Dan Ariely is the James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Durke University . His sometimes unusual experiments are consistently interesting, amusing and informative, demonstrating profound ideas that fly in the face of common wisdom.
In addition to appointments at the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Department of Economics and the School of Medicine at the Duke University, Ariely is also the author of bestsellers like Predictably Irrational and The Upside of of Irrationality. His new book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty has just come out. In this interview to Vivek Kaul, Ariely shares interesting insights that he has gathered on why people are honest and dishonest, through experiments that he has carried out over the years.
You say that most of us are 98percenters when it comes to being dishonest. Could you explain what do you mean by that?
In our experiments we tempt people to steal money. The paradigm is that we give people a sheet of paper with twenty simple maths problems and we say solve as many as you can in five minutes. Now five minutes is not enough time to solve everything. And at the end we ask people to destroy the piece of paper they have solved the questions on and just tell us how many questions they have solved correctly. We have a way to find out how many questions they solved correctly. And what we find is that lots and lots and lots people cheat a little. We find very few crooks and we find very few people who don’t cheat at all. But we find lots of people who cheat a little bit. And that’s basically what I mean.
Why are people are dishonest?
We are dishonest because we have other good incentives besides honesty. In the social domain we are dishonest when somebody asks us “honey how do I look in this dress”. We have conflicting interests. We want to be honest but we also don’t want to hurt the other person. We also don’t want to have a miserable evening ahead of us. In the financial domain it is the same thing. We want to benefit from having more money and we want to be honest. There is a tension between the two things. What is interesting is that we can solve these tensions by being perfectly honest you would think, but then we won’t get the money. So we solve this tension by being slightly dishonest.
In one of the interviews that you have given after the release of your new book you say ‘Most people are able to cheat a little because they can maintain the sense of themselves as basically honest people.” What do you mean by that?
Think about two cases. One in which you go to a restaurant, eat and then leave the restaurant without paying. I have gone to many restaurants and asked waiters if this is possible and how would they recommend that I go about doing that and escape without paying, if I wanted to. They always give me great suggestions about how I could do this without getting caught. And when I ask them how many people actually do it? They say it almost never happens. This basically tells us that people are not doing cost benefit analysis all the time and thinking what can they get away with. Now if you compare it to illegally downloading business you find most people have no problems doing that.
What is the difference between the two?
The difference that in the case of illegal downloading of music you can be dishonest and download illegal music, but you don’t have any difficulty thinking of yourself as a bad person because everybody is doing it. You don’t see the person you are offending. You don’t see the investment in the music and so on. In the restaurant case it would be incredibly hard for you to eat, leave without paying and not think of yourself as a crook. And it turns out that’s basically what we do. We gravitate to these cases where we could cheat a little bit and still think of ourselves as good people.
You have suggested in your new book that “small-time cheaters still perceive themselves as good people.” But what about big time cheaters like Wall Street? How does it work in their case?
I have talked to all kind of cheaters recently which includes cheaters who have indulged in white collar crime related to financial industry. These guys don’t start off with intentions of big crimes instead what they find is that they do one step and they tell themselves that they are going to do it for just a little while and then they are going to do something different. The crime is going to fix itself. But of course it doesn’t. And then it just gets worse and worse and worse. So when you and I look at big cheaters we say to ourselves oh we could have never done the stream of things that they did. But they also did not think about this stream of things. Instead they thought about it at one step at a time and that made it much easier to think about it and do it. Also cheating at work is a bit more complex. Sometimes people cheat for work. Sometimes people have a sense of loyalty to other people. Actually I did some interviews with cheaters who had been indicted for cheating fraud. In many cases they worked for the company and they were not going to make much out of it personally. It was out of a social obligation to the company why they cheated.
You carried out an experiment where you left Coca Cola bottles along with cash in a college dorm refrigerator. You found that the Coke bottles disappeared but the cash was still there. What was happening in this case?
