Rajendranath – Memories
I was born on June 8, 1931, in Tikamgarh state, which is now in Madhya Pradesh. My father, Kartarnath, was the I.G. of Police in Riva state. These were all independent states then, ruled by rajas. We were a hockey team with eight brothers (two died) and four sisters. Premnath was the eldest and I was second. My school and college days were all spent in Riva. I studied upto F.Sc. and if I had continued my studies, I would have become a doctor instead of an actor. But then, I suppose I saved a lot of patients’ lives by not becoming a doctor!
Though I was very close to my elder brother Premnath, he would always bully me. I remember during our schooling days at St. John’s, my father would give me one anna to spend, At that time, one anna was a big thing. My brother used to catch me at school, make me stand on a bench and hit me , with a rubber ball, till I gave him’ half of my money! He would come and haul me out of my class, just for the money. One day, I reported this to my father after which it stopped immediately.
Later on, our family settled in Jabalpur. Premnath revolted against our father’s wishes and came to Bombay to establish himself in films. We were great fans of Prithviraj Kapoor, so he joined Prithvi Theatre. After which, he became a hero in films and was well known. My father never really liked the idea of him acting in films.
Sometime after this, I came to Bombay on a holiday. And when I was here, I tried to get admission in college for higher studies. But fate would have otherwise and I got interested in acting and joined PTA (a theatre group) and later, Prithvi Theatre, I also did A.I.R. and Radio Ceylon plays on the air. At the same time, I was struggling in films. I kept doing inconsequential roles, just to keep the home fires burning,
During my days of struggle, Premnath and his wife Bina Rai helped me a lot. They gave me a roof to live under, they gave me food, and most important, they gave me love. Premnath helped me to get roles in movies. But still, the right break was eluding me. At this time, my father was trying his best to get me back to Jabalpur. Whenever someone was coming to Bombay, he would bribe them to convince me to come back. But as I was determined to make it in films, I would not relent. Since I did not want to trouble Premnath anymore, I moved into a small guest house. At that time, I used to travel by scooter and later on, after I became successful, I bought myself a Triumph sports car.
I had done lots of films like Shararat, Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (old), Miss India, Hum Sab Chor Hain. I played very small roles and did not get noticed at all. In Ghulam Begum Badshah, I even played the villain’s chamcha! But I was really not getting anywhere.
Then, my brother decided to make a film called Prisoner of Golconda, and I was to play the side hero. Premnath was the hero and Agha was playing the comedian. I had pinned a lot of hopes on that movie, but it flopped and I had to start my struggle once again. Had this film done well, who knows, I might have been a top hero. Actually, Premnath was trying to fit me into the hero slot.
My best break came in the form of S. Mukherji’s Dil Deke Dekho, which was directed by Nasir Hussain. I was an instant hit. Till then, I used to go to people requesting work and suddenly, people started coming to offer me work. Then came Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai, which was also a big hit. But a bigger hit was the character, Popatlal, who I played in that movie. The name stuck, and was later used in many movies. Even when I went abroad, people called me Popatlal!
One person I was very friendly with, was Shammi Kapoor, as we both started together at the Prithvi Theatre. We really had some wild times. He was very good company. Later on, Raj Kapoor married my sister Krishna. But being related to the Kapoors, cannot be considered to have been beneficial to my career. I believe that relations can help only once, not always. In the end it is talent which brings one up. Else, Dev Anand would have his son in all his movies. He did give him a break, but now he is forced to cast others like Aamir Khan.
I had a bad accident once. After attending my sister’s marriage to Prem Chopra, I was returning home in my sports car. Along with me was Birbal (the comedian) and my secretary. I was driving and they were both asleep. Suddenly, I also fell asleep at the wheel. Thereafter, the car banged into a parked truck. We were lucky to be alive, but my car was smashed to smithereens.
We, in the industry, are so busy that we don’t have the time to devote to the less fortunate. Once, while shooting at Essel Studio, I saw a poor girl who had polio, and took a sudden liking for her. Whenever I used to shoot there, I would visit that kid with some money or gifts. Later on, her family shifted to Nanded, but we used to correspond regularly. Once, I was called to Nanded for a show. Since my return flight was delayed, I cajoled my friend to drive me to that girl’s house, which was 50 miles from where I was staying. The smile on her face rewarded my labour. Such small things warm the heart. There is also a loyal fan of mine called Mrs. Rose from Ranchi. For 20 years now she has been sending a card on every birthday of mine. Thus, you see, producers and directors may forget us, but our fans don’t.
Today also, I am quite busy. I am doing Zimmadar, Tehalka, Sankara, Akhricheekh and Farishtey. I also travel around the world doing shows. Once, when I had gone to do a show in Brisbane, Australia, one of the girls announced to the packed house that it was my birthday. The whole crowd got up and sang ‘Happy birthday to you’, along with her. This brought tears to my eyes. It shows that in spite of being in another country, people still cared.
Now, I am also doing TV serials. I think TV is a very strong medium. So many people are watching you at one time. It gives one so much exposure, the kind which you don’t get even in movies. People who say otherwise, are either hypocrites or are suffering from some kind of complex. In Hollywood, all the top stars appear on TV and their popularity never suffers.
Sad but true, today, there are less writers for comedy in the industry. Actually, you have to have a flair for comedy. The sense of timing should be perfect. This all is missing, which is why comedy movies are extinct and we have turned to violence. (This interview was conducted by Vijay Shekhar in 1990).