“Kakaji was a heartbroken man but never revealed his sadness to anyone”
Sawan Kumar Tak recalls memories of his Souten superstar Rajesh Khanna
Filmmaker Sawan Kumar Tak’s Souten (1983) remains memorable for more reasons than one…
Shot in sea-silhouetted Mauritius, it treated audiences to virginal shores and pristine skylines, throwing open the floodgates to a postcard perfect world. Till date, it’s touted as Sawan Kumar’s biggest hit, spawning a series of Souten outings later.
The peppy Shayad meri shaadi ka khayal duet, by Sawan Kumar and composed by Usha Khanna, not only became a marriage pitch but decades later, continues to inspire spoofs and memes. Just as Zindagi pyaar ka geet hai, also written by the director, remains timeless for its truths.
Rajesh Khanna, playing the aggrieved Shyam, disillusioned by wife Radha (Tina Munim) but held together by Radha (Padmini Kolhapure), found cheerleaders amongst suckers of his brand of romance in an age of actioners. Souten, somewhere, pumped up Rajesh Khanna’s sagging stardom.
Apparently, it also marked a ‘dissolve’ between the two crucial scenes in his personal life – the end of his relationship with wife Dimple Kapadia and the beginning of his alleged romance with co-star Tina Munim.
Sawan Kumar knew he was treading on thin ice when he signed Rajesh Khanna for his film. But belying all apprehensions, ‘Kakaji’ and he not only went on to give a blockbuster but the lonely two also forged a bond of empathy… a one-off in the shifting sands of showbiz.
Sawan Kumar Tak looks back at Souten hero Rajesh Khanna …
IN SAWAN KUMAR TAK’S OWN WORDS:
When I wrote Souten, people were wary of the story. Many heroes had already rejected the script fearing it to be a woman-oriented subject. When I thought of approaching Kakaji (Rajesh Khanna), they said he wouldn’t like it either. But I was keen that Kakaji hear the story first.
When I narrated it to him, Kakaji turned quiet. Wondering whether it was the title that had not gone down well with him, I suggested that we could change it if required. Kakaji said, “No! The title should be Souten only. It’s perfect for the script.” Much to my pleasure, he agreed to do the film. A heroine, whom we approached to pair up with him, was not keen to work with me as a director. But Kakaji was clear that only I’d direct the film.
Before I decided to shoot in Mauritius, it was largely an unexplored territory. I met the then Honourable Prime Minister of Mauritius, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, and sought his kind permission. He graciously said, “It’s your country. You’re welcome!” The crew was fascinated by the locations. It appeared like heaven on earth. The love triangle featured Tina Munim and Padmini Kolhapure, whom we affectionately called Pandi. I had old ties with her. Padmini had also featured in my film Sajaan Bina Suhagan (1978).
Kakaji was alleged to be temperamental and difficult. People had warned me saying, “Adibaaz (hard to deal with) hai, rooth (sulk) jaata hai, sets choddh kar chala jaata hai!” But I never witnessed that side of him. He was a foodie but had no nakhras about what was served. He wasn’t fond of exercise though.
But yes, he was extremely fond of liquor. He couldn’t sleep early. So, he’d keep drinking and chatting till late in the night. Naturally, he’d arrive late on the set the next morning. Thodi bahut toh adaayein (idiosyncrasies) stars mein hoti hai. Unmein bhi thi. Stars today also have quirks.
But once on the set, Kakaji would compensate for the lost time. Of course he was moody. He couldn’t suffer fools and misconduct. An actor is like a doll. You have to treat him gently with love. You pour energy into your actors. You have to create them. You have to help them feel the character. As a director, I could feel the entire film and conveyed it exactly to him. He felt relaxed with me.
If people were respectful towards him, Kakaji went out of his way to co-operate. But if anyone threw his weight around, then it would be another story. I never heard about him leaving a film incomplete. What can an actor do if producers don’t pay him schedule after schedule? Kakaji may have come across such defaulters.
Coming back to Souten, before the release of the film, there were murmurs as to who would watch a film so titled. Kakaji reassured me saying, “Don’t listen to them. Mark my words; there will be many more ‘Soutens’ in the future.” He was always confident about the film. When we processed the prints in the lab and people saw the rushes they were left amazed at the scenic frames.
After the premiere was held at Apsara theatre in Mumbai and people appreciated the film, an ecstatic Kakaji hugged me and said, “Now, let’s open a bottle!” We had parties after parties to celebrate the success of the film with bouquets flooding my house for days.
As a person, Kakaji was extremely emotional. If he found you to be genuine, he could give his life for you. At the same time, he could easily see if someone was trying to exploit him. He understood I was not taking any advantage of him. He’d say, “Sawan you are the only gentleman I have met. He even told people, ‘Yeh producer hai dilwala!”
I saw him upset a few times. Once he broke down in my house, when a particular relationship didn’t work out. Kakaji also had some flaws, which women couldn’t bear. The women in his life cannot be blamed. Kakaji would forget who he was after drinks. He’d lose his temper and end up saying things, which were not very pleasant. But on the whole he was a good man. After a night of drinking, he’d ask me the next morning, “Maine kuch bol diya aapko? I am sorry. Sham ko aa raha hoon. We will sort out our gile shikve (grievances).”
Undeniably, he was extremely lonely. Actually, Kakaji was not meant for marriage. Some people are not destined to enjoy marital happiness just like me. Kakaji was possessive about his women. It’s nice to be possessive in love. But not beyond a certain point. While he, being a star, was public property. Women were crazy about him. They’d clamor for photographs and autographs wherever he went.
He was a romantic and women fell for him. But it wouldn’t work out for some reason and he was always left depressed. He was a heartbroken man. Yet he never revealed his sadness to people. He lived with it. Having said that, Dimple is a great lady. She looked after him so devotedly after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. I visited Kakaji at his bungalow Aashirwad during that time. Sadly, he passed away in 2012. Apna dard chupaya, khushiyaan baati that was his greatness. At his funeral, every eye was moist. I was reminded of the lines that I’d written for Meenaji (Kumari) when she passed away:
Chandni mar gayee, roshni mar gayee,
(The moonlight died, the brightness died)
Saari shamme bujha kar chale aaye log
(People extinguished all lamps and came away),
Chaadar-e-gul se chhilta tha jiska badan
(Someone whose skin would hurt even with a coverlet of flowers…)
Ussko mitti udhakar chale aaye log
(People covered him/her with mud and came away).”