Again this is a question of distance from money and the ability to rationalize. We have done lot of experiments like this. This is not the only one. The basic finding is that as things get closer to money we have a hard time of thinking of ourselves as honest if we take it. So for example you can imagine a situation where you take ten cents from a petty cash box. It would be hard to take that money and not think of yourself as a thief. But what if it is not ten cents from a petty cash box but it is a pencil from work. All of sudden the distance has made it a little easier for you to be dishonest.
One of the interesting things that comes out of your book is that you believe that people tend to cheat more and be more dishonest in a cashless society. Could you explain with an experiment you carried out to come to the conclusion?
In one of the experiments people solved maths problems that I told you about. After the time for the experiment was over, they shred the piece of paper on which they had solved the maths problems. When they finished the problem they came to the experimenter and said Mr Experimenter I have solved “x” problems, give me “x” dollars. And we paid them the money. In the other condition they finished answering the questions, shredded the piece of paper and came to the experimenter and said, I have finished answering the questions, give me ‘x’ number of tokens. In the first case they looked somebody in the eye and cheated directly for money. In the second case they asked for something that was one step removed from money. What happened now? Now people were twice as dishonest. Again the idea is that once we get distanced from money it is easier for us to feel that we are honest but nevertheless be dishonest.
How does religion impact honesty? Hindus and Jews fast. Catholics confess. Does all this really matter?
I don’t know if fasting by itself matters because I haven’t tested for it. But there is good evidence that asking for forgiveness is important because it allows people to set a new standard. Also some people believe that religious people are more honest. By the way I don’t know if they are more honest or not. But some people believe that because religions have heaven and hell. At least some religions have heaven and hell. Hinduism has karma and reincarnation and that it is this long term thinking that is causing people to behave in an honest way. I don’t think that is likely to be true. People are not really thinking about the long term consequences of their actions. There are many other aspects of life so why would we think all of a sudden about religion and the long term consequences that come with it. Instead I think that the goal of religion or the role of it in how it works is by creating small rules for behaviour. You have this in Hinduism. Judaism has a lot of them. The moment you have small rules that regulate behaviour all of a sudden people know at each point in time, where are they? Are they on the right side or the wrong side of the rule and that’s what I think is important.
You say that dishonesty is not all bad all the time and give your own example of when you were burned badly during your teenage years. The nurses who were treating you told you a white lie about the pain a particular procedure would inflict. What are you trying to suggest in this case?
The idea is that honesty is an important human value. But there are other human values and other human motivations. For example you should have a motivation of not hurting other people and getting other people to be happy and so on. Sometimes the human values contradict each other. They are not compatible. There is a question of what do you want to do in those cases. And I am not suggesting that in all cases it is always honesty should win and nothing else should be considered. We should think about it more carefully.
One of the interesting experiments in your book was when you gave designer sunglasses to two groups of people. One group was told they were wearing authentic designer sunglasses. Another one was told they are wearing fakes. Then you gave a test to both the groups and tempted them to cheat. Could you tell our readers what followed and what did you conclude from that?
What was interesting is that people who wore fake glasses cheated to a higher degree to a more dishonest level. What it means is that once we take one step into a bad direction, for example wearing counterfeit products, the next step is a little easier. And this should worry us in general because it means that there is a slippery slope that can get us to behave in ways ideally we wouldn’t want to behave. The second thing is to think differently about fashion products. Fashion products are interesting because we wear them. And they become a signal to ourselves. And they kind of influence us. We have a potential problem when we wear fake products there is a risk that this would create a negative halo effect on the rest of our activities.
You say that honesty is a state of mind. What do you mean by that?
We can think about this honesty being a function of personality. But what we find in general is that it is function of the situation we are in. The way it works is that the situation changes our ability to rationalize. When rationalization increases for example, when we say things like everybody does it, nobody else will suffer, or when we say we are doing it for a good cause, we cheat to a higher degree. But when we have just signed an honour code, when we have just recited the ten-commandments or just come out of a confession, all of a sudden the fudge factor decreases. Our ability to rationalize decreases. We cheat less. So it is actually less of a function of our own internal stable morality. It is more a function of the situation you are put in.
Can you give an example to substantiate that?
