Valentine’s Week of Sex: Aradhana! The Sex so Sexy it Made a Superstar

Aradhana! Chocolate hero Rajesh Khanna swept into the hearts of the nation through one mistaken night in an empty inn.

The most important thing about this movie, getting this out of the way right away, is that it was the birth of Rajesh Khanna-SUPERSTAR. Rajesh had been plugging along in films for over a year. He won a FilmFare magazine contest which guaranteed him a 3 film contract. His family had the money to support this strange interest of him, so he zoomed around Bombay in his sportscar and made his 3 movies. And then, suddenly, this movie came out and he was a HIT. Not a “hit” like like other movies and other movie stars had been before, not like people enjoyed him in the role and started remembering his name, but like nothing India had ever seen before. The people went literally mad for him, fainting and hysterics and letters written in blood.

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Rajesh Khanna is very handsome in this movie, and very good at his role. But it is truly Sharmila’s movie. She is the protagonist, she is the one the audience follows start to finish, she is the one who suffers and survives and eventually succeeds. Maybe that’s part of the reason Rajesh seemed so wonderful to the audience? He just showed up as the shining perfect hero in a few scenes, he didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of the drama like Sharmila did.

Oh, and also Farida Jalal! Yes, THAT Farida Jalal! Before she was everyone’s mother onscreen, she had a brief career as a supporting heroine. Not the central role, not like Sharmila has here, but a sort of back-up heroine. And even as just a back-up, she’s still got almost as large a part as Rajesh Khanna. It’s truly a woman’s picture, not a man’s picture.

Especially considering the focus is so much on relationships, parenthood, motherhood, and so on. Rajesh is technically in the army, but that only seems to have an effect in terms of giving him an excuse to look pretty in a uniform. Otherwise the plot takes place entirely within homes, within family units. There is only one action scene, and it is between a grown man, a little boy, and a woman, not two men.

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(so good in uniform!)

I would truly love to see a remake of this movie today, because I would love to see a film that addresses all the various difficulties of a single woman with no judgement, the way this one does.

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Sharmila is the daughter of a doctor, educated and intelligent. She is introduced reading a book on a train, and Rajesh Khanna sees her through the train windowed and is immediately enchanted and sings to her. Only to show up at her house a few hours later, disheveled (he is very handsome when disheveled). Naturally, they fall in love.

This is the progressive 60s, so there is no big issue over it. Rajesh’s family might object, but he doesn’t care. Sharmila’s father is delighted that his daughter is in love and fully approves. The young couple goes around together completely alone and no one makes a fuss. Happy Happy.

On one of their dates, they visit a remote temple and, impulsively, go through a temple marriage ceremony. That night, they are caught in the rain and have to stay together in the same room at an inn. In the room next door, another couple is on their honeymoon and the husband is singing a love song. The result is one of the most powerful sequences in Indian film history. It’s not lustful, it’s loving, and it’s about the over-whelming desire to express that love physically. They have just confirmed their commitment in front of God, there is a couple next door as in love, they are alone with their bodies close together, it is inevitable that they will sleep together.

The key to this sequence is that the sleeping together is not presented as a mistake, it is presented as a beautifully holy act. Especially because Rajesh dies shortly after, in plane crash (did I forget to mention he’s a pilot in the Indian army?). It’s wonderful that they had this time together.

And Rajesh dies cleanly, leaving their love cleanly behind him. His horrible relatives have arrived, wanting to ignore his relationship with Sharmila, but with his dying breath he points to her, trying to indicate that she is his “wife”. Sharmila was right to trust him, to sleep with him, he wasn’t “tricking” her, they were mutually in love and overcome.

Of course, she’s also pregnant. Because this is a movie after all and that’s how it always happens. Another twist, her father stands by her! Stands by her and believes her and joins her as she travels in disgrace. He dies, not because of “the shame”, but because of the punishment society has given them, they are no longer living in their lovely comfortable home, but struggling and traveling and surviving and his heart gives out.

Leaving Sharmila completely alone to give birth in a hospital. Where a kind nurse makes a suggestion. By the way, do you know about Loretta Young and Clark Gable’s baby? I promise, I will relate this back to the movie in a moment. Clark Gable date raped Loretta Young and she ended up pregnant. She stopped working for a few months, and then announced she had “adopted” a baby girl. Loretta was deeply deeply religious, and also a loving mother, and a movie star, and this was the best way to satisfy all of those needs. The story was widely rumored, but only came out after Loretta’s death, because the adoption story was such a clean solution.

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(spookily similar to her Dad, right? She died a couple years ago, which is when the date rape story came out, Loretta had told her sister-in-law (I think) but made her promise not to say anything while her daughter was alive)

And that is the solution that a kindly nurse offers Sharmila! With, again, no judgement. She knows Sharmila doesn’t have a father around for her baby, and her only concern is to help her live with this situation in the best way possible. So she suggests leaving the baby at an orphanage, and coming back in a few hours to “adopt” it. Clean and nice and easy.

Do you see the one tiny flaw in this plan? No, it’s not that the baby will look just like Sharmila or anything complicated like that. It’s, “what if the baby is adopted before Sharmila can come back?” Which is exactly what happens! A wealthy family who just lost a child at birth came to the orphanage and took the baby.

If this were a male action film type thing, there would be a big confrontation here. But it’s nice, it’s Aradhana, so instead it is a nice conversation. Turns out the adoptive mother was suicidaly depressed after the loss of her child. This new baby has changed her life and she is already bonded with it. The father is nice about it too, feels terrible over Sharmila’s situation, doesn’t know what to do. So he and Sharmila make a deal. The baby can stay with his wife, will have a wonderful upbringing in a wealthy family without even knowing he is adopted. And Sharmila will be their nanny, able to watch her son grow up in this happy household.

