Some two and a half years back I had told an aunt of mine that Baba Ramdev was getting ready to enter politics. My aunt, who recently retired after nearly four decades of teaching in the Kendriya Vidyalaya system of schools, wouldn’t agree with me. “He just wants us to be healthy,” was her reply.
I had been following Baba Ramdev’s early morning yoga classes on television regularly for almost six months in a bid to control my ever expanding waistline. The aasanas that Baba showed over that period remained more or less the same. But the commentary that accompanied those aasanas had gradually become more and more political.
In that context, I am not surprised at Baba’s decision to take the Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government head on and ask his supporters not to vote for the Congress in the coming elections.
Baba Ramdev may not form his own party in the days to come. He may not even contest any elections but by asking people not to vote for the Congress he has more or less signaled his entry into politics.
So the question that arises now is that will he succeed at what he is trying to do or will he just be a flash in the pan and disappear from the limelight in a couple of years?
Babas and religious gurus have always been an essential part of the Indian political system. Dhirendra Bramhachari was known to be close to Indira Gandhi. Chandraswami was known to be close to PV Narsimha Rao.
Long time Gandhi family loyalist Arjun Singh was known to be close to the Mauni Baba of Ujjain. Mauni Baba even took credit for Arjun Singh surviving a massive heart attack in 1989.
As Rashid Kidwai writes in 24 Akbar Road – A Short History Behind the Fall and the Rise of the Congress “The doctors at Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal had almost given up on him( Arjun Singh) when a call from Rajiv Gandhi ensured a timely airlift to Delhi’s Escort Heart Institute. His spiritual guru, Mauni Baba of Ujjain, took credit for the miracle. The guru, who had taken a vow of silence, reached Delhi and shut himself off to conduct various yagnas for his health. As Union Communications Minister, Singh had given the guru two telephone connections. The act promoted a Hindi daily to run the headline, ‘Jab Baba bolte nahin, to do telephone kyun?’
Like Singh, the various politicians took care of their respective gurus. Indira Gandhi ensured that Dhirendra Bramhachari had a weekly show on Doordarshan to promote the benefits of yoga. Several politicians were known to be close to the Satya Sai Baba as well. His trust being a publically charitable trust did not pay any income tax.
So babas and religious gurus have always been close to Indian politicians and politics. They have been the backroom boys who have rarely come out in the open to take on the government of the day head on.
But there are always exceptions that prove the rule. One such person who did this rather successfully for a brief period was Sadhvi Rithambara. Her fiery speeches in the early 1990s were very fairly popular across the length and breadth of North India and Bihar. I remember listening to one of her banned tapes before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was full of expletives and exhorted the cause of a Ram Mandir being built at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
As Haima Deshpande writes in the latest edition of the Open “By the early 1990s, the Sadhvi was scandalising secular India with her rabble-rousing along a campaign trail to replace Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid with a Ram Mandir. At first, her anti-Muslim tirades were full of expletives, exhorting Hindus to reclaim what she said was rightfully theirs. After a brush with the law, she toned herself down, but her message was roughly the same. While the entry of Parsis to India was like sugar sweetening milk, she would say, that of Muslims was like lemon curdling the country (delivered with a certain inflexion in Hindi, that verb could sound rather crude).” The Sadhvi is now known as Didi Maa and runs a home for destitute women and abandoned children which was set up in 2002, Deshpande points out.
What these examples tell us is that Babas and religious gurus have never operated in the openly in the open sesame of Indian politics. And when they have they have not survived for a very long period of time.
At a broader level people who have been successful in other walks of life have rarely been able to transform themselves into career politicians. When these people have tried to enter politics they have either been unsuccessful or have retreated back very quickly.
Let’s take the case of Russi Modi, the man who once played the piano along with Albert Einstein, when the great physicist was playing the violin. Modi was the Chairman and Managing Director of the Jamshedpur based Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO, now known as Tata Steel). After retiring from TISCO, Modi fought the Lok Sabha elections from Jamshedpur and lost.
Amitabh Bachchan won the Lok Sabha elections from Allahabad in 1984 defeating H N Bahuguna. He resigned three years later. Dev Anand unsuccessfully tried to form a political party in the late 1980s. Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra were also a one term Lok Sabha members. Hema Malini has achieved some success in politics but she is used more by the BJP to attract crowds rather than practice serious politics. The same stands true for Smriti Irani of the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi fame.
Deepika Chikalia, the actress who played the role of Sita in Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana, was a one time member of Lok Sabha from Baroda. So was Nitish Bhardwaj who played Krishna in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat, from Jamshedpur.
