya Bhaduri.

But Mr Bachchan’s own memories draw a much softer picture of the fallen star, giving the lie to legend.

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