Well, there was no over-whelming consensus on my voting post last Thursday as to what to do next, so I think I will pick the Khanna-Kumars. Partly because I started Dimple’s story and never finished it with the Kapoors, partly because I am in love with Twinkle and Akshay after their Koffee appearance, and partly because Rajesh Khanna was a very big deal and you should know about him!
The Kapoors are a very large family with one really huge star (Raj Kapoor) and more than half a dozen legitimate Stars (Rishi, Neetu, Shammi, Shashi, Kareena, Karisma, Ranbir, Whoever I Am Forgetting). But the Kapadia-Khanna-Kumar family is different, they have only a few members, but basically all of them are Big Big Big All Time Big Stars.
First, my usual disclaimer so no one gets mad at me: Everything I am about to say may be true, or it may not be true. I don’t know these people personally, I am just telling you what is the generally accepted “truth” about them, in case you are new to the films and hadn’t heard it before.
Okay, now that’s out of the way, let me tell you what a terrible person Rajesh Khanna was! You know how after a celebrity dies, usually you get all these stories about what a wonderful person they were and how they brightened all our lives and how all their creative partners loved them and were inspired by them? Yeah, that’s not what happened when Kaka (his nickname) died. Instead, there was this huge outpouring of “Well, when he was alive I didn’t want to say this for fear of him taking petty revenge and ruining my career, but now he’s dead, so I finally can!”
Not like Kaka was a murderer or a rapist or anything. But he would show up to films 2-3 days late, he would keep top producers waiting in his entryway for weeks at a time just because he could, he would make female reporters interview him in his bedroom, and he was never faithful to any woman in his life. Also, he never sent money home to his own parents.
I start by telling you what a terrible person Kaka was, because you have to understand what a big star he was. I mean, think about it, he was cordially disliked by almost everyone who had to deal with him in his whole life, and yet they all put up with it! Not only that, they kept quiet about it for years and years and years until the day he dropped dead. What kind of superstar power must he have had to get away with this?
(SPOILERS: this kind of superstar power)
Rajesh Khanna was truly India’s first SuperStar. As you know if you’ve been following the films today, there are movie stars like John Abraham or Abhishek Bachchan or Emraan Hashmi who might be compared with the biggest stars America has ever known, like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, in terms of how beloved they are and how well known they are by the common man and how powerful they are in the industry and even in the “real world”. But then there are stars like the 3 Khans, or Amitabh Bachchan, or even Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan. Who can’t be compared with any movie star we have in the West (unless you go back to someone like Rudolf Valentino), but are more like rockstars, like Prince or David Bowie or I-don’t-know-who-else-I-don’t-listen-to-modern-American-music. Well, Rajesh Khanna was the first of these kinds of stars. And the biggest of them.
(This was Rudolph Valentino’s funeral, when he died at the top of his stardom. Compare it with the last post when I talk about Kaka’s funeral 30 years after his last big hit)
Think Elvis. Think that big. One of the stories that stuck in my mind was about him leaving set one day and walking out to his car, and his friend saying “Huh. When we drove over this morning, I thought your car was white? But now it’s red.” And Kaka saying “oh, don’t worry about it, that’s just the lipstick.” Because while he was on set working, so many women had come up to his car and kissed it, that every inch of it had been colored red. And this was normal for him!
But, how did he get that big? He had a rough start, his biological parents were refugees during partition (when Kaka was 5). He was adopted at some point after that by relatives of his biological parents, well to do railway employees who lived in Bombay. Rajesh grew up in Bombay, going to high school with “Ravi Kapoor” who would later grow up to be Jeetendra, founder of one of the “other Kapoor” families. Both Rajesh and future-Jeetendra were interested in theater. And Rajesh was apparently well-enough off that he could afford to indulge in this interest. After 2 years of college in Pune, he decided he wanted to get serious about acting and started driving his little sports car around to auditions. He also changed his name, from “Jatin Khanna” to “Rajesh Khanna” following a suggestion of one of his uncles. I guess Rajesh is a little more “filmi” sounding, isn’t it?
Rajesh had a very “filmi” start too! He won a FilmFare contest, out of 10,000 applicants (well, that’s what FilmFare said), he was one of 6 finalists. And he won! And got a bunch of film contracts out of it (because it was co-sponsored by a group of producers).
Part of the Rajesh Khanna “legend” is that his first 5 movies were flops. They weren’t necessarily complete failures, he probably could have had a decent career as yet another hero off of them, but the success of his 6th film was such that those early 5 suddenly looked like flops. Really, Aradhana made every film in the history of India look like a flop, and every hero look like nothing.
