SUPER STAR OF THE MILLENIUM Rajesh Khanna – How I met him for the very first time/ Sunil Negi
I had been the ardent fan of Rajesh Khanna since my childhood days. I fondly remember, when I was in Nagpur till the third standard of St Francis De Sales Higher Secondary School and later on when shifted to Delhi in 1960 and thereafter during the seventies when Rajesh Khanna’s stardom was on the peak, I have not
left his single movie and had special charm and adoration for his special style n outstanding histrionics as a most loving n a popular super star. I almost saw all his movies. During the seventies n eighties Rajesh gave more than 10 to 15 super duper hits in a row making him the topmost Bollywood celebrity and his movies like Aradhana, Kati Patang, Dushman, Anand, Amar Prem, Bawarchi, Akhiri khat, Ittefaaq, Do Raaste etc were super dupers hits making his fans n followers literally mad n crazy. Never ever in Bollywood’ s history has any one witnessed such a blind liking for any movie celebrity. He was termed
as a God of Bollywood by his millions of fans around the globe, particularly by the
Indians as is Sachin Tendulkar in cricket. Rajesh Khanna alias Kakaji had by then assumed a special superstardom status in
Bollywood and I think for more than a decade or so until the eighties there was nobody
parallel to him as Superstar, a term used for the first time by Indian media for any Bollywood star. Newspapers, periodicals, film magazines of repute and journals were full of Rajesh Khanna’s picture in style on cover donning him as the God of the industry. People were eagerly behind him as his ardent fans, particularly the women and girls, especially the college going ones. During those days, there had been a number of incidents of even girls writing letters to him with their blood pledging to marry him n kissing his Impala full of lipstick marks whenever he was n the shooting or waiting for him endlessly at his bungalow Ashir Vad to have a few moments’ first-hand glimpse. Such was his aura then. When Kaka married Dimple there had been a number of suicide attempts as well by a number of young girls who’d married him in their dreams and never wanted Khanna to be the husband of another woman. Such was the aura or image of this film icon carrying behind him a huge fan following nationally as well as internationally amongst the Indian fans. After having seen such a madness for Rajesh Khanna alias Kaka, a person like me was also impressed by his stardom. One will not believe that such was Rajesh’s impression in my heart and mind about him as an ardent fan that I used to see him in my dreams even as being in my closeness( proximity) cheerfully talking to me. I always had a desire to meet him one day and if possible to be in his close proximity. Though, I knew this feeling and thinking was no less than a mere dream. It wasn’t either possible. Kahan sadi ka super star Rajesh Khanna aur kahan mere jaisa chota sa insaan. But it was just a matter of chance n perhaps God willing that in 1992 or so, not exactly remembering the exact date , while I was working for a Uttar Pradesh Daily stationed in New Delhi as its special correspondent, with my bureau office in INS BUILDING at RAFI MARG , NEW DELHI, I happened to be in the office of All India Congress Committee 24, Akbar Road in the afternoon . While talking to one of my journalist friends’, I noticed a person with some people around him, looking similar to celebrity Rajesh Khanna. In spotless white Kurta Pyjama, giving quite an extraordinary glamorous look, extremely fair in complexion rather with the fresh reddish face it was Kaka only, smilingly emerging out of AICC building after meeting the then General Secretary of AICC Najma Heptulla. The moment he came out, hundreds of people rushed towards him to have his minutest glimpse. I too was very crazy for him and as such went to him in desperation and shook hands after great difficulty. I remember, there was, at that point in time only one photo journalist to take his exclusive picture and he was none other than Praveen Jain of Business n Political Observer newspaper, later joined Indian Express. I was so impressed to see Kaka that day that I made up my mind to meet him in future as well if I get an opportunity.
The next day there was news about Rajesh Khanna’s probable candidature from New Delhi parliamentary constituency from Congress party. He was primarily Rajiv Gandhi’s special choice as the former prime minister of India was also Rajesh’s ardent fan, the fact which very few people know. Though the then General Secretary of AICC and Indira Gandhi’s former special political assistant for long, R. K Dhawan too played a prominent role in making Rajesh Khanna agree to Rajiv’s proposal to contest from the New Delhi Parliamentary constituency but the actual story was something else. Actually the BJP’s stalwart and the then prospective PM candidate of the opposition minus the left Advani was the BJP’s parliamentary candidate from this elite constituency represented by the lower and upper middle class, majority of them being the traders, government servants with Rashtrapati Bhawan n entire lutyens’ Zone of VVIP’S FALLING under it. Rajiv Gandhi the then prime minister of India wanted Rajesh to contest against Advani so that not only is Advani defeated to give a rebuff to the entire opposition of the country but also to force the BJP leader to stay intact in New Delhi, not able to campaign nationally for BJP candidates. In Rajiv’s analysis defeat of Advani would amount to huge loss to the Congress’s immediate rival BJP NATIONALLY.Though Rajiv Gandhi was very impressed and fond of Rajesh Khanna and want to make him contest from New Delhi, the actual strategy was to defeat the BJP stalwart Advani by using Kaka’s glamour and craze that existed for him in the New Delhi area. on the other hand, Rajesh Khanna too wanted to take a chance in politics and was keenly desirous to sit in Indian Parliament as an MP, the desire the superstar had since long. So Rajesh willingly accepted Rajiv Gandhi’s proposal and was asked to see the then AICC Genl. Secy. Najma Heptulla. It was because of this, that Kaka was at 24, Akbar Road. After Kaka left AICC office, I too came back to my INS office and was busy as usual in my daily routine of dispatching news. While busy I started thinking where could Kaka be staying the very night. So, I got involved in trailing him. I enquired from my personal contacts in AICC and came to know that he is staying is a palatial suite of Hotel Ashok in Chanakyapuri for a day only. I was too anxious to meet him though had no chance, thinking that why would a superstar at all give me an appointment, particularly to a nonentity like me and also since I am not knowing him from any angle. in the evening I had been to Press club. I consumed a bottle of beer and came back to my INS office of the newspaper I worked with. After relaxing for some time, my cousin Rajendra Shah came to meet me. While talking to him, my mind was actually involved in establishing contact with Rajesh Khanna, by hook or by crook. I rang the number of Hotel Ashok’s reception and enquired whether Rajesh Khanna is staying there. The reply from the other end was a prompt yes, and that he is in his suite. I was too amazed and happy to hear that. I asked about his room number and expressed my desire to talk to him. The operater at the other hand connected me to his suite. It was around 7.30 or 8 in the evening. The gentleman on the other end replied, yes, whom do you want to talk. I said, Rajesh Khanna. He enquired about my credentials with asking me – who are you? I gave my reference and expressed my desire to meet him. Initially, he ( Mr. Stevan Fernandiz, Kaka’s then close trusted friend and sort of as assistance) refused but on my insistence and saying that since he is contesting the New Delhi parliamentary election on Congress ticket, I can be of great help to him for media coordination and also politically since I had worked with late HN Bahuguna and leaders ministers’ in the then ruling Congress party as well for a pretty long time. I said if Kakaji will seek my support and help I can be of immense use for him. Just give me a chance to meet him and deliberate. Stevan Fernandez was in a fix for a moment n asked for my number and said he will get back to me as early as possible. I was too polite and emphatic while talking to him. He kept the phone and I got busy with my cousin Rajendra Shah in usual gossips thinking that I won’t get any call from him. Moreover, I was too tired also as the day was too hectic that day. But to my utter surprise and shock, I got a call back in just 10 minutes.Thinking that it would be a usual call from some friend, I picked the phone. The voice from the other end said this is Stevan Fernandez from Kakaji’s room. Is Mr. Sunil Negi there. I was thrilled, I said yes, speaking. Stevan said, he had spoken to Kakaji about me and my proposal. He is willing to meet me, but said since he is leaving for Mumbai the other day, can it be possible to come at Hotel Ashok at 11.00 PM. Since it was too late a time I said can’t it be for the other day? But Stevan said, it’s not possible and if I won’t come perhaps it won’t be possible in future as thereafter Kakaji will be too busy in his elections and other engagements. I agreed and asked Rajendra Shah to accompany me. We passed some time in the office and then hired a three wheeler for Hotel Ashok at 11.00 PM. On reaching the Hotel I boarded a lift and located Kakaji’s suite, he was staying in. I knocked the door. Stevan came out and said yes. I said, I am Sunil Negi. He said come, come Kaka is waiting for you since long. I went inside and was made to sit in a sofa. I was too thrilled thinking that ultimately my dream came true as today I would be meeting a Superstar, the God of Bollywood . It was just like a dream come true. After having a glass of water in a dim light, I saw a gentleman in shining spotless white kurta pyjama with red face emerging out of the room coming towards me. I stood up in shock and folded my hands to say Namaste. He put forward his hand and said Hi, I am Rajesh Khanna. Oh My God what a thrilling experience holding Kakaji’s soft hand into my hand. He asked me to take the seat. Accompanying him was a senior journalist and the then minister in Manmohan Singh government Rajiv Shukla. On seeing Rajiv, I said amazingly . You are omnipresent. Kakaji laughed loudly and tried to re introduce him to me. We sat together for more than an hour and discussed many things about his election preparations. I offered myself to work with him and manage his media to which he agreed forthwith, looking towards veteran journalist Rajiv