Raj Kumar – Memories
[title size=”2″]His background…
Raaj Kumar hailed from an educated Kashmiri Karyavur family. He had eight siblings. “I knew no loneliness since I come from a big family. We never needed any outside entertainment. We used to sing, dance and fight in our home.”
Like any of his stock, he was extremely well read and was knowledgeable on a myriad of subjects. He also had a flair for many languages — English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Kashmiri.
[title size=”2″]His friends…
To gain respect and regard from Raaj Kumar, one had to earn it. If he took a dislike to someone, he would be very impatient with that person’s shortcomings and when under alcoholic influence would also ridicule him. He had once told CB how selective he was about his friends. “I love people, but friendship is a very different word. I am not the kind of person to go around saying that so and so is my friend. I also do not believe in handshakes. A handshake means a lot to me. I know it’s a social practice to shake hands, but to me it is like saying thank you without meaning it. I just can’t do it, I do it if I mean it. I have no friends, I really haven’t discovered one. I am my own saviour.” Once he carried the handshake a bit too far. A big producer came to offer him loads of signing amount. Raaj Kumar had to shake hands with him, but the man sure had to pay the price for doing so. “Jaani, tum film kya banaoge, tumhara haat to itna pilpila hai.”
[title size=”2″]His temperament…
Raaj Kumar never agreed to the ‘difficult person’ superlative he was tagged with. Chetan Anand, a close friend of his, once insisted, “Contrary to what is said and believed of him, I maintain that he is the most dedicated actor in this country; only if he is impressed sufficiently with the script. I have heard that he plays difficult with certain directors but I am sure it is only due to inane scripts.” BR Chopra too believed that Raaj Kumar was one of the most unique people in the industry “Different people hold different opinions and I think he did that deliberately. I have always got the impression that he dealt and talked to people with a bemused attitude, as though he had an ace up his sleeve. I learnt that nothing put him off more than mendacity and diffidence. He liked upright, confident people and was nobody’s fool. He could immediately see through any kind of sycophancy. Personally, I think he was a very misunderstood person, mainly because of his bluntness,” Chopra opined.
He was also labeled an eccentric. After all, which man would get away with suggesting to Zeenat Aman at the peak of her career that she was pretty enough to become an actress. When reminded of his faux pas, he had laughed it off in his cool, offhanded manner and said, “She should have taken it as a compliment, I wasn’t being rude.”
As B. R. Chopra remembers, “He was an eccentric alright. When he would pass my house, late at night (on the way to his house), he would always step outside my house and ask my chowkidaar to convey a message to me, that my biggest fan had passed by and had sent me his greetings whilst I was sleeping. On another occasion, he had gathered a number of street singers and asked them to perform below my balcony as a tribute of his love for me. All this in the dead of the night.”
At that rate, who wouldn’t call him eccentric! He once had ordered just fruits and flowers for lunch for his entire retinue.
Mani Kaul had made an art film Uski Roti. Raaj Kumar had called him and said, “Jaani, kya art vart film banaate ho, Uski Roti. Hamaare paas chale aao our commercial film banaate hain Aapna Halwa’.” That’s Raaj Kumar for you.
Raaj Kumar, however did not believe that he was eccentric. He had another euphemism for it. He preferred calling himself unpredictable. Or witty. For instance, he is supposed to have told the bejewelled Bappi Lahiri once that he only lacked a mangalsutra in his collection of chains that he wore around his neck. “Well, I admit I have a wit but I must find the right place and the right person, I wouldn’t go beyond a certain limit,” he had once said. ” It is always better to exchange a repartee rather than keep quite. Dekho, agar khane se koi baat pachti hai to aadmi gadhe ko khila khila ke race course ka ghoda nahin banate?”
[title size=”2″]As a ladies man…
“No, I am not a ladies man, I am a woman’s man,” he had once said. “It’s very funny actually, the girls with whom I had affairs, are still in contact with me. Four…no, five of them got married, two of the girls were from abroad and three were from here. They all have children but none of them could forget me. And that’s really tragic for them. But not for me though!”
Raaj Kumar ultimately married an air hostess he had met on a flight. But he admitted “I would have loved to marry all my girlfriends but for that I would have to be a sheikh. But seriously speaking, I do not believe in second marriages. It is better to live with a devil you know than with the devil you don’t know.”
Ladies man, he might have been, but not the one to kneel on the ground and propose to any woman, leave alone his wife. As he had once confided, “I have yet to say, ‘I love you’ to any woman. They used to keep on insisting, ‘Promise me, you will marry me’, and I used to insist there was no question of me promising anything. But one thing I used to say, ‘If I have to marry anyone, I will marry you’. Luckily I never had to marry any of them because by the time I actually got married they were too tired. After all, how long can any woman wait?”
