Friday, December 5, 2008


Posted online: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 0000 hours IST

Rajesh and I are good friends.’ - Anju Mahendru (July ’87).
‘He is the father of my children and a very integral part of my life. He can never be unimportant.’ - Dimple (July ’87).
‘After every quarrel, he would inundate me with gifts as if he was courting me all over again.’ - Tina Munim (August ’87).
Three beautiful women. Three controversial relationships.

Three complex chapters in Khanna’s life. What is it about Rajesh Khanna, that women who loved and lost him cannot be indifferent to the memory? Why is it that they drag their pasts into the present and discuss him when he’s no more a part of their life? We decided to question the women. Persuading them to talk wasn’t easy. If Anju Mahendru was unsure, Dimple was hesitant and Tina tight-lipped. ‘I’m not sure if it’s right to discuss him,’ said Anju, sitting in her plush bungalow in Juhu and swallowing an aspirin to recover from a throbbing headache. ‘It’s a controversial subject...’ remarked Dimple in-between shots during a late night shooting of a Rajkumar Kohli film. ‘What can I say? Anyway, how will it help...?’ asked a reticent Tina when I contacted her over the phone one Sunday.

I spend long hours with the three women before they were willing to journey into their past and tell a strange story of half-forgotten truths. We flip back the pages of this still-open book to understand the mystique of a man called Rajesh Khanna...

Anju Mahendru: Just one month after Rajesh Khanna left her to marry Dimple Kapadia, Anju called up the ‘Naaz’ theatre to check his box-office popularity. This, for a man who led his baraat past her bungalow, only to spite her. Still, erasing his memory is not as easy for Anju. His perverseness was the other side of his generosity. His cruel moods alternated with his gentle nature. Anju was bohemian and sharptongued,- , a contrast to the diplomatic Khanna. Then what made R.K., the conservative raised in a traditional household, fall in love with the bold, independent model-cum-aspiring actress? The differences resulted in conflicts. Taking it as a challenge, R.K. sought to change his girlfriend. Today says Anju:

‘Basically he is a very orthodox man, yet somehow he always gets attracted to ultra modern girls. I know it’s a contradiction, but then Rajesh Khanna is like that. Confusion was a part of our relationship. If I wore a skirt, he’d snap, why don’t you wear a saree? If I wore a saree, he’d wrinkle his nose and say, why are you trying to project a Bhartiya nari look? Things became worse when stardom found Rajesh Khanna. The champagne-and-roses affair was threatened by the very popularity and success the two had dreamt of. Rajesh Khanna, the heartthrob of millions, never got encouragement from the person he most needed - Anju. Unsure of himself, he’d watch the rushes of his films with her, waiting for praise and appreciation. It never came. Instead, criticism was all he got. Anju refused to become another Khanna sycophant. She refused to see him in any other light than how she had always known him.

Says Khanna now, ‘I didn’t expect praise. All I wanted was a nod of approval... A gesture that reassured. But she was always ruthlessly critical. ‘I was critical because that’s how I am,’ explains Anju. ‘If he was bad, I always said so. Why should I have praised him just to keep him happy? There were plenty around to boost his ego. He has always been sensitive to criticism and I’ve always been very frank.’

Rajesh was going through the teething troubles of nouveau success. Anju, as the woman in his life, found herself at sea, coping with him. She was defensive. When Rajesh got back from a shooting schedule, he’d get frantic if Anju wasn’t in the beautiful bungalow he had gifted her. He would call up all her friends to trace her whereabouts. He’d follow her everywhere. ‘If I went somewhere, he’d trail me and ring me up consistently,’ reveals Anju. ‘The world was after me and I was after her,’ says the ex-superstar bitterly today.’ In retrospect, Rajesh sums up his relationship with Anju as one of unequals. ‘I married Dimple on the rebound and Tina was a balm on the wounds inflicted by Dimple.’

Today, 17 years after the unpleasant break up of their seven year live-in- relationship, Anju would rather be friends with Rajesh Khanna, than nurse old grievances. The two have struck a special relationship that only years of knowing each other can bring about. Whether it’s sharing a drink or teasing each other about their current dates, there is an easy camaraderie. Anju and Rajesh have come a long way. Says an embarrassed Anju, ‘When we spoke to each other for the first time after almost 17 years, I admit that both of us felt a bit awkward. I didn’t call him Jatin as I used to in the past and he didn’t call me Nikki. I didn’t call him Kaka either. It would have been too filmi!’

Dimple Kapadia: When Dimple came into Rajesh Khanna’s life, little did she know that she would have to bear the brunt of the casualties in his first affair. The young teen star was swept off her feet when the charming Khanna dramatically threw Rishi Kapoor’s ring into the sea and proposed marriage. From childhood she was roughly jerked into adulthood. The marriage went wrong from the very beginning. Ironically, Dimple’s complaints against Rajesh were similar to Rajesh’s complaints against Anju. ‘Everywhere I went, I was told that I was the most gorgeous woman in the world. But I never got a word of praise from him. It was as if he hadn’t noticed me.’

Three beautiful women. Three controversial relationships. Three complex characters in Khanna’s life. What is it about Rajesh Khanna, that women who loved and lost him cannot be indifferent to the memory
Vulnerable and eager for reaction, Dimple was so awestruck by her superstar husband, that she was totally subjugated and robbed of the confidence to behave in a natural manner. She wore what he liked - sarees, and mixed with the people he approved of - his chamchas. It was always his approval that mattered. Says Dimple, ‘I was always waiting for some reaction, but it never came. All my energy was spent in doing what he wanted and anticipating his approval. It was like climbing a ladder. No matter how fast I climbed, he was still many rungs ahead.’

Things became worse, when Rajesh Khanna’s films started flopping. He became more rigid and withdrew into his shell. If Anju couldn’t cope with his success, Dimple couldn’t cope with his failure. ‘He neither shared his happiness nor his sorrow and I was too frightened of giving him any kind of support. All I could do was wait in attendance just in case he needed me.’ Maybe it’s got something to do with the man that makes women involved with him feel insecure. Maybe in their insecurity, Khanna seeks his security. During her marriage, Dimple’s self-esteem was low. Rajesh Khanna was a strong force to contend with. The truth was that the two married each other for all the wrong reasons. They failed each other in every way. And separation was the only way out.

Today, distance has brought about mutual understanding between the two. When a colleague recently remarked that Dimple had a volatile temper, her separated husband was the first one to defend her. ‘I’ve been told that Dimple uses foul language when she’s in a bad mood. I’ve never experienced this side of her. She is always ladylike and polite when we were together. She was and is a good mother to her daughters. I must give her full marks for that.’

On her part, Dimple acknowledges that Khanna has been a formidable influence on her life. The impressions he has left behind cannot be wiped away. Today, if Dimple remembers the trauma of living in ‘Aashirwad’, she cannot forget the tenderness, either. ‘When he wants to charm you, he always succeeds. He is very generous - both with his purse and his heart. Anyone who comes into close contact with him will vouch for this.’ Life with Rajesh Khanna had its highs and lows. When Saagar was released two years ago, Dimple said, ‘I would have loved to have someone to share Saagar with. On second thoughts, if Mr. Khanna had been around, there would probably be no Saagar! He would never have allowed me to act in films. But when my first film flopped, I did miss Kaka.’

No comments: