My take: Rajesh Khanna

Image borrowed from Emirates 24 X 7

I've not so far read a mention of Rajesh Khanna's hair. Rajesh Khanna's star began its slide soon as his hair got long. In those thirteen movies that were serial superhits, the actor wore his hair short and trim at the temples and fluffy on top. Then someone changed it; they styled it so his hair was as blown out on the sides as much as on top, and this swollen frame capped a face that had filled out with fame and alcohol and some reluctance toward discipline. Anyway, if Samson lost his strength soon as Delilah clipped his hair, Rajesh Khanna fell off his heights soon as he grew his hair too long on the sides of his head.

Some folks say he chose his movies badly after the thirteen. I say yes, but he also picked the wrong coiffeur.

I was tennish in the time of those thirteen hits. Watching song-scenes from those movies last week I thought through to why I, too, was caught up with the "phenomenon"—as he'd come to be called. To a boy ten years old, a man too engaged in romance would've been disgusting, and I see now, in the reruns of his love scenes, his extraordinary finesse at working a woman. In those days, when the cuddles began I squirmed as much as any other boy ten-years old in this part of the world. In all of Anand, the smashing hit among the super hits, Rajesh Khanna didn't beat up anyone. And yet all the kids loved him most for Anand.

Just his face, I think. Even in the risque parts such as Helen's number in The Train, it was his face more than that dancer's gyrations. I lived in Bellary then, and no one in that town had a face like Rajesh Khanna's. No one had a face like that in Bangalore from where I came with my parents to Bellary, and no one has a face like that in Mangalore where we lived after Bellary. Lovely godly face you wanted on your uncle, on your older brother, on your older friend, on your hero.

So I sulked and fought and refused to eat until I got the guru shirt that Rajesh Khanna wore—it didn't matter that mine was so terribly cheap and tacky, tailored as it was in remote Bellary. I did the same tricks to get my parents to buy me a bulbul tarang, as did most other boys and never got beyond a few lines of meri sappunonki rani kabbu aayegeethu, same as most other boys. I carried the instrument to best friends' homes and if their sisters happened to come over to listen to my performance I produced every sound except which I wanted, and continued to battle with the rickety thing with a plastic plectrum until the girls ended my agony with a most kind and hateful "it's okay."

Ah, the girls. How they loved him whatever their age. I was living in Mysore when he married Dimple Kapadia and in my school, too, as in most other schools, the workday ended when girls came in crying with the news and cupped their mouths after they'd announced the thing, as though the unspeakable had happened: "Rajesh Khanna's getting marrieeeed!" Students and teachers and boys and girls and men and women were all stunned that indeed their hero had been taken.

It's been four decades and the superstar had been clean gone from my consciousness. He returned with repeat news of illnesses, and then I felt sorry when he died, considering how big he was once and how much of my life he'd taken then. I didn't feel nostalgia, though I sat through Anand again, and rather enjoyed watching once more his fresh face and his facial mannerisms that never changed, and his clean crisp kurtas which sat on him as if they'd been invented just for him, and I felt glad and comforted that I'd not made a mistake in loving him so in those days.