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Watch vintage video: Behind the 'Bombay Superstar' Rajesh Khanna


On his fifth death anniversary today (18 July), we look back at a BBC docu-series titled 'Bombay Superstar' dedicated to Rajesh Khanna during the peak of his stardom in 1973.

Sonal Pandya

"The biggest star in the biggest film industry in the world is someone you’ve probably never heard of,” reporter Jack Pizzey informs his audiences at the beginning of Bombay Superstar, an episode dedicated to Rajesh Khanna in the BBC docu-series, Man Alive. The fact probably rings true for most of today’s stars who are not as well known around the world as they are in India.

But in the early 1970s, the adoration for Rajesh Khanna was a phenomenon to behold. This particular episode follows Khanna on the sets of his films and as he navigates stardom at public spaces and private parties.

By 1973, the year this episode was shot, Khanna had already won two Filmfare awards for Best Actor, for Sachaa Jhutha (1970) and Anand (1971). He was reeling under the shock of five consequent flops and gearing up for the release of Daag (1973).

At first, Pizzey tries to land an interview with the elusive superstar on the sets of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, where the actor is running late by over two hours. Pizzey tries, for five days, to meet Khanna at his famous house by the Bombay coast, but the star never turns up at the appointed hour.

Also read: Revisiting Rajesh Khanna's unconventional debut film Aakhri Khat

Calling the wait ‘a humbling experience’, Pizzey asks Khanna how he likes stardom after chasing it for so long. Khanna’s answer, ‘Who doesn’t [like it]?’ and refers to staying on top as ‘a battle’. He also reveals that his choices are based on intuition and impulse, and that usually things happen the way he wants them to.

Right after he says this, the episode turns to his sudden announcement of marriage to the young actress Dimple Kapadia, which breaks the hearts of millions of his female fans across the country. Afterwards, the episode shifts to the sets of J Om Prakash’s Aap Ki Kasam (1974) in Kashmir. Khanna is filming the song ‘Suno Kaho Kaha Suna’ with co-star Mumtaz.

He does over 20 takes to get one pose right in the song but says he enjoys it all, especially shooting for songs. Pizzey, naturally, is curious about the whole playback process in India where stars actually don’t sing their own songs. A smiling Khanna speaks of Kishore Kumar’s voice in the track, “You hear the playback singer and you feel it is me who is singing, because there is a lot of similarity between his voice and my voice. The only thing is he can sing and I can’t.”

Also present at the Kashmir location is famed gossip columnist Devyani Chaubal, who gets loads of information from the sets to write about the stars on her return. She is quite close to Khanna and was reportedly the first person to be informed about his marriage to Kapadia.

Chaubal gives Pizzey some background about Khanna’s state of mind after it is announced that he has not won any award at the 20th annual Filmfare awards that year. There is a big hullabaloo over the uncertainty of him attending the awards ceremony. Undeterred, he throws himself into preparations for his next release, Daag (1973).

The episode covers a lovely moment where the newlyweds are getting ready for the film’s premiere, albeit separately. The episode ends with the film's screening in small villages of India, eliciting a lukewarm response for Khanna’s role though the opening shows in Mumbai are shown running full.

The episode ends with Khanna in his house, all alone, even as curious crowds wait outside. This wasn’t the end of Khanna’s stardom, but the docu-series showed an inner glimpse of the man behind the fame.

Watch the full episode here: