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40 years of Love Story (1981): The flash-in-the-pan stardom of Kumar Gaurav

The dream launch of Rajendra Kumar's son catapulted him to success that could never be repeated, effectively sealing his fate.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

It was the launch vehicle for Kumar Gaurav, son of 'jubilee star' Rajendra Kumar. And what a launch it proved to be. Love Story (1981) changed the fate of its hero overnight, but the success was too spectacular to be sustained for long.

As a boy, Kumar Gaurav had accompanied his father to a few film shoots, but the children were never encouraged to hang around the sets. When he assisted legendary actor-filmmaker Raj Kapoor on Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), however, the lad realized his passion for the movies.

In an interview with the web portal rediff.com, Kumar Gaurav said, “I got addicted to films. Watching all the actors, I suddenly realized that is what I wanted to do in life.” So he was sent to train with acting coach Roshan Taneja and, eventually, Love Story happened, where Gaurav was launched along with newcomer Vijayta Pandit, youngest sister of singer-actress Sulakshana Pandit.

In the tale of love spanning two generations, successful builder Vijay Mehra (Rajendra Kumar) is in love with Suman (Vidya Sinha). However, her college buddy Ram (Danny Denzongpa), a civil engineer, is also carrying a torch for her. Vijay and Ram butt heads professionally, which leads to Vijay’s insecurity regarding Suman and her affection for him. Feeling jilted, Vijay marries someone else, while Ram and Suman set up home together.

Several years later, Vijay’s son Bunty (Kumar Gaurav) meets Pinky (Vijayta Pandit) and they dislike each other. Both run away from their respective homes owing to differences with their families and bump into each other again. This time, inevitably, they fall in love. However, differences between their families make their union a difficult one for the parents to swallow.

Love blossoming between children of feuding families is an oft-repeated story in Hindi cinema, one that we have seen in many forms, but a few things made Love Story stand apart. Shot beautifully in Kashmir, the film features stunning locales that vibrate with the fresh, boundless, youthful energy of its two leading artistes. Innocent and charming in equal measure, Kumar Gaurav and Vijayta Pandit shared a chemistry that illuminated the film and, no doubt, contributed to its success.

The stellar supporting cast of Rajendra Kumar, Danny and Amjad Khan as the bumbling hawaldar Sher Singh, along with the memorable melodies by RD Burman, all contributed to the film’s success. Singer Amit Kumar won the Filmfare Best Male Playback Singer award for the immensely popular number 'Yaad Aa Rahi Hai'.

Vijayta Pandit and Kumar Gaurav in a still from Love Story (1981)

Another reason the film stood out was that no one was credited with directing it! In what was probably a first for Hindi cinema, director Rahul Rawail refused to put his name to the film after falling out with producer Rajendra Kumar. So the credits simply state 'A film by Rajendra Kumar'. The bone of contention between the two were certain scenes which were suggested by the producer but not included by the director in the cut. When the producer insisted on those scenes, the director chose to step down.

Among them was the introduction scene of Kumar Gaurav flying an airplane. Shot at the flying club in Ludhiana, Punjab, the beautiful aerial shots and the yellow airplane became one of the most remembered scenes of the film. In his biography Jubilee Kumar: The Life and Times of a Superstar by Seema Sonik Alimchand, the actor has spoken at length about the incident, explaining that Rawail stepping down from the director’s chair when the film was almost complete resulted in a delay of four months. All his attempts to salvage the situation with Rawail came to naught.

However, no one could have anticipated the degree of the film’s success. It was a blockbuster hit and catapulted Gaurav to stardom. His fresh, youthful energy along with the wide-eyed innocence of Vijayta, still a teenager then, was a hit formula that drew audiences into the theatres.

Describing that moment, the actor recalled, “I went inside the theatre for the premiere [of the film] in New Delhi and everything was all right. When I came out, people were pulling my hands, my clothes, women were trying to grab me, someone was shaking my hands, photographers were going berserk. I did not know what hit me.”

There is a lesson to be learnt in how Rajendra Kumar struggled, fell, and came up, says Seema Sonik Alimchand

Little did he know then that this was to be the highest point of his rather short-lived acting career. Kumar Gaurav next starred in Teri Kasam (1982), opposite Poonam Dhillon, which was a moderate success. Then came Star (1982) and Lovers (1983), both miserable flops. They were followed by films like Hum Hain Lajawab (1984) and All Rounder (1984), which sank without a trace.

The vividness and brightness that was the strength of Love Story became shackled in scripts that were repeating the tired old formula and ended up typecasting him. In 1986, he found success once again with Mahesh Bhatt's Naam, but the film ended up being more a Sanjay Dutt vehicle. Success continued to elude Kumar Gaurav and he eventually faded away from under the arc lights. His last release was Sanjay Gupta’s multi-starrer Kaante (2002).

In her book, Alimchand summed up the scenario well: 'Once hailed as the next superstar, the heartthrob of the nation who had brought with him the whiff of a new romantic style of acting, Kumar Gaurav became the victim of his Love Story image. Unable to move out of its shadow, his stardom began to fade before it could rise to its highest point.' An ode to the fickle nature of stardom indeed.