The only state where film celebrities have successfully made it into politics and remained there is Tamil Nadu. Andhra Pradesh has the isolated example of NT Rama Rao who was successful at politics as well as being the biggest superstar of Telgu cinema. But more recently when the reigning superstar of Telgu cinema, Chiranjeevi, tried to follow NTR, he was unsuccessful. He had to finally merge his Praja Rajyam party rather ironically with the Congress.
Imran Khan Niazi, the biggest sports icon that our next door neighbour Pakistan ever produced formed the Tehreek-e-Insaf party in 1996. When Imran Khan started making speeches before the 1997 elections, his rallies got huge crowds. But the party failed to win a single seat in the election, despite the fact that Imran Khan contested from nine different seats. He lost in each one of them. But to Khan’s credit he still hasn’t given up.In India cricketers like Manoj Prabhakar and Chetan Sharma have unsuccessfully tried to contest elections.
The broader point is that people from other walks of life haven’t been able to successfully enter politics if we leave out the odd filmstar. There are several reasons for the same. Their expertise does not lie in politics and lies somewhere else, something Amitabh Bachchan found out very quickly. Politics also requires a lot of patience and money. This is something that everybody doesn’t have.
Also some of these successful people come with stories attached with them. Ramdev’s story was “practicing yoga can cure any disease”. Those who have seen his yoga DVDs will recall the line “Karte raho, cancer ka rog bhi theek hoga“. This story helped him build a huge yoga empire with an annual turnover of over Rs 1000 crore. The story was working well, until Ramdev decided to diversify, and enter politics.
As marketing guru Seth Godin writes in All Marketers Are Liars: “Great stories happen fast. They engage the consumer the moment the story clicks into place. First impressions are more powerful than we give them credit for.”
So Ramdev’s success now clearly depends on the perception that he is able to form in the minds of the people of this country. Will they continue to look at him as a yoga guru who is just dabbling in some politics? Or will they look at him as a serious politician whose views deserve to be heard and acted on? Also will Baba Ramdev want to continue investing time and energy in the hurly-burly world of politics? That time will tell.
But what about the all the people that Baba Ramdev has been able to attract, you might ask me? Crowds as Imran Khan found out are not always a reflection of whether an individual will be successful in politics. And history clearly is not on Ramdev’s side.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on August 15,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/will-ramdev-succeed-in-politics-history-isnt-on-his-side-418952.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected] )
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])
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])
Some eleven years back I happened to be at an event where Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was the main guest. Since he was in a hurry he came in dancing into the hall and immediately asked the audience to ask him some questions.
After a few questions came this gem “Swami ji, jeevan ka matlab kya hai?“. To which he replied “jisne jeevan ka matlab bataya usne samjha nahi, aur jisne samjha usne bataya nahi.”
This philosophical gobbledygook or to use a simpler term mumbo-jumbo, left the audience impressed, and they kept talking about for some days to come. Ravi Shankar was an upcoming guru back then who was trying to find his audience and we all know he has done rather well since then.
Over the years I have thought a lot about the statement that he made on that given day. Why did he say what he did? I guess those were the days when he was trying to build a story around what he stood for. He was trying to create an image of himself in the minds of people, which was significantly different from the gurus already present and doing roaring business in the market for ‘spirituality’. And his story had to be different from them.
The story that Ravi Shankar perfected and spread over years is that of spreading happiness and peace, targeted at the upper middle class segment of the society with a dash of yoga and music thrown in for good measure. He supports this story with a bit of philosophical gobbledygook at times. The fact that his rise coincided with the so called India growth story is no coincidence. People worked longer hours under a whole lot more stress. They also made a lot of money, something which they could use to be spiritual on weekends and seek peace, a few times a year.
Ravi Shankar is not a mass market guru like Sai Baba of Puttparthi was or Baba Ramdev is, these days. He does not hold his sessions in open grounds like Baba Ramdev does. He holds them in air-conditioned halls. And he makes sure that he stays true to the story he stands for. Recently when Baba Ramdev went on a fast against corruption in the country, Ravi Shankar was asked, why doesn’t he go on a fast like Ramdev had? To which his reply was “I have so many followers outside the country. If I go on a fast, it will become an international issue. This is our problem and it should remain in India.”
So even though Sri Sri thinly associated himself with Ramdev’s campaign against corruption, he didn’t go all the way with it. Associating himself with a mass market guru on a mass market issue would have spoilt his story of being an international guru promoting peace and happiness through yoga, music and mumbo-jumbo, to the upper middle class. He had modeled himself along the lines of Osho Rajneesh (though Ravi Shankar is nowhere as radical as Rajneesh was), who was also a rich man’s international guru and he stayed that way till his death.
Spiritual gurus in India are big brands and big brands over a period time build stories around them. These are stories that help the mass market to relate to them. And when it comes to big brands, they don’t make bigger brands than film stars.
