It’s hard to comprehend. This is certainly not the first time that I have read Rajesh Khanna being referred to as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema. It must be true for many associated with films still claim that nothing has so far surpassed the craze that Rajesh Khanna generated. Imagine that now, a “phenomenon” that had a following more than the Khans and Amitabh Bachchan. Hard to believe right, but it happened. In his book, Yasser Usman tries to capture the essence of Rajesh Khanna, with whatever resources he can conjure, and present a complete picture of a celebrity that ruled over cinema in the 1970s and left an unforgettable legacy behind him that the audience still cherishes and remembers even though the actor had become a recluse in the last decade or so.
While the main accolade goes to Rajesh Khanna for having lived a life that was no different from a masala Hindi blockbuster, but Yasser deserves credit for his meticulous research using interviews with people that were an integral part of Rajesh Khanna’s private life and diving into various past resources that showcases the thought process of the audience, the superstar, his colleagues, and the people that mattered to him the most at the time when he was either reaching unimaginable and unprecedented heights of super-stardom or fearful of being forgotten after a barrage of flops. Yasser while mostly sticks to the facts, he does every now and then present gossipy tit-bits, with a pinch of salt, that adds the right kind of flavor, tadka if you may, to this colorful story that is full of triumphs, love, betrayal, and innumerous tragedies.
As the book goes on to discuss the rise and fall of the superstar, both in his professional and personal life, I couldn’t help but find a commonality he shared with some of the other film legends that came to the scene much later but shared a similar personal growth. Recently, having read Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir and having watched Anupam Kher’s one man show, Kuch Bhi Ho Sata Hai, based on his life, it dawned that many actors, some that are still talked about in gossip columns, have all been through major heartbreaks during their years of struggle and have come victorious over them and maybe use that as a catalyst to reach where they are now in their lives.
The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar lacks certain depth that could have been achieved had the direct family of Rajesh Khanna agreed to be a part of the book (apparently they were asked but denied to comment). Furthermore, at times a study like this about the trials and tribulations of a star comes very close to being termed as an “invasion of privacy” and does generate a sense of melancholia in the reader, but then again it can be considered the price celebrities pay for the fame and fortune that are bestowed upon them by the general public.
Rajesh Khanna – The Untold story of India’s First Superstar reads through like a breeze. Yasser’s journalistic background and his knowledge about film clearly shows through the passion with which the book has been written, and written so well it is. What’s even more commendable is that while the focus almost always remains on Rajesh Khanna, Yasser manages to paint a brilliant picture of how the film industry worked in its heyday and for that alone the book is worth a read.