Rajesh Khanna “arrived” in 1969, but it wasn’t like there was a vacuum before him. This was the era of Shammi Kapoor, the wild teenage hero in wild teenage love stories. It looked like Shammi would continue to rule for years to come, and every other hero would have to be satisfied with his leavings.
And then came Aradhana! It’s a good movie with a great role for Rajesh Khanna, but at the time movies like this were being cranked out all the time without much notice. Remember, this is before wide release was standard. So a movie would come out, play in one or maybe two theaters in each of the major markets, and then spend the next year or so slowly traveling around India. This could have been just another one of those, a good movie with good songs and a decent cast, but nothing different from Sharmilee or Blackmail or any of those other movies with Dharmendra or Shashi Kapoor or one of the other lessor-but-talented stars.
(Playing the second half heroine: Farida Jalal! You know, the mother in everything?)
Heck, it wasn’t even really a “Rajesh Khanna Movie”! If you pay attention to just the script and the screentime, it’s really Sharmila Tagore’s movie. She is the one we follow through out the film, Rajesh is just there to be her tragic doomed lover, and later her cheerful love child born of the tragic romance.
But Rajesh is just SO DREAMY! With his head tilt and soft smile and innocent eyes. You watch this movie, and you can see why all of India fell in love with him in one fell swoop. And after Aradhana, his career took off like something no one had ever seen before.
In his personal life, he was already a little bit committed. Not married, but close to it, with an actress Anju Mahendru. Anju stayed by through the struggling early years, when none of his films were huge hits and it looked like he may not last as an actor. Anju never quite made it as an actress either, although when they first got together she was more successful than Rajesh. And then, through Rajesh’s incredible run of 15 major hits in a row, Anju was always by his side, becoming more known as “Rajesh Khanna’s girlfriend” then for any of her own accomplishments.
Anju and Kaka continued along, seemingly happy and headed toward marriage, and then suddenly in 1973, Rajesh announced he was marrying 15 year old Dimple Kapadia, a starlet with her first movie still filming. ???????
(Oh, and Dimple had been rumored to be dating her slightly more age appropriate co-star Rishi Kapoor until just before the announcement)
I used to think of this story as Rajesh feeling his stardom slipping away (which it was, his films were still massive hits but not guaranteed hits, and Amitabh was already making his presence felt in the industry) and grabbing at Dimple as something young and fresh to give him headlines. Plus there was a sort of Priscilla Presley vibe of giving all his teenage fans what they wanted by seemingly marrying one of them.
But then on Twinkle’s (their oldest daughter) birthday last year, Rishi Kapoor tweeted something about serenading her while she was in her mother’s stomach and everybody LOST THEIR MINDS. Which was odd, until I started adding up months, and realized everyone else was adding up months too.
(Here’s the song. She’s 15, pregnant, and starring in a major film. A life filled with excitement!)
Rajesh and Dimple were married in March. Twinkle was born in December. Now, that’s a nice solid 10 months, assuming they were married in early March. But if we say late March, then that is cutting it awfully fine, isn’t it? And I can’t seem to find a thing on The Internet to confirm the exact date of their wedding besides a generalized “March”. Everyone seems to agree on that!
My first impression could still be correct, that Rajesh wanted to marry a 15 year old to make himself feel young and keep his career relevant (Rajesh himself, by the way, was 31 at the time of the wedding). Kind of a jerky thing to do to his longterm girlfriend, but Rajesh has never been known as the most thoughtful person in the world.
But on the other hand, knowing that Rajesh was the kind of guy to take female reporters up to his bedroom, I think we can safely assume he wasn’t above seducing and enjoying a teenage starlet, yes? Only to discover she wasn’t just “a teenage starlet”, but the daughter of a businessman, and also pregnant. Really, if this is the version that is true, I am kind of impressed with Rajesh! Stepping up, marrying her, and taking all the public blame for his abandonment of Anju. Supposedly, Anju didn’t speak to him for 17 years after this, but they did eventually make up (I’ll get to that in the last post).
(Doesn’t this photo kind of scream “oh my God we’re pregnant and have to get married”?)
Rajesh was not the greatest husband to Dimple. But not really the worst either. I haven’t run across any rumors of abuse, although that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. He even helped launch Dimple’s sister “Simple” when she wanted to start acting. And he was a loving and indulgent father, both his daughters agree on that. He supported the household and left Dimple alone to raise their daughters (second daughter Rinke was born 4 years later). There are a variety of charming photos available of him from this era, spoiling his girls.