Just imagine that you are a banker. These days we are all against bankers. Imagine that I made you a banker in 2007 and I promised you $10million, if you can only say that a mortgage backed security is a good product. Ask yourself whether under those conditions you would be able to say that mortgage backed security is a good product? But what if the distance from money was larger? You did not see the consequences of your actions. What if many people around you did the same thing? Now you can see that how it would be quite easy to be in a situation that created tremendous conflicts of interest and tremendous dishonesty, even if you are internally an honest person. And that’s why I feel that we need to think carefully about what causes dishonesty and try to fix things.
The interview originally appeared in the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) issue dated July 23,2012
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Month: July 2012
Why Manmohan didn’t quit even after Rajiv called him a Joker
Before he was labelled “Underachiever” or “Poodle,” Manmohan Singh also had the mortification of being loosely referred to as “Joker”. And by none less than the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
C G Somiah, a former Home Secretary and who retired as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in his autobiography The Honest Always Stand Alone points out a very interesting anecdote. After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv had taken over as the Prime Minister of the country.
Rajiv Gandhi had a very urban centric vision of development. Manmohan Singh at that point of time was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and since Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of the country he was its Chairman.
The seventh five year plan for the period of 1985-1990 was under development. After listening to what the Commission’s presentation on the plan, Rajiv Gandhi spoke for the next half an hour. As Somiah points out in his book “He wanted us to plan for the construction of autobahns, airfields, speedy trains, shopping malls and entertainment centres of excellence, big housing complexes, modern hospitals and healthcare centres.”
The city bred and the foreign educated Rajiv had no idea of the real India. As the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Manmohan Singh called an internal meeting to discuss the matter further. “The broad consensus that emerged was that the Prime Minister was urban-centric without any knowledge of the socially and financially backward condition of the vast population living in the rural areas,” writes Somiah, who was then the Member Secretary of the Planning Commission.
In the next meeting Manmohan Singh elaborated on the negative economic indicators prevalent in the country, stating those could not be ignored for providing relief in any future plan. Rajiv Gandhi did not like what Singh said and made some derogatory remarks about Singh’s presentation.
Things did not stop at this. As Somiah writes “A few days later the Prime Minister shared his thoughts with journalists, calling us a ‘bunch of jokers’ who were bereft of any modern ideas of development.”
This hurt Singh terribly and it almost got him to resign from the Planning Commission. But in the end he was convinced to stay on by Somiah. “I sat with him for nearly an hour and told him not to take the extreme step and blamed the Prime Minister’s ignorance for this behaviour. I further advised that since the Prime Minister was young and inexperienced, it was our duty to educate him rather than abandon him. I was finally able to convince him not to act hastily and that was my good deed for the day,” writes Somiah in his autobiography.
The point that comes out here is that Singh did not quit even after the Prime Minister of the country had publically called him a “joker”. What this tells us clearly is that Singh is of the type who would rather continue and compromise with the prevailing state of affairs than make bold decisions.
Manmohan Singh has been criticized a lot lately for his inability to make bold reformist decisions that the country currently needs him to make as the head of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. His critics have accused him of keeping the Prime Minister’s chair warm till Rahul Gandhi feels confident enough to take over the reins from him.
While there is no denying that, but the truth is a little more complicated than that. The answer to the inability to make bold decisions might very lie in the way Singh’s career in the government has evolved over the years.
Lalit Narayan Mishra, who was the Minister of Foreign Trade from 1970 to 1973, was the first to recognize Singh’s potential as an economist and appoint him as the Economic Adviser, Ministry of Foreign Trade in 1971.
From this position Singh rose steadily in the government. Over the years he held the posts of the Chief Economic Advisor of the Ministry of Finance (the post currently held by Kaushik Basu), Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance, Member Secretary- Planning Commission and finally the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, between 1982 and 1985.
Most of these appointments were during the rule of Indira Gandhi, except for a brief period between 1977 and 1979, when Moraji Desai and Charan Singh became Prime Ministers.
Madam Gandhi liked to surround herself with yes men, be it politicians or bureaucrats for that matter. As the historian Ramchandra Guha told CNN-IBN recently “Indira Gandhi certainly undermined Nehru’s institutional legacy…Nehru nurtured institution of democracy – an independent election commission, an independent judiciary, bureaucracy autonomous of political interference, pluralism, secularism. Indira systematically undermined all of this.”
