Rajendra Kumar – Memories
My grandfather was the only Indian who held the post of a military contractor. He made tonnes of money. And my father, who settled in Karachi, started his own textile business. But during Partition, we had to leave all the land and property behind and were ruined. However, when we came to Bombay, I decided to try my luck in the film industry. I never wanted to be a hero, so I became an assistant to director H.S. Rawail. For five years, I worked with him in films like Patanga, Sagai, Pocketmaar….I also played a small role in Kidar Sharma’s Jogan, a Dilip Kumar starrer.
Producer Devendra Goel noticed me in this film and promised me a break. After one-and-a-half years he remembered and signed me on for Vachan. I was paid only 15 hundred rupees for the film. But even though I’d become a hero, I still played it safe and continued assisting H.S. Rawail. I didn’t want to risk my steady job. What if the film flopped? But I needn’t have worried. It was a silver jubilee hit and I was given a title — ‘A star is Born’. I never looked back.
Vachan was a story about a brother and sister and Geeta Bali, a wonderful actress, played my sister. She was also a fabulous person. Later, when she turned producer, she wanted me to play hero opposite her but I refused. Because I’d played her brother in Vachan, mentally, I could never bring myself to act her lover.
One day, I accompanied a distant relative of mine to his friend’s house. It was here that I met my wife to be. Her family liked me and asked if I’d be interested in marrying her. I saw her, explained that I was a poor man staying in a guest house and things were settled. When I went to Delhi to attend some wedding, I was told that they had found a girl for me. I told them that I had already committed myself to someone else. We had a simple, ordinary wedding and shifted into a paying guest accommodation.
Even though I had signed a lot of films by then, I saw to it that my personal life didn’t suffer. After pack-up I’d come straight home and by seven we’d go out together. I’ve always kept my home territory and work into two separate compartments. Anyone trying to encroach upon my home, is not tolerated.
V. Shantaram signed me for Toofan Aur Diya. I accepted this film even though I had a small role, because it was a big honor to work with him. The film was a hit — a golden jubilee — and I signed Mehboob Khan’s Mother India. A great man, fabulous director and a wonderful human being. He was a father to us — Nargis, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt and me. We had a great relationship. At work he was like a headmaster and at other times he’d feed us with his own hands. I learnt a lot from him.
Nargis was a great star. I remember how Mehboob Khan introduced us. He said, ‘This is your mother and they are your two sons’ (Sunil Dutt and I). From that day on, she actually treated us that way. She’d wake us up with the toothpaste already on the brush and we’d keep pestering her to take us for a film or get us candy. Our ‘father’, Raaj Kumar, was always addressed as ‘Daddy, ullu ka patha’ by us. Even today, when he goes all out to play the eccentric with everybody around him, I can easily make him shut up. We worked in quite a few films together.
After Mother India, I became a star.
I did films like Ghar Sansar, Talak, Goonj Uthi Shehnai (which was a hit), and Maa Baap which was the first film to celebrate a jubilee in Nairobi. This was my first trip abroad and I was showered with love and affection. Then came Devar Bhabhi and Dhool Ka Phool with Mala Sinha, Aayee Milan Ki Bela with Saira Banu… Yes, people talked about us being seriously involved. This was her second film after Junglee. She was a nice person. We only did two more films together, Jhukh Gaya Aasman and Aman.
Personally, I was a well-settled family man. After Mother India my son was born and I couldn’t even afford to think of bringing disrespect to the family. I don’t deny that one can get attracted to another person, but I feel that sense of responsibility should not be ignored. If I misbehaved, I’d have to accept my wife doing the same. It’s not as though we never fooled around. We used to laugh, crack dirty jokes — why, I used to call Waheeda ‘Hai, meri chaundvi ka chand’ with a big sigh; and she’d laugh it off with ‘Keep sighing, this janam you’re not going to get me’. And I’d finish with ‘O.K.’, I’ll wait till next janam’.
Sadhana was and is my greatest, dearest friend. We use to love each other. Even though I did only three films with her Mere Mehboob, Arzoo and Aap Aaye Bahar Aayee — we were very close to each other, a part of a family. Her husband and my wife have also been very friendly with each other. But before she got married, her mother used to come and tell me that I would make an ideal husband for her. She’d bring special lunch for me, and Sadhana would get jealous.
Actually I’ve had quite a few good friends amongst my leading ladies, but my relationship with Sadhana was most superior. She is special. Maybe, because she’s never been a hypocrite. If she has wanted to smoke or drink, she’s done it openly. She’s not complexed. That’s what I like about her.
I was also very close to my co-star of many films, Meena Kumari. Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan, Pyar Ka Sagar, Zindagi Aur Khwaab, Dil Ek Mandir… We did some beautiful films together. In fact, her husband Kamal Amrohi once told me, ‘Rajendra Kumar is the one who pairs best as a hero with Meena’ A wonderful human being, she was a very soft and emotional person and I respected her very much.
Another big star, Vyjayanthimala, was a great artiste and a good friend. But she was always very moody. Sometimes, she’d be very friendly and sweet, and suddenly she’d be very difficult. Maybe because of that, we never had a great rapport. It was never the same as with Sadhana and Meena. Though in spite of her temperamental altitude, we worked in quite a few films — Aas Ka Panchhi, Zindagi, Suraj, Saathi, most important of all, Sangam. I even signed her for my own film, Gawar, which she told me she’d accepted as her last film.
Sangam brings Raj Kapoor to my mind, though he’s never far from it. Our relationship went beyond films. He was a friend in the real sense of the word — a shoulder to cry on. We couldn’t live without each other. I remember the day he narrated Satyam Shivam Sundaram to me. I disliked it immensely. I was very open about it and told him not to make it. He flung the script at me and went ahead and made it. Anyway, I was proved right but he never held it against me.
We could have an open discussion on anything at all. He was the best friend I ever had and he’ll remain so. Whenever we had a drink together, he used to say that when he’s no more I should think of him whenever I took a drink. I do.
I won many awards. One such award which I cherish is the Merit Certificate which was presented to me by Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, for Kanoon and a Gujarati film Mehdi Rang Lagyo. Today, I am a Justice of Peace and have been on the panel of the Gujarat committee for two years. This year, I also received the international Urdu academy trophy and an award of ten thousand rupees. Besides this, I’ve got a room full of awards — but tell me where are the genuine awards today?
We all saw the end of the greats — Chandra Mohan, Motilal… I’d watched them squander away their money. They never bothered about the future. I learnt from their mistakes. Stardom, like youth, never lasts. If one doesn’t look after one’s body, how will it support you at a later age? You’ll fall. I kept this in mind and invested wisely.
Gambling, playing cards and horse racing, were never my scene. So many of my friends sat down for card sessions during the Diwali season, but not me. I just distributed hundred rupee notes as good luck money, that’s it. My wife enjoys these kitty parties but I don’t. Not that I’ve ever objected. I hate these darbars where one is surrounded by chamchas. It’s just that I don’t like to indulge in any hypocritical games. I go to very few, select places where I’m comfortable.
People call me a miser, but tell me, have you seen my bungalow? The way I live? I’ve always owned cars that people haven’t even heard of. Umpteen times, I’ve taken my kids on a world tour…I don’t waste money. Let them call me what they want.
I turned producer because of my son. When he was 17, I asked him what he wanted to be and he said ‘Producer-director-actor’. I was surprised. For two-and-a-half years, he assisted Raj Kapoor. Then I asked him if he wanted me to make a film for him. He did. So I went ahead.
People insist that his career didn’t shape up too well because I was very interfering. But let me clear up one thing. I’ve never accepted or chosen any film for him or decided how much he’d charge, except for Star. This was an exception because I met Biddu abroad. But even while the film was being shot I told Biddu that his script was not good and he should rectify it. I was proved right.
In my opinion, his career went the way it did because of the wrong selection of films. But then he never did ask for my opinion and I never thought it right to interfere. He is such an introvert.
It’s only after two drinks in the evening that he opens up.
Today, I’m making Jurrat for him and I hope it’ll help him. As a father, it’s my duty to do
whatever I can for him. After all, we’re living for our children. I’ve never felt that being a star son is a disadvantage. In fact, I’m sure it’s a wonderful feeling that you have someone to feel for you, think for you I’m doing what I can. (As told to Santosh Sud in 1989)