When Rajesh Khanna was at the top of his game in the early 1970s, there was no one who was remotely in the same bracket as him. The actor had enjoyed a hit streak of 15 films and was the most popular star at the time. Years later, Kaka, as he was fondly called, shared that he felt ‘next to God’ in that phase. In a chat with Movie Magazine in 1990, Rajesh recalled the exact moment when he felt successful.
He shared, “I felt next to God! I still remember the exact moment when for the first time I became aware of how mind-blowing super-success can be. It psyches you totally — or you’re not human. It was just after Andaaz, at a lottery draw held at the Vidhan Sabha in Bangalore.” Kaka recalled that Andaz’s premiere was held there and there was a sea of people who welcomed him. While Shammi Kapoor was the star of the film, Rajesh Khanna featured in it for the song ‘Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana’, and that song became the highlight of the film. “One couldn’t see anything but heads bobbing down the whole road, which was not only broad but almost ten miles long. And there was just one echo of the voices – `Haaaaa…’ You know, it was like a stadium in the times of the Romans. I wept like a baby,” he said.
After discussing this moment, Kaka recalled the crash that he faced in his career when his films stopped working. He shared that he was drinking a lot at the time and one night, he started yelling. “Later, when I started slipping, I hit the bottle. I mean, I am not a super human being. You are not Jesus Christ and I am not Mahatma Gandhi. I remember that once at three o’clock in the morning I was pretty high on spirits and suddenly it was too much for me to stomach because it was my first taste of failure,” he said.
This was the phase of Khanna’s career when he had seven flops back-to-back. “One after another, seven films had just flopped in a row. It was raining, pitch-dark and up there alone on my terrace, I lost control. I yelled out. ‘Parvardigar, hum garibon ka itna sakt imtihan na le ki hum tere vajood ko inkar kar de (God, don’t test my patience to such an extent that I question your very existence).” Of course, Dimple and my staff came running, thinking that I had gone insane. It was because success hit me so much that I couldn’t take the failure,” he shared.
Rajesh Khanna continued to work in movies in the 1980s, but unlike the early 1970s, his films now were not as big, or even as successful. Films like Avatar, Swarg, were rarities for him now. One of the last notable roles that he did was for Rishi Kapoor’s Aa Ab Laut Chelein in 1999.