The only dissent she tolerated was that of her younger son Sanjay Gandhi, who tragically died in a helicopter crash in 1980.
Manmohan Singh rose up the hierarchy during this period when Indira Gandhi was at her peak. Even after his stint at the RBI got over in 1985, Manmohan did not fade away like other RBI governors before and after him. He was appointed as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission (a post now held by Montek Singh Ahulwalia).
Anyone who rose as high as Manmohan Singh did during the rule of Indira Gandhi would have been a very shrewd operator who at some level understood that the longevity of his career depended on going with the flow and executing things as Mrs Gandhi wanted them to be.
Singh’s big moment came in 1991, when IG Patel, who was PV Narsimha Rao’s first choice for the post of the finance minister of India, rejected Rao’s offer, and proposed Singh’s name instead. Patel was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India before Manmohan Singh.
Patel had become the Director of London School of Economics after retiring from the RBI. When Singh was offered the Finance Minister’s post he was the Chairman of the University Grants Commission.
Singh initiated the economic reform process in India at the behest of Narsimha Rao when he presented his first budget as the Finance Minister on July 24, 1991. His next two budgets further initiated economic reforms in the country. But the budgets of 1994 and 1995 were highly populist in nature, as the Congress party got ready for the Lok Sabha elections of 1996.
The reformist credentials of Manmohan Singh rest on the three budgets that he presented as the Finance Minister in the early 1990s. When the Congress party wanted him to present a populist budget in 1994 and 1995 he was more than happy to oblige.
In fact when he was the part of the Finance Ministry in the early 1970s the highest marginal tax rate in India was above 90%. The story goes that the great JRD Tata had to sell some property every year to pay his taxes. First he paid income tax at the highest marginal rate of tax and over and above that he had to pay wealth tax as well. And so his taxes in a given year amounted to higher than his income. Given this, he had to sell some property and pay taxes from that income.
As a part of the highest echelons of the Finance Ministry Manmohan Singh would have been a part of the team that framed the proposals of the high marginal tax rates.
What these things clearly tell us is that Manmohan Singh has very rarely gone beyond his brief. He has usually done what his political masters have wanted him to do. He is what in a rather ironic way can be called a “team player”. And he is no “reformist” as he is made out to be. That to a large extent explains the secret to Singh’s longevity.
In the end let me go back to the famed character Gabbar Singh played brilliantly by Amjad Khan in the blockbuster Sholay. One of the many hit dialogues in the movie was: “Jo darr gaya samjho marr gaya”. This line is clearly not applicable on Manmohan Singh. He can be a part of a system but doesn’t have the ability to take it on and get things done. What is applicable though is a dialogue that the actor Om Puri said in a 2007 movie called Chupke Se: “Jo darr gaya samjho marr gaya, jo nahi darra wo ek din pehle marra”.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 19,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-manmohan-didnt-quit-even-after-rajiv-called-him-a-joker-382960.html)
Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected]
A hand-me-down role in ‘Anand’ crowned Khanna’s career
So the world has rediscovered Rajesh Khanna or so it seems.
Around one pm today I was at Rhythm House, the only decent music shop to survive in Mumbai, after the onslaught of MP3s and what not.
As soon as I entered the shop I heard Kishore Kumar singing “zindagi ke safar main guzar jaate hain jo makam wo phir nahi aate”. For the half an hour I was at Rhythm House only Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar songs were played.
Rhythm House has also created a special shelf where all the Rajesh Khanna audio CDs, VCDs and DVDs have been separately put up.
“Aaj subah sab se kewal Rajesh Khanna hi bick raha hai,” a shop attendant told me as I paid for my purchases ( I wasn’t buying Rajesh Khanna by the way. I have all of him that is necessary).
While returning home the taxi driver told me “kya gaane the sahab Rajesh Khanna ke, subah se Radio waale wahin baja rahe hain.”
News channels have been broadcasting songs, trivia, interviews and even a documentary in remembrance of India’s first Superstar.