But, if you look at a photo of the whole family, it’s not quite the same “happy happy” image. It looks more like Dimple discovered she was way out of her depth, married to the biggest star on earth who was always working, and often cheating, and never to be relied upon.
(that’s Twinkle circled)
Just like Neetu and Babita back in my last posts, Dimple had finally had enough. She didn’t make a big announcement, she didn’t file for divorce, she just took her daughters and left the famous Aashirwaad bungalow where Rajesh lived and moved back in with her parents and went back to work.
(This is Rajesh’s bungalow. I’ve driven by it. It looks nice! I’d live there)
Twinkle mentioned in her Koffee appearance that she was at boarding school with Karan and sort of brushed past how they talked about how she “had” to be there, but Karan could always go home. Well, this is why she “had” to be at boarding school! Her mother was working again and couldn’t take care of her.
Dimple had one of the biggest launches of all time in Bobby, but she was never able to enjoy it, because she was already married and 7 (or 9?) months pregnant when it came out. But now, in 1984 11 years later, she was able to fully enjoy her re-launch, opposite her same old hero Rishi Kapoor, in Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar.
If you haven’t seen Bobby, Dimple’s whole image in that film was being young young young, and kind of sexy in her innocence. Raj Kapoor put her in bikinis and mini-skirts, and yet it didn’t really feel scandalous, because she was so innocent. But now she wasn’t 15 any more, she was 27. And a single mother of 2. So Ramesh Sippy went a different way, and Dimple did her first topless shot in Saagar. It’s brief, but it’s there.
(I’m a decent person, so I’m not giving you that shot, I’m giving you this one instead.)
Once Saagar came out, Dimple was back with a vengeance! She couldn’t get back the past 11 years of stardom she was owed, but she could try to make up for lost time. Saagar was the first film she signed and filmed, but by the time it released, she had already had 6 other films come out, within a year. She kept up that pace, anywhere from 3 to 8 films in one year, for the next ten years.
Of those first 6 films, two of them were big big hits opposite a newish hero, Dharmendra’s son Sunny. Dharmendra has 4 sons, but only the oldest (Sunny) and the youngest (Bobby) became actors. Sunny was born in a village when his father was only 21, before Dharmendra even considered becoming a star. And he was launched at 25, already married himself. His 3rd and 6th films, Manzil Manzil and Arjun, were opposite Dimple.
If you can find Manzil Manzil, I highly highly highly recommend it! It’s kind of a silly rom-com action farce, but what makes it really soar is the chemistry between Dimple and Sunny. He is all young muscles and action, can’t keep still. And she is all sophisticated and clever and kind of amused by him. But mostly, they are just enjoying being young and together and each other. The romance is less of a focus in Arjun, but they are still a delight together, and seem delighted with each other.
There are various versions of what happened next. Most every gossip source seems to agree that Dimple and Sunny were an item. Some places even report that he was around so much that Twinkle and Rinke started calling him “Chotte Papa” What is not clear is if this was a brief but intense affair, lasting as long as their onscreen partnerships throughout the late 80s, or if it is still going on today. I saw some comment in an interview with one of Sunny’s recent co-stars about how there was supposed to be a party on set for her for her birthday or something, but of course Sunny couldn’t come, because it was June 8th, which is Dimple Auntie’s birthday, so he had to take the day off. But is that because they are still together, or just because they are old friends?
These relationships where divorce/marriage is not an option are so interesting! I assume that Dimple never wants to get married again after the horror show that was her first marriage. And I assume that Sunny doesn’t want to get divorced, because he comes from that kind of traditional responsible family (his father after all took two wives rather than get a divorce). But because there will never be anything “official” to start the relationship, that also means there will be nothing “official” to end it. Maybe they had an intense affair for 3 years in the 1980s, and they will always love each other and be in each other’s lives but are no longer a couple. Maybe they had a brief intense affair in the 80s which has transitioned into a long term relationship that has no official name and no expectations. Who knows! But I kind of hope for the second, because I like the idea of this modern classy career woman and this man’s man old-fashioned muscle head being a couple. It’s got a sort of Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn or Sam and Diane vibe to it. Or maybe I’ve just watched Manzil Manzil too many times.
Okay, I’m up to the mid-80s by now, Dimple and Rajesh are broken up, Dimple has moved on, Twinkle is in boarding school, time to take a break! I’ll be back on Thursday for the next 20 years, including a brief appearance by India’s richest family, and the introduction of a new era of stardom.