He believed that it was easy for a woman to say, ‘I love you’ but when a man wants to get a woman into bed, the first thing he says is, ‘I love you’.
[title size=”2″]As a husband…
People always wondered why he had always kept his wife under wraps. But his close friends refuse to confirm to this. Says Chetan Anand, “Soon after he married Gayatri, he called me and asked me to arrange the biggest party ever. It was new year’s eve and he wanted the film world to meet his new bride. He kept his wife and kids away from the limelight only because he was so possessive and protective about them. He had always maintained that the acting profession is okay for males but is very undignified and humiliating for any woman. The fact remains that he had very strong convictions and principles in life.”
Raaj Kumar himself had admitted that, “I have always considered it was not my family’s job to socialise at film parties. It is my job. They are only meant to enjoy the fruits of my labour.”
He believed that the friendship between a husband and a wife was a relationship of love and hate. “A normal wife tends to listen a lot, but as is human nature, sometimes she listens, sometimes she disobeys and sometimes it is questioned. I never took orders and least of all from my wife. Otherwise, it’s like being with just another woman. It should be kept in mind by both the parties. Personally, if that was the case, I would keep a woman, not a wife.”
He certainly had a fabulous innings. As he himself had summed it up once, “I have enjoyed my life, first as a bachelor. There was a time table when I was single. And the time table was filled with dates. I had to make a new calendar, so I got married.”
[title size=”2″]As a father…
“He is excellent, really the best. He has been actively involved in the upbringing of his three children right from their birth. He’s always taken a keen interest in academic as well as their other activities,” Chetan once said about Raaj Kumar.
“I have been a good father. I was strict till my children were in school,” Raaj Kumar had revealed while talking of his children. “I have maintained one thing that they owe some responsibility to the social community to which they belong. You could be the greatest lover of freedom, but you have no right to trespass that liberty. And thankfully, they understood what I meant. Today, they have grown from minors to majors and are, therefore, out of my jurisdiction. When your children grow, you remain a father but a sligthly helpless one.”
To give his statement the mandatory touch of his wit, he had declared, “My children have most of my bad qualities and just a few good ones. The proportion of course, is very negligible.” But Raaj Kumar had made sure that his children did not turn out to be insecure kids like most of the industry children. “Their not being insecure is the only problem, otherwise it would have been a different story. I have known some fathers who have really made their children insecure inspite of all their blessings.” Essentially a family man raised in a family of nine kids, Raaj Kumar wanted his kids to stay with him after their marriages. “But you come into this world alone and you go alone. In Punjabi there is an apt saying, ‘Sons- in-law took away the daughters and daughters-in-law took away the sons. So who is left? You and me like bloody fools’!”
[title size=”2″]As an actor…
Talking of the actor in him, BR Chopra said, “As an actor he was an absolute delight to work with. He was totally a director’s actor who puts. in that extra little something which only belongs to the greats. The only little difficulty that takes place is right at the beginning. He needed exactly forty-eight hours to discuss the script with the writers. If he was satisfied with the role, he would sign one immediately. He always needed to be approached properly. He always arrived well prepared and was most punctual. When I heard about his problems with other directors, I used to chuckle to myself. They must have allowed themselves to be taken for granted.”
Chetan Anand too was of similar opinion, “He basically relied on spontaneity. He has given some of the most brilliant but most difficult shots without a single retake. And paradoxically, has goofed up the simplest shots a number of times. He was a hypersensitive man and even the smallest thing would disturb his mood on the sets. But generally, he belonged to the tribe of actors who gave their best in their very first take, unlike many of his co-stars who improved with each take. So, when he was pitted against one of those, there used to be a lot of chaos around.
[title size=”2”]His illness…
Raaj Kumar didn’t want the world to know that he was suffering with the terminal disease cancer, not surprisingly though. He lived his life in compartments. What was personal, was to remain so. He had even denied it to CB in ’93. “I am not ill. These days artistes fall sick every second day. I had fallen seriously ill for the first time. Actually, I did not know what it was, I was just losing weight and had a low blood pressure. But today, I am pretty normal. Well, I am not a man of thirty. I am sufficiently young! Sufficiently is very important.”
He knew his hour had come. He called his wife and children by his bedside and told them, “I won’t make it through the night. I want the immediate family called and complete the rites very quietly. After you have performed the last rites, come back home and then inform the industry people. I do not want any tamasha.”
Among the first to be there by his family were close friends, Chetan Anand and Priya Rajvansh. Amitabh Bachchan arrived followed by Dimple Kapadia. Chetan was disconsolate, as was Puru, Raaj Kumar’s eldest son. They had both lost someting that was irreplaceable! (Published in C.B. in August 1996).