A television channel has advertised on the front pages of a Mumbai daily that it shall be showing Kati Patang and Anand in the evening today (as you read this Kati Patang has probably started and Anand plays at 9pm).
Kati Patang is clearly a movie of the late sixties and the early seventies with a rather predictable storyline. But the Rajesh Khanna movie that has stood the test of time is Hrishkesh Mukherjee’s Anand. A story of a character called Anand who is dying of cancer but who does not give up his zest for life, even though he knows that he has a very short time to live.
Mukherjee, who also wrote the story, originally wanted Shashi Kapoor for the film. But Shashi Kapoor had just tasted success with Jab Jab Phool Khile and was probably more interested in doing romantic roles rather than a role in which his character died in the end.
Then Raj Kapoor, Shashi’s elder brother, and a great buddy of Mukherjee came into the picture. The trouble was that Mukherjee was superstitious about letting Raj Kapoor die on screen. Kapoor and Mukherjee were great friends and Kapoor referred to Mukherjee as babumoshai
Kishore Kumar was also considered for the role. But the story goes that he had a tiff with Mukherjee. Mukherjee who was a prolific film director wanted Kishore Kumar to act in one of his movies. Mukherjee paid him half the amount agreed on in advance and the remaining half was to be paid after the film was shot. But Kishore Kumar wanted the entire amount in advance. He refused to shoot for the movie. Mukherjee took him to court and won the case. The court directed Kishore Kumar to complete the movie and thereafter Mukherjee would pay him the remaining half.
Being the cranky genius that he was Kishore Kumar landed up on the sets with his head and moustache half shaved and apparently told Mukheree that “Aadhe paise mein aadha Kishore hi milega!”
After this Rajesh Khanna got the role of Anand. In fact, it is said that Mukherjee also considered Bengali matinee idols Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee for the roles of Anand and Dr Bhaskar Banerjee.
The role of Dr Bhaskar Banerjee eventually went to Amitabh Bachchan. As IMDB points out “Mehmood advised Amitabh Bachchan to grab a secondary role alongside the then heartthrob Rajesh Khanna in the film, saying, “All you need to do is feed off Khanna, the rest will take care of itself.””
Bachchan had just landed in Mumbai a few years back giving up his comfortable job (what we now call a boxwallah) with Byrd & Co, in Calcutta, as it was then called. He was great friends with Mehmood’s younger brother Anwar Ali.
Every “big actor” does one role during his character that people remember him for. Marlon Brando had “The Godfather”. In case of Robert de Niro it was “Raging Bull”. For Amitabh Bachchan it was “Deewar”. And for Shah Rukh Khan it was “Dilwale Dulhainya Le Jayenge (DDLJ)”.
Anand was Rajesh Khanna’s Deewar. His Godfather. His Raging Bull. And his DDLJ. He reached his peak with Anand and his acting only went downhill after that. Khanna played out Anand’s part brilliantly but the role as explained came to him by sheer chance. Success is about things that happen. It is also about things that do not happen.
What is ironic though that Khanna who was a romantic hero did not have a heroine in the movie. This was a huge risk. But the fantastic script, songs, dialogues and music pulled it through.
Hrishikesh Mukheree did not make a better movie than this. It was also Salil Chouwdhury’s peak as a music director. And Gulzar’s dialogues in the movie are still doing the rounds and even helping news channels like Aaj Tak make a living. Sample this:
Zindagi aur maut upar wale ke haath main hain jahapanah,
use na aap badal sakte hain na main,
Hum sab toh rang-manch kee katputliya hain,
jinki dor uparwale ki ungliyon mein bandhi hain
Kab kaun kaise uthega, koi nahi bata sakta
ha ha ha…
The news channel Aaj Tak started playing this scene from Anand even before Rajesh Khanna’s death was announced. Such was the power of these lines. Anand’s dialogues are probably the most powerful dialogues in Hindi cinema after Sholay and Mughal-e-Azam.
