Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972)
Imagine a scene:
A father and his seven year old son watching an IPL match together. In a commercial break a new Havells advert featuring a diminished and dilapidated old man and his countless fans (literal) captures the attention of the kid. He ignores it the first few times, but finally cannot resist asking his father the question.
“Papa, who is this old looking man, and why are they showing this ad again and again?”
“Beta, he was a very popular film star once.”
“Papa, then what happened to him? Why is he not seen in films anymore?”
At that very moment the strategic timeout ends and the match resumes. The kid forgets the question he had asked his father, and once again gets lost in the glitz and glamour of the festival that celebrates his favorite sport, bat-ball. The old man and his fans are forgotten too, and the next time the ad comes, it is given hardly any attention. Meanwhile the father gives a wry smile when he sees print version of the same ad campaign in the newspaper he reads.
The Rajesh Khanna phenomenon is like folklore for the kids of my generation and the subsequent ones. Every now and then, when the topic of cinema and stardom was touched upon during the many family viewings of popular classics on television (mostly Amitabh Bachchan ones-Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar etc.), the name Rajesh Khanna was mentioned and dwelt upon for a few moments, and then life began as usual. The name got relegated to the back of a busy memory storage device, where it lies dust-ridden and ignored.
Ask a film aficionado from the 70s generation or about that time, and chances are that you will get to hear many crazy stories about the star’s sky-high popularity in the early 70s. Some will claim most emphatically that such a phenomenon was never seen again, and that it’s unlikely that it would be repeated anytime soon. His rapid rise to fame and the cruel fall to become an almost B-grade star is a stuff of filmy legends. Even after his fall from grace, he continued to do a lot of films, and even managed some intermittent hits, but never again that time returned when he was the Midas, and he was the gold.
Now when someone watches his films, it is hard to keep it separate from his real life story and the rise and troughs of his career. Almost all his films from the late 1960s to about 1973 (the year when he did a film called Namak Haram with the rising superstar at that time- Amitabh Bachchan), have him at his confident best (or it seems). Many of his later films too have great merit, but he as a performer doesn’t seem as assured and as much in command as he does in his early films. In fact Mere Jeevan Saathi, a 1972 film, is one which gives the impression of being designed to suit his larger than life image. It certainly revels in paying homage to all the things for which he was loved and adored. It is the kind of film which is unrestrained in singing eulogies to a persona that is bigger than anything else in the movie. After one watching this film, one can easily imagine the context and the phase in which it was made. And anyone who is interested in making sense of the Rajesh Khanna phenomenon must experience this one.
The superstar plays a Casanova, an artist, a singer. He gets to strut around in garish and loud clothes (in vogue at that time), gets to flirt with girls ready to eat out of his hands (and what not!), and gets to sing songs to an audience of admirers and fans. All this, and more, happens in the first half of the movie when he is chased by a rich spoilt princess (Helen), and he chases and demure and comely young lady doctor (Tanuja) and falls madly in love with her. In the second half things change color and Rajesh Khanna gets to play the other side of his persona that was quite famous at that time- the romantic hero stuck fighting through tragic circumstances. He meets with an accident and lands up in the palace of the very princess who he had ignored and rejected. At what more, he loses his eyesight and becomes a prisoner of his ardent admirer who treats him like a slave. Meanwhile the heroine (an ophthalmologist) sets up a hospital and meets another suitor and his family. What happens next is not very difficult to predict, but it is that kind of a film that holds not much novelty factor, but just comes across as a very well packaged story playing up the image of its lead star.
The most attractive thing about this film is its songs and music by RD Burman. Classics, all of them and I am signing off with my favorite of them all…