About stardom, Rajesh Khanna and meeting Tom Cruise


Shunali Khullar Shroff

July 18, 2012

India’s first ever superstar Rajesh Khanna passed away today. I am not trying to imply that I am very young, but when I was still in my bloomers, he had already seen the height of his stardom and his career was on its decline. Legend has it that women all over India used to go hysterical over him and his mailbox often received letters written in blood from some of his crazy fans. The BBC documentary on Khanna, shot in 1973, hinted that some girls even committed suicide when he got married.

Back then I was not allowed to watch many movies, or flip through celebrity gossip magazines by my strict mother who had missed her calling as Mother Superior of an all girls convent school and was making up for it by becoming Mother Superior of our house. Doordarshan, India’s only television channel at that time, telecasted family films every Sunday. These I was allowed to watch sometimes. As a bonus I was allowed to watch Chitrahaar (a 30 minute capsule of songs from Hindi films) every now and then. I remember watching a popular song from Aaradhana, starring Rajesh Khanna and wondering why the middle aged Rajesh Khanna whom I watched in the movies on Sundays did not look half as good as this man. The Rajesh Khanna of my growing years was a man with a broad face and a funny hairstyle. The Rajesh Khanna of Aaradhana had a boyish face and looked very handsome and very Hollywood. In spite of not ageing very well, Khanna had many liaisons with several beautiful women, most of whom were actresses.

Today there was a traffic jam on Carter Road because of the crowds and media gathered outside his house. People on Twitter paid their tributes to the actor and a good number of them emphasized that he was not only a good actor but also a good human being. Many people expressed their disbelief at the death of the original ‘superstar’.

I asked a friend, who knows his family well, if he was indeed a great human being. “Don’t you know, when somebody dies, people like to glorify him and call him a great human being even though he may not have been one” she laughed.

She is right, I realize. In India, we like to deify the dead, don’t we? Even if a bad, corrupt to his last toenail politician, with charges of rape and murder passes away people are heard saying, “Woh mahaan aadmi thhey.” Meaning – “He was a great man.”

I tell her I cannot imagine he was such a big star and liked by so many women in his hey day. She tells me he could be very charming and had the love of many women who would do anything to be with him, even in his old age. Then, as if to establish this point better, she gives me my own example. Oh please, it is not like what you are thinking! I did not want to be with Rajesh Khanna (God rest his soul), my friend is alluding to my love for Tom Cruise.

Ah yes, the same Tom Cruise who leaves all his wives at 33, jumps on Oprah’s sofa like a lunatic, follows an apparently freaky religion and yada yada yada.

So I like him. As do most women of my generation. I cannot remember liking any ‘star’ as much as I like Tom Cruise. I think it would be fair to say that he was my first crush and as far as first crushes of women my age go, he has kept up with his good looks and aged fairly well.

You know what they say about wanting something badly enough and the universe conspiring to give it to you? I wanted to meet Tom Cruise and hang out with him ever since I watched Top Gun. I did not dream of becoming a doctor or a writer or an astronaut like other average brained hopeless girls my age. Judge me if you like, but I dreamt of meeting Tom Cruise. Fortunately for me, the universe conspired to make my dream materialize last December at a party the husband and I were invited to at the Taj Colaba, Bombay. I don’t think I took such pains to dress up for my own wedding as I did for this occasion.

Industrialists and movie stars from Bombay were all waiting to meet him and when my turn came to meet him(what seemed like hours later), Tom Cruise was so easygoing and real that I could not believe he was Tom Cruise, the star. He was actually interested in listening to what you had to say. He smiled a lot and it was not a look-how-hot-I-look-when-I-smile kind of smile. It was such a genuine and disarming kind of smile that I almost considered signing up at the church of Scientology to feel spiritually closer to him (in the very least).

The husband is too self contained to be anybody’s fan and was amused by what he calls my “teenage girl like” behaviour. However, he  indulged me by happily clicking ‘our’ pictures. By ‘our’ pictures I mean Tom Cruise’s and mine, not the husband’s and mine. Though I must confess, I never imagined I would say ‘our’ for Tom Cruise and myself. Being a thorough gentleman, Tom (ahem!) waited patiently for all the photographs to be clicked since we clicked pictures from two different mobiles, and one time the flash did not go off so we had to do it again. Fate was helping me prolong our arm-to-arm moment, I suppose. I hate to sound ungrateful but sometimes the universe reads the message all-wrong. Meeting Tom Cruise was great but it was not a ‘to have and to hold situation’ exactly. I acknowledge I should be grateful that I got to meet him at all, and that too before I got my menopause or worse still, my cataracts. Imagine liking someone your whole life and finally meeting him or her when you are walking around with a walking stick in an adult diaper.

So coming back to the point, I had to be reminded how I feel/felt about Tom Cruise to understand how certain women felt about Rajesh Khanna and why so many geriatric hearts would have broken today. May they all find their peace and may God give Tom Cruise a long life.

p.s: I have gone blind in the eyes googling all there is to be googled about the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes split. Please don’t believe whatever is being said and written about Tom C. Those are all lies.

You can also follow her on her blog MumbaiMusings @ http://shunalishroff.com/category/blog/

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