What also stood out in the movie were two songs written by a new lyric writer called Yogesh. Yogesh started out writing songs for movies like Flying Circus, Marvel Men, Rustom Kaun and Husn Ka Ghulam, what were known as stunt movies back then. Hrishikesh Mukherjee heard the lyrics of two songs that Yogesh had written and loved them. But the rights for those song were already with a producer called LB Lachman.
As Yogesh told DNA in an interview few years back “Lachmanji was adamant about keeping the songs, but Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Mukherjee pleaded with him. Bachchan, who was a young man then, would say to me, ‘Kavi Raaj, yeh do gaane humein dila di jiye (Please get us these two songs somehow).’ Finally, Lachmanji relented and gave them one of the songs.”
This song was kahin door jab din dhal jaaye. Mukherjee was so happy with Yogesh that he asked him to write another song and Yogesh came up with the even better zindagi kaisi yeh paheli hi. These two songs turned what was a brilliant movie into an extraordinary one.
The other standout performance in the movie was that of Johnny Walker playing Issabhai Suratwala who Anand keeps calling Muralilal. Suratwala on the other hand keeps calling Anand as Jaichand.
Anand is a movie which has a tragic undertone throughout. But even with that the movie is not a tragedy. It makes you laugh at different points of time, only to make you cry in the end when Anand dies. The last scene of Anand which news channels have been playing nonstop since yesterday is probably the most powerful last scene ever shot in Hindi cinema. I can’t think of anything else that comes a close second.
All these ingredients went into making what has truly become Rajesh Khanna’s crossover movie. A movie that has stood the test of time. And can still be watched. That also explains why it is played on television almost every week.
The timelessness of Anand also tells us is that good cinema isn’t about shooting in Switzerland or having item numbers. It’s all about a story which is well told and the different ingredients coming together just in the right way. Rajesh Khanna was brilliant in Anand. But so were Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Salil Chowhdury, Gulzar, Yogesh and Johnny Walker. And yes Amitabh Bachchan.
Khanna may have given bigger hits like Aradhana and Haathi Mera Saathi. But can you really sit and watch these movies now?
Anand was his truly standout performance. His swansong. His tour de force.
If there is one Rajesh Khanna movie that you should be watching it has to be Anand.
And that’s what I plan to do when the clock strikes nine pm today, for one last time. What about you?
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 19,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/a-hand-me-down-role-in-anand-crowned-khannas-career-383511.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Rajesh Khanna: The Superstar who could not handle success
Sometime in March this year I was taking a Tamil aunt of mine around Mumbai. As we went around on the Carter Road in Bandra I showed her Rajesh Khanna’s bungalow, Aashirward. “My sister even named her son after him,” she told me. “Such was his craze”.
Rajesh Khanna died today after years of loneliness and a drinking habit he couldn’t overcome. Actors often enact death scenes in movies and Rajesh Khanna enacted a particularly powerful scene in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand. In this scene Anand (the character played by Khanna is dying) is dying due to the lymphosarcoma of the intestine and there is tape playing in the background which has Babumoshai (played by Amitabh Bachchan, someone who would become Bollywood’s next superstar) speaking the following lines:
Maut tu ek kavita hai,
mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko…
(Death you are a poem..
a poem has made pact with me that I shall meet her .. )
Death and Khanna finally came together today on a rainy afternoon in Mumbai.
Khanna’s first movie was Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat, a movie which everyone has forgotten by now except for the rather soulful number “baharon mera jeevan bhi sawaron” sung by Lata Mangeshkar and set to tune by Khaiyyam.
The movie which set Khanna on his superstardom was Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana. There was no looking back after this as Khanna delivered one hit after another. Such was his craze among women that they would wait for hours to have a glimpse of him, marry his photographs and even name their sons after him (as was the case with my aunt’s sister).
As Sharmila Tagore said in interview to Indian Express, “Women came out in droves to see Kaka (Khanna). They would stand in queues outside the studios to catch a glimpse, they would marry his photographs,they would pull at his clothes. Delhi girls were crazier for him than Mumbai girls. He needed police protection when he was in public. I have never seen anything like this before and since.”
But unlike Amitabh Bachchan who followed him or Dilip Kumar who preceeded him Khanna’s movies hardly had any great dialogue. As Avijit Ghosh writes in Bollywood’s Top 20: Superstars of Indian Cinema “Rajesh Khanna became an actor without his best lines.” The dialogue that people probably remember till date is a line from Amar Prem: “Pushpa I hate tears”. And that after mimicry artists have used it over and over again over the years.Other than this his dialogues from Anand are well remembered till date.”Zindagi lambi nahi badi honi chahiye,” Khanna playing Anand says in this movie.
The movies of Rajesh Khanna’s may not have had the best of the lines but they had brilliant music composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal (LP) and RD Burman. This was a huge reason for his success. The music for his first big hit Aradhana was officially composed by SD Burman, but since the senior Burman was taken ill, the music was composed by his son RD Burman, though he wasn’t credited for it.
The story goes that Khanna used to clear a tune only if he remembered it a few days after the composition had first been presented to him. Also he made LP and RD Burman compete for his films, getting the best out of both in the process.
The lyric writer Anand Bakshi wrote some of his best lines for Rajesh Khanna. Even bad films like Aap ki Kasam had great songs like zindagi ke safar main guzar jaate hain jo makaam wo phir nahi aate.
His superstardom also revived the singing career of Kishore Kumar and together they formed a hit pair. Some of the most soulful numbers of Kishore Kumar from chingari to ye lal rang kab mujhe chodega to my all time favourite Kishore number jab dard nahi tha seene main tab khak mazza tha jeene main, were filmed on Khanna.
Such was the Rajesh Khanna craze that he had 15 consecutive solo super-hits between 1969 to 1971, a record which the biggest superstar of Hindi cinema Amitabh Bachchan also could not break. And like most of the batting records set by Sachin Tendulkar it is likely to remain unbroken, the Khan superstars of this day and age notwithstanding.
But superstardom was something that Khanna could not handle. “At one point, Rajesh Khanna was a god, but the trouble with him is that he started thinking he was one,” Ali Peter John, a film journalist, told the Open magazine around a month back. Jack Pizzey, who made a documentary titled Bombay Superstar on Khanna described him as an actor who had the “charisma of Rudolph Valentino and the arrogance of Napoleon”.
Success got into his head. And the first victim of this was his girl friend of seven years Anju Mahendru. After the breakup Khanna married Dimple Kapadia before the release of her first movie Bobby, on the rebound. The story goes that he got his baraat to go in front of Mahendru’s bungalow (which was actually Khanna’s bungalow). They did not speak for nearly 17 years after his marriage.
With success came a group of hangers on, who kept reminding Khanna that he was the superstar. “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?” wrote Shaikh Ayaz in the Open sometime back.
In 1973, four years into Khanna’s success everything changed. The year saw the release of Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer. A script written by Salim-Javed and which was rejected by seven different actors (including Dev Anand) before Amitabh Bachchan finally took it on. The movie was a smash hit and saw the birth of the angry young man. Before Zanjeer the maar-dhad films were not a part of the mainstream of Hindi cinema and were referred to as stunt films, which had the likes of Dara Singh in the lead role.
Zanjeer changed all that. And Khanna was anything but the angry young man. He was the boy next door. Thus started the decline of Rajesh Khanna. He made several attempts at a comeback and had occasional hits like Souten in which he was paired opposite Tina Munim.
When Bachchan was on his way up Khanna tried to brush his success aside. As Ayaz points out in the Open magazine “Aise attan button aate jaate rahenge, lekin Rajesh Khanna ko koi chhoo bhi nahi sakta. Main kya aise aire gaire logon se darr jaaunga?” But with the rise of Amitabh Bachchan, Salim-Javed and the angry young man, Khanna’s superstardom had well and truly ended.
Khanna briefly moved onto politics representing the New Delhi constituency for the Congress party between 1992 and 1996. The comebacks also continued in the meanwhile. The most embarrassing of them all being the 2008 movie Wafaa: A Deadly Love Story in which he starred opposite the now supposedly dead Laila Khan. The story goes he also almost entered the Big Boss house and his son in law Akshay Kumar got the deal scuttled.