And, baby song! And also, brief interlude of happiness! Sharmila gets to be with her son and recover from all the dreadful things that have happened to her (watching the man she loved die, losing her home, wandering the country, watching her father die, giving birth alone, giving up her baby, suffering under the weight of a huge bouffant). For a brief 12 year period, until terrible things start happening again.

(Baby! Also, Karan tweeted recently that this is the song he sings to his kids every night at bed time)

See, Sharmila, as a woman, is just going to constantly be beat up the world so long as she is without a male protector. That’s not a statement on female weakness, just how Indian society is. Rajesh died, leaving her widowed and pregnant, her father tried to help but died as well, and her son is too little to help her, and doesn’t know she is his mother anyway. Or maybe not? Sharmila is attacked by the evil brother-in-law visiting the household (fascinating how movies often show the brother-in-law or other relative as an attacker, and yet in real life it is so taboo to acknowledge it), and lil’ Rajesh, 12 years old, comes home and kills his uncle in order to protect his beloved “nanny”.

Sharmila, as a woman, could not defend herself. But she can protect her child. So she takes the blame and goes to jail for 10 years, in order to hide what Rajesh has done. Hilariously, when she gets out, Rajesh meets her again and doesn’t even recognize her! But that’s because it’s not his movie. This isn’t about Rajesh working through his issues as a murderous child, this is about Sharmila sacrificing again and again for the good of her son. She let him be adopted, she loved him without telling him why, she even went to jail for him.

Oh right, and now she is out and working as a housekeeper for the warden. Kind of odd here, the warden says he likes her so much, he wants her to leave jail and come home to help him take care of his daughter. Not sure if I would expect a jail warden to do that. But then, Sharmila is wonderful. And the lesson of the movie is that she is wonderful and women are important and cherished, just as her single father loved her, so does the warden love his daughter, and wants to hire a housekeeper/companion just to help raise her. And thus Farida Jalal enters the picture, young and loving to Sharmila, and in love with Rajesh Khanna 2, Sharmila’s son all grown up with a mustache.

And thus the final conflict. Through out this film, Sharmila has sacrificed over and over again. And now every character is pleading with her to take one thing for herself, to acknowledge to Rajesh Khanna 2 that he is her son. Even his adoptive mother has come around! But Sharmila can’t do it, seeing herself as shameful, as a burden not a blessing to him, the unmarried mother, the murderer (okay, it does kind of bother me that the truth of that murder never comes out), the ex-convict, the lowly housekeeper.

That is the happy ending, not Rajesh Khanna 2 finding his mother, I don’t care about him, he has a stupid mustache. No, it is about wonderful Sharmila finally finding some happiness again, finding a place in the world instead of sacrificing in silence and solitude.

Oh, and in case you didn’t see why this is a Good Friday movie, we have an unmarried mother, and a hero who dies only to rise again. Except, I don’t think Jesus 2 (post-death Jesus) had a mustache. Although, wait, maybe he did!!!! Cleopas didn’t recognize him on the road, right? MUSTACHE!!!!

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(Or maybe sideburns and sunglasses, Hrithik in Kaho-Na-Pyar-Hai-second-half style? Jesus was probably very stylish)

9 thoughts on “Valentine’s Week of Sex: Aradhana! The Sex so Sexy it Made a Superstar

  1. WTF? How did I not know Gable raped Young? I knew about the baby and the whole adoption story but had no idea he was a rapist!!! I feel terrible – he used to be my first old Hollywood crush.

    P.S – Great review. Glad that you also think this is Sharmila’s movie. My mom and my aunts had mentioned so many times how amazing Khanna is in this movie and the craze he inspired but I always thought Sharmila was the MVP in this movie and Khanna just lucked out.

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      • Her kids say it was rape. She apparently had someone explain “date rape” to her and she claimed that’s what Gable did to her. I don’t think they’d lie about something like that.

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        • It kind of makes more sense than the affair story, Loretta was so well known as a “good girl”, in a kind of “everyone rolls their eyes about her because she is such a wet blanket” way. The version I used to hear of the affair story was “Gable was so sexy he somehow broke down the impossible woman”. Like, people already had to point out how strange it was that Loretta would have had sex outside of marriage because it just wasn’t her thing. But date rape, with Loretta feeling ashamed to tell anyone and Gable not thinking he had done anything wrong, kind of fits better with how everyone described the situation.

          I find it fascinating that we had decades of the rumor of Gable’s child that was never confirmed, then finally confirmation, and then years after the confirmation the further detail that it was rape. Makes you wonder what other gossip stories are out there that might be confirmed and explained further at some point.

          On Sun, Feb 9, 2020 at 1:49 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

      • No, her children have said that she confessed to them what had happened. She had blamed herself for what had happened because of the circumstances, but later on she learnt more about rape, and she had the revelation that it was rape, and talked to them about it. It’s incredibly, incredibly sad.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Just to add the final touch to the story, Young talked about it with her other children but made them promise not to discuss it with Gable’s child (the product of the rape), and they kept the promise and only made it public after Judy Lewis died. It’s such a sad story, but also (to drag it back to this film) not necessarily a “celebrity” story. A young woman gets pregnant from date rape, blames herself for not being chaste, has complicated emotions about the child but at the same time an urge to protect her from the full truth.

          On Sun, Feb 9, 2020 at 3:26 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

    • Yaaaay, more Sharmila lovers! I find her so impressive in everything I see her in, and she had no problem going arty or commercial.

      On Sun, Feb 9, 2020 at 10:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  2. After reading your posts about Aa Gale Lag Jaa and Aradhana I’m sure hindi writers must have read Caridad Bravo’s stories because their movies look like good old style telenovela.

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