Dilip Kumar was the brooding lover. Raj Kapoor was the Indian Charlie Chaplin who got lost in the big bad city. Dev Anand was the gunda with a noble heart. Rajesh Khanna was the boy next door who got the girl in the end with some hiccups thrown in between for good measure.
As times changed, people forgot Khanna rather quickly, and Amitabh Bachchan became the angry young man. Bachchan tried to do something different now and then, but was unsuccessful at it during his hey days. Chupke Chupke and Alaap, two of his best performances during his hey days didn’t set the box office on fire. In the late 1980s he played the man with no name in the superb Main Azad Hoon (inspired by the great Hollywood flick Meet John Doe) directed by Tinnu Anand, who had also directed the Bachchan comeback movie Shahenshah. Main Azad Hoon tanked at the box office.
In the next generation, Salman Khan became the bhai next door. Shahrukh Khan became the new Rajesh Khanna, the sophisticated guy next door, who gets the girl in the end, after singing a few songs in between. This story became attached to Shahrukh Khan since Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge(DDLJ) released in October 1995. His anti hero movies of Darr, Anjam and Ram Jaane all came before DDLJ.
Almost all of his biggest hits after DDLJ have had Shahrukh playing the sophisticated guy next door, who usually gets the girl in the end. Be it Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum, Dil to Pagal Hai, Chalte Chalte, Main Hoon Na, Veer Zaara etc
Whenever he is tried to go against this, be it Swades, Paheli, Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna or for that matter My Name is Khan it hasn’t worked for him. And most recently that assault on the senses called Ra.One.
In the recent past Chak De India has been the only Shahrukh movie that has worked where Shahrukh did not play the guy next door. The reason the movie worked was that it had a strong story line, which isn’t a characteristic of most Shahrukh movies, and had a fairly limited budget.
So that leaves us with Aamir Khan the other big star of the generation. What is his story? His story can be expressed in that old Maggi Tomato Ketchup line “It’s Different”. Aamir Khan over the last ten to twelve years has been associated with movies which do not fall under the ambit of conventional Bollywood cinema. Be it as an actor or even as a producer.
As an actor he has done movies like Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Mangal Pande, Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, 3 Idiots and Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Diaries. These are movies which would be categorized as “different” in the scheme of Hindi cinema. Almost all of these movies come with an overt social message as well, something that Bollywood isn’t really known for. His next release Talaash, looks like what crime writers call a “police-procedural”. It is a sub-genre of detective novels where a murder or murders for that matter, are investigated painstakingly by normal police detectives, who are not as smart as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
Getting back to the point, during this period Aamir has also done an out an out masala flick like Ghajini, where his role required him to shave off his hair, something that no other Hindi film super start would have agreed to do. The only normal masala film that he has done in the last few years is Fanaa. And that is the exception that proves the rule. Aamir Khan likes to do movies that are different from the usual and have an overt social message.
Even his films as a producer, Lagaan, Taare Zameen Par, Peepli Live, Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly, fall into the “it’s different” category. And other than Delhi Belly which was an out and out zany adult comedy, the other movies had an overt social message.
So that brings us to Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan’s latest big hit. As Aamir has repeated in many interviews around four years back he was approached by Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India, with an idea of doing a game show. This Aamir rejected, as the Open magazine reports, saying “I don’t want to do a game show. I want to do something dynamically different”.
There you have it from the star’s mouth himself. He wanted to do something that was “different”. Aamir Khan probably understood much better than the people who wanted him to do a game show that the image he had built over the years wouldn’t allow him to do a game show. A game show required a star who didn’t really have a “serious-thinking” sort of an image that Aamir has. A Salman Khan could pull off a Dus Ka Dum. But an Aamir couldn’t. A Shahrukh could do Zor Ka Jhatka in his informal sort of way. But couldn’t pull off a Kaun Banega Crorepati which required the gravitas of an Amitabh Bachchan.
Media reports suggest that Aamir Khan and Star TV’s CEO Uday Shankar did not leave it at that. As Business Standard reports “It started some sort of engagement between the two to leverage the power of television. After over one-and-a-half years Khan, who undertook extensive research with his creative team, hit upon the idea of Satyamev Jayate.”
So convinced was Aamir about the idea that other than hosting the show he even decided to produce it under his banner Aamir Khan Productions, which will get paid a whopping Rs 45 crore for the 13episodes planned.
The entire concept of the show jelled with Aamir Khan’s image of being associated with work that is “different” and has an overt social message to it, though the social message in Satyamev Jayate is much more than any of his movies.
Aamir Khan went looking for an idea like Satyamev Jayate and found it. But it can also be safely said that an idea like Satyamev Jayate needed a presenter like Aamir Khan. They are “made for each other”, as the old Wills cigarette ad went.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 23,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/living/why-aamir-khan-and-sj-were-made-for-each-other-354892.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])