Shukla. I told him, that since he is contesting this election for the first time in New Delhi which is an unknown destination for him, he will have to be too cautious of the ill designs of various political groups within the Delhi Pradesh Congress party. i also told him that since he is a non political man and completeley unaware about things in Delhi politically as well as from other points of view he will have to keep with him some trusted people around, some from Mumbai and some from Delhi. He readily agreed to my suggestions. I also told him that since he is a renowned superstar, things will not be that easy for him in Delhi as politicians and workers may misguide and out of desperation create problems for him as every poltical group in the Congress will try to exploit the situation to their benefit during the elections and that his position will be in quandry. Regarding media management, I assured him of my fullest cooperation to which he not only agreed to seek my permanent help but also said that he needs a matured and experienced people like me to be with him. I was really pleased by his welcome gesture and highly affable nature. After say an hour or so I finally asked for his leave but I was surprised that Kaka wanted me to stay there for some more time. I was worried about my transportation to reach home as it was 1.00 am midnight. I asked for his leave finally but while bidding bye he asked me to definitely meet me in Delhi after two three days when he comes back finally to Delhi again to contest the election to which I nodded my head in affirmation. O my God I was so badly thrilled that I have no words to express. I was living in Nanakapura, New Delhi those days. I reached my house at 2.00 having got the three wheeler after a long wait. I could not sleep that night thinking just about the golden days of Rajesh KHANNA the super star of seventies and eighties with whom I sat for more than an hour and a half for the very first time in 1991-92. It was really a dream come true. From next day, I was busy as usual. After two or three days, while going through the newspaper, I learnt that Rajesh Khanna is back to Delhi and he is filing his nomination papers from New Delhi as the official Congress candidate. There was hundred and thousands of people with scores of cars, trucks, busloads and leaders and what not at the time of filing nominations. I couldnt go there and was neither willing to be the part of this nomination filing ceremony due to uncontrollable rush. I just forgot about things. But the otherday, I thought, I should find out as to where Rajesh Khanna is and let me try to meet him as he had asked me to see him when he comes back to Delhi from Mumbai. So I called my friend Shivanand Chandola, a journalist runing his own newspaper from South Extention, New Delhi. I asked him to drop at INS building so that we can to go to see Rajesh Khanna, the super star. Chandolai readily agreed and came to my office at 4 in the evening. In the meanwhile I got the authentic information about Kakaji’s where abouts. He was in 15 Canning lane, New Delhi from where his election was being conducted. From INS building it is hardly a half an hour or even less walking distance. I alongwith Chandolaji started for 15 Canning Lane. As soon as we reached the office, we saw a huge rush of Congress workers desperately waning to se and meet Kakaji. His then PA Acha Anand, acting legend Devanand’s real nephew and producer and Stevan Fernandiz were in real fix as everybody wanted Kakaji’s programme in their areas for campaigning and things were in total mess. Acha Anand was too furious to see the uncontrollable mob. The media persons were too in a heywire position not able to find a proper person to take Kaka’s bytes or interviews. During those days Electronic channel didn’t had its so much of say except Doordarshan n foregn channels . The print media was more in demand. While I entered the Canning lane Office with Chandola, I was surprised to see Kaka alongwith his old astrological friend Bharat Upmanyu likely to sit in the car to head for campaigning or to meet some leaders of Congress party. While they were likely to peep in I immediately rushed to Kaka and patted him from behind. He looked at me grimly and asked smilingly, yes, I said in a huff, didn’t you recognise me. I am Sunil Negi, met you in Hotel Ashok the other day and you’d asked me to meet you (Rajesh Khanna) when you come back from Mumbai. And here I am. he said oh, now I recognise you. I thought he will go , but to my utter surprise and pleasure, he immediately asked his driver to park the car on the side and came out accompanying me with Bharat Upmanyu in side the room of the bunglow, gentlyplacing his hand on my shoulders. Mr. Rajiv Shukla was already seated there inside, perhaps managing the media. Kakaji introduced me to Shukla saying do you remember who is he. Shukla nodded yes, Sunil Negi. Kakaji, took me to the inner lawn and said yaar Negi, yahan to bura haal hai, tumne theek hi kaha tha. There is total confusion. Nobody is able to handle the media. The pressmen are annoyed. Not knowing what to do. Negi, can you take charge of my media coordination from tomorrow. I’ll be really thankful to you. He asked Rajiv Shukla, what do you think about Negi. I am giving the total media coordination of my election to him. Rajiv Shukla replied in affirmative, Negi fit aadmi hai. kakaji, inse badhia aur professinally experienced aapko mil hi nahi sakta. Kaka asked me with folded hands, Negiji Please manage it. I was too grateful to him for requesting me so humbly. That was the day and till his death I was with him. Though, I helped him as his media advisor and managed all his elections in media corordination exercise as well as in mycapacity as one of the organisers, I was not his employee. I did it entirely on my free will and with independence and Kaka was too obliged and grateful to me for whatever contribution I made during and after his elections to boost his image as an MP and politician. Where there is a will there is a way. My inner affection, adoration and love for Kaka since my childhood days was the main factor that ultimately brought me in close proximity to him. It was indeed a very golden period to have worked with Kakaji so closely watching him working, behaving, talking, acting and dealing with electorates, friends n even foes of politics n bollywod for atleast two decades in the capacity of his Media Advisor.