The late sixties and seventies saw the prime Rajesh Khanna... when indian cenema made a comeback into the lives of Pakistanis, who till then had been forced to rely only on the written and spoken word
By Sarwat Ali
Located on the old road from Multan to Delhi, the town of Burewala in Vehari district in southern Punjab was once known primarily for the shrine of Hazrat Baba Haji Sher Dewan. Irrigated by the Pakpattan Canal during the British Raj, it became part of the fertile agricultural lands known as the Canal Colonies. It must have been a very small place, a kind of a qasba in the years leading up to partition. Since then, the productivity of land and the galloping population increase, have contributed to this once small town becoming fairly big even by Pakistani standards (its population was about 1,89,000 in 2006).
It was in these environs that Rajesh Khanna was born in Burewala in 1942. His father Lala Hira Nand Khanna was the first headmaster of MC Model Boys High School there -- from April 1, 1931 until retiring on March 28, 1947, months before Partition. The headmaster must have struggled to instil the virtues of education to people more thrilled by the force of numbers and fascinated by shortcuts to wealth and fame. A board at the school still bears his name.
Rajesh Khanna studied till Class 1 in the local primary school. His ancestral home, a two-storey structure with arched windows, still stands in Block H of Burewala. The name "Jatin Niwas" is still visible, inscribed in Hindi at the main gate of the family house, to which the current residents have made few changes. Next to it is an old temple. As Khanna's last rites began in Mumbai, Burewala residents gathered at MC Model High School to hold a condolence meeting, including a five-minute silence.
The family migrated along with millions after Partition to settle in Amritsar, the first urban settlement after crossing the lines drawn by Radcliffe. It was here that the young Rajesh Khanna must have gone to school and nurtured his dream of becoming a filmstar. The kind of fame and accolades that he drew must have been beyond his own imagination or expectations.
From his first lovely debut with Akhri Khat to his first real box office hit Aradhana he must have struggled for a firm foothold in an industry that was planning a makeover into the third generation of films after independence, if Dilip Kumar represented the first generation and Shammi Kapoor the second.
But in Aradhana, Sharmila Tagore and the compositions of S.D. Burman ushered in a new era not shy of tackling issues that the new educated middle classes in the cities were being confronted with.
Still locked in the conflict of the traditional values with the demands of modernity, the first popular expression on the side of modernity came in the form of the films being made in the late nineteen sixties.
Since Partition, Burewala has been famous for the textile industry. The town subsequently shot into limelight with the emergence of Waqar Younis, the fast bowler from the same town. Along with Wasim Akram, he struck terror in the heart of batsmen; the two dreaded Ws ran through many a batting line-up including the Indians.
Cricketers and filmstars are popular across the divide. Pakistani fast bowlers, in particular, are the heartthrobs of fans on both sides and admired by connoisseurs of the game. Even when Indian films were totally banned in Pakistan, with no Amritsar television or video cassette recorders (VCRs) to provide a sneak peek, Pakistanis talked about Indian films and gossiped about the doings and misdoings of Bollywood stars.
During that time, LPs and 78 rpm discs made music available to those who could afford such luxuries. Radio in India was one medium that broadcast Indian film music followed by avid listeners all over Pakistan. It can be said with great deal of certainty that the people in Pakistan lapped up whatever happened in Bombay, and to a lesser degree in Calcutta or Madras.
Similarly, listeners across the border listened very critically to the songs of Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hasan. In fact, it was on radio that Lata Mangeshkar first heard Mehdi Hasan sing, and she
could not help paying him the highest compliments.
The Khannas, a sub-section of the well-established Khatri clan of the Punjab, were active in many fields. They also lived in Lahore and were famous for their contribution to the field of education. Some had converted to Christianity and stayed back after Partition to continue doing what they could do best.
With Amritsar Television and then the advent of the VCR, Rajesh Khanna became the heartthrob of
many women. They loved his cheekiness, his bold wooing and carefree mannerisms; with tearful eyes
they sighed with him as he staggered seeking solace in the arms of Sharmila Tagore in Amar Prem.
He was the innocent man, harmed as he went seeking love, often unsuccessfully. Men and women alike admired him for playing roles in films that did not fit into the boy-meet-girl sing and dance format, like his film Anand.
The late sixties and seventies saw the prime of Rajesh Khanna, as he made many a film which did well at the box office only because of his presence. This was also the time when Indian cinema made a comeback into the lives of Pakistanis, who till then had been forced to rely only on the written and spoken word. He symbolised the era in which people in Pakistan who had seen the films of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand were reunited with productions emanating from the sub-continent's cinema capital.
Looking back, we see that so many from the areas that are now in Pakistan headed towards Bombay;
some stayed there. Rajesh Khanna also took this path via Amritsar because his family had moved
there in after partition.
The writer is a film, music and literary critic based in Lahore.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Page 184 of 178
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