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|July 12, 1999||
'There was no trace of arrogance in him'
Success, by another name would have been Rajendra Kumar, who passed away early this morning. He was eight days short of 70 and had been suffering for some time from cancer of the bone marrow, for which he was being treated in the US.
Born in 1929, life for Rajendra Kumar was a long struggle -- until he became so successful as to be known as Jubilee Kumar. Rumour has it that he was one of the richest stars in the industry, having made the most of his success and invested his money wisely.
Yet, people remember the struggling Kumar and the successful one with equal warmth. Ramanand Sagar, who made four films with him (Zindagi, Lalkaar, Arzoo and Geet), recalls, "We were both strugglers, travelling by train, looking for work.... Our bond goes back many years. He ruled the film industry for a decade and was known as Jubilee Kumar because most of his films were silver jubilees. He was considered lucky because of that."
Which did not prevent Rajendra Kumar, the ruling king of the sixties, from having his fair share of detractors. It was also an era when Shammi Kapoor -- whose style was completely and tangentially different from Rajendra Kumar's -- reigned as emperor. While Shammi drove his fans beserk, Rajendra, in keeping with his personality, was less flamboyant but equally popular. And, surprisingly, despite the serious roles he generally was cast in, Kumar was known to be a jovial co-star.
Kapoor recalls, "He was a little senior to me; in fact, he was more my brother's associate. In his struggling days, he used to assist H S Rawail. Then he got Vachchan opposite Geeta Bali, my wife -- he played her brother in the film. We never got the chance to work together, but we were friends."
Rajendra Kumar modelled himself more or less on the lines of tragedy king Dilip Kumar and was even dubbed a Dilip clone. Which, in no way, detracted from his popularity. In fact, there came a time in his life when he was considered top star, Dilip Kumar notwithstanding, perhaps because, like Aamir Khan today, Dilip was known to take on only one or two films at a time.
When Hema Malini entered the industry with Sapnon Ka Saudagar, Rajendra Kumar was still riding the wave of success. Though he was much senior to her, they worked together in films like Gora Aur Kaala and Sunehera Sansar.
"As a child," recalls Hema Malini, "I was an absolute, die-hard fan of his. And when Rajsaab (Raj Kapoor) introduced me to him during Sapnon Ka Saudagar, I could not believe that I was meeting my hero.
"I was dying to work with him. And when I finally got the opportunity, it proved to great fun. He never allowed me to feel that I was working with a big star, someone much senior to me. He used to joke around and make me feel comfortable. And he used to speak to me in Tamil because he was doing Tamil films at the time.
"After that, whenever we met, wherever we met, he would always sing Dheere dheere bol, koyi sun na le. Even if we met on an aircraft, he would sing this song for me until I started laughing."
Pandit K Razdan, a senior journalist, recalls, "He was cast as an extra in Mela and in Kidar Sharma's Jogan.. This was in 1950. Then he was signed for his first major film, Hum Log, that co-starred Nutan. But, for some reason, he was replaced.
"His career really started with Vachan in 1955. Mother India followed two years later, but it was the fabulous musical, Goonj Uthi Shehnai, that set Rajendra Kumar on the road to silver jubilee success. After all, who can forget the fabulous Tere sur aur mere geet or Teri shehnai bole sunke dil mera dole, zulmi kahe ko sunaye aisi taan re?
The film set the tone for the persona he was to excel in in the years to come. Tragedy suited him to such an extent that Hindi film audiences were torn between the naughty acrobatics of Shammi Kapoor and the martyrdom of Rajendra Kumar. There were no real in-betweens.
He seemed to revel in playing sacrificial roles that specially appealed to women. And this preference let to unforgettable films like Mere Mehboob, Dil Ek Mandir, Dhool Ka Phool, Kanoon, Sasural, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker, Arzoo and Aayee Milan Ki Bela, among others.
B R Chopra, with whom he did two of his classic films, Dhool Ka Phool and Kanoon, says, "There was a time when we met every week and compared notes. In fact, I met him just 10 days ago and spent two hours reliving old memories -- how was I to know that the end would come so soon? Even though he was suffering from cancer, he seemed fine when I met him, he wasn't even in bed. He was sitting and talking with me. We'd been friends for long. I'm told the end came with a sort of a heart attack. We have lost one of our finest friends."
Mala Sinha, who co-starred with him during his days as a struggler, says, "I knew him from the days of the black and white era. We worked together on films like Dhool Ka Phool, Devar Bhabhi and Lalkar. He used to be really lively on the sets. You never saw him in a grumpy mood. He'd sit with anyone -- the cast, the crew, the technicians... He would eat with everyone, often pinching eatables from other plates.
"He was a very big star by the time we did Geet, but not once did I see any difference in his behaviour. He was still down to earth and co-operative. Even if the director asked for many retakes, he would oblige and never complain. He never made you feel that he knew everything. There was no trace of arrogance in him. To be a good artiste, you have be a good human being and that is what he was. He was a good friend to me always."
Mahendra Kapoor, who lent his voice to Rajendra Kumar on a number of occasions, recalls, "In my struggling days, I used to always travel by train. It was on one such trip to Goregaon that I met H S Rawail; I had always wanted to see a studio and he invited me to visit him at Famous, Tardeo. That was where I met Rajendra Kumar for the first time. He introduced me to Shyam, the hero of Patanga, and made me sing in front of him.
"I remember seeing Rajendra Kumar on the railway platform; he was on his way to hardcore success and people would chase him and call him 'duplicate Dilip Kumar.' I sang for him in Dhool Ka Phool and our combination clicked, especially in songs like Tere pyar ka aasra chahta hoon.
"I sang for him again in Ganwaar and Sangam. In fact, he took me in his car to meet Raj Kapoor and said that he wanted me to sing for him. Which is how I got the song Har dil jo pyar karega in Sangam. Before he fell ill, we used to met regularly at Jogger's Park and exchange notes. But, after he fell ill, I haven't met him since he was mostly in America. I will always remember him as a very bright and jovial person."
Ramanand Sagar adds, "He's one of the few stars who has left his mark on the industry."
Pandit Razdan, on his return from Rajendra Kumar's funeral at the Santacruz crematorium, says, "The industry was there to pay their respects. Sunil Dutt, Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, Feroze Khan, Rishi and Randhir Kapoor, Ramanand Sagar, B R Chopra, Lekh Tandon, Vijay Anand, Mrs Raj Kapoor, Surinder Kapoor and his wife Kapoor, Manoj Kumar and his wife, Jackie Shroff -- all of them were there... He had quite an innings, I must say. We all entered the industry in the 1950s and, now, it's time for us to go -- almost all of us are in our seventies."
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