It is indeed not the first time that I have read Rajesh Khanna referred to as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema. Many, associated with Indian cinema, still claim that nothing has so far surpassed the craze that Rajesh Khanna generated.
Imagine 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. In doing so, he presents a relatively complete picture of a celebrity that ruled over cinema in the 1970s. He left us with a legacy that the audience still cherishes and remembers even though the actor had become a recluse in the last decade or so before his death.
I know you are wondering how a book on Indian Cinema ended up here, in the middle of a travel blog. Last year, around this time, I went off on a tangent and decided to focus on films, via reviews, which captured different aspects of life from across the world.
Similarly, I feel that Indian Cinema is an integral part of who we are here in this country. Most of us breathe movies, love them, and hate them, with equal passion.
Going to the cinema is second nature to Indians. It is a chance for the family to enjoy a “masala blockbuster” together. A way for lovers to hide in the darkness of the theatre for some intimate time. And of course, an opportunity to forget about real life and lose ourselves in the stories on the silver screen for a few hours.
So, this time I decided to feature books based on Indian Cinema that should hopefully give you an insight into what films mean to the people in India and also highlight some individuals who made “Bollywood” what it is – the largest film industry of the world.
While the main accolade goes to Rajesh Khanna for having lived a life that was no different from a masala Hindi blockbuster, Yasser deserves credit for his meticulous research that livens up the pages of the book in an energetic manner.
Using interviews with people that were an integral part of Rajesh Khanna’s private life and diving into various past resources, the author showcases the thought process of the audience, the superstar, his colleagues, and the people that mattered to him the most.
Whether it was the time when Rajesh Khanna was reaching unimaginable and unprecedented heights of super-stardom or else when he faced the fear of being forgotten after a barrage of flops, Yasser while mostly sticks to the facts, does now and then present gossipy tit-bits, with a pinch of salt. These “anecdotes” add the right kind of tadka to this colourful story full of triumphs, love, betrayal, and in numerous 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, after reading Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir and having watched Anupam Kher’s one-man show, Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai, based on his life, it dawned on me that many actors have been through significant heartbreaks during their years of struggle and have used these experiences as catalysts to reach where they are now.
The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar does lack a certain depth that might 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 movie star comes very close to being termed as an “invasion of privacy”. It does generate a sense of melancholia in the reader, a reminder of the good ol’ times, but then again this kind of story-telling is 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 films are apparent 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.
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