Rajesh Khanna’s life closely resembled the life of the lead character in the 1950 Hollywood film The Sunset Boulevard. Norma Desmond is a long forgotten lonely film star of the silent movie era in the movie. She still can’t get over the fact that her days of superstardom are over. And she is trying to make this one last comeback. Things go wrong and in the end she shoots her paramour Joe. In the classic last scene of the movie news cameras have arrived at her house. Norma is hallucinating by then and thinks that the news cameras are actually film cameras. She descends the grand staircase of her house and says the famous last lines of the movie.
“I can’t go on with the scene .I’m too happy. Do you mind, Mr. DeMille(a famous film director in Hollywood during those days), if I say a few words? Thank you. I just want to tell you how happy I am to be back in the studio making a picture again. You don’t know how much I’ve missed all of you. And I promise you I’ll never desert you again, because after “Salome” we’ll make another picture, and another and another. You see, this is my life. It always will be. There’s nothing else -just us and the cameras and those wonderful people out there in the dark… All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”
Rajesh Khanna rest in peace.
(The obituary originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 18,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/rajesh-khanna-the-superstar-who-could-not-handle-success-381803.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Put personal life before professional, Covey said
Sometime in late 2008 I was asked to interview Stephen R Covey the author of the best-selling ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, which has sold over 20million copies till date. The interview was published on December 15, 2008, the day this newspaper launched its Bangalore edition.
I was skeptical of interviewing Covey primarily because I believe that self help books are a huge con job, telling people obvious things that they already know. But something that Covey said during the course of the interview that day changed my opinion of him.
“I would say for your body: assume you would have had a heart attack. Now eat and exercise accordingly. For your mind: assume that half life of your profession is only two years, so prepare accordingly. For your heart: assume that everything is shared by another person. They can overhear and now speak accordingly. For your spirit: assume that you are going to have a one on one visit with your creator every three months, now live accordingly. So you want to have total integrity in your life, otherwise you don’t build high trust cultures,” was Covey’s last answer on that day.
The profoundness of the statement still haunts me.
Covey, one of the biggest self help gurus the world has ever seen, died on July 16, 2012, due to complications arising out of a bicycle accident three months ago. Covey had lost control of the bike he was riding and crashed.
Sean Covey told the Salt Lake City Tribune that his father was surrounded by family at the end. “Our family, all nine kids and our spouses and my mom, were able to gather together again to be with him for the last few hours of his life, which is what he always wanted,” he said. Covey was married to Sandra Merrill Covey for 55 years. He is survived by 9 children, 52 grandchildren and six great grand children.
Family played a huge role in Covey’s life. And he firmly believed that personal success went hand in hand with professional achievement. An individual, who spent too many hours at work and excelled at it, while his personal life was in a mess, wasn’t actually succeeding, felt Covey.
Perhaps, ironically when I asked Covey who his personal hero was, he had answered “Gandhi”.
In 2002, the Forbes magazine named The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People one of the 10 most influential management books ever written. Covey was one of the first “gurus” to emphasize on the fact that people need to figure out what they really want to do, instead of just trudging along. “You have to ask the question: What is it that you love doing and that you do well, and that serves a human need and that you feel called to do almost by your conscience. When those four things overlap – talent, passion, conscience and need – then people would have found their voice. But most people are never asked those questions. They are more told (what to do). They are given a job description,” he said in the 2008 interview to this newspaper.
With the advent of email, mobile phones and other communication technology, Covey felt that there was a great need to distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. “There are so many distractions and so many things that are urgent, but they are not really important. Research shows that most executives spend half their time doing things that are urgent
but not important. And they end up neglecting their families, their personal life… (and) their organizations are not as productive,” he said.
Covey’s emphasis on the family came out very well in a 1997 spin off of his original book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. In this book he explained that putting “first things first” basically meant putting the family before anything else. He explained this beautifully through a personal anecdote where he allowed his son to spread peanut butter and jelly on his “bald” head, while he was on a business call. If ever there was a win-win situation this was one. Covey took care of his business whereas his son had quality playtime.
The obituary originally appeared in the Daily News and Analysis dated July 17, 2012
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])