Of falling stars and sad phoenixes
The first time I saw this ad, I swore to myself that this must be some kind of a parody – that this cannot be Rajesh Khanna. I mean how can it be? It sounds like Rajesh Khanna and talks like Rajesh Khanna and the ‘Babumoshai’ drawl seemed unmistakable. But surely this is not Rajesh Khanna. The mind and the heart were for once in complete agreement.
Then the niggling man inside which always knows the truth kept on nagging away at this confidence. And then when the second time this ad came, I took a much closer look and slowly, regrettably, the things snapped into place
And shock and dismay replaced the earlier confidence. And as the denial melted away, a slow helpless anger replaced it…
Rajesh Khanna in Anand will always be a charming bittersweet memory of my childhood. That was the time when we had a VCR and a few favourite cassettes – Anand was one of them. Every day after school, me and my brother would come back home, heat our food and plonk ourselves in front of the TV and start Anand – for the 20th time in the month!! And everytime, at the end, as Rajesh Khanna, as Anand died and as Amitabh Bachchan, as the ‘Babumoshai’ will rage at the futility of it all, we would feel infinitely sad.
That's how I remembered Rajesh Khanna – vivacious, lively, witty and in prime health. Mention Rajesh Khanna and the image that pops in my head is his slightly upturned mouth with mischievous grin calling out ‘Babumoshai’ to the intense Amitabh Bachchan.
He was the original superstar with legions of screaming female fans, who would notoriously leave red kisses on his white imported car. He was the star that an aspiring Amitabh Bachchan dreamt of. He was at a Clark Gable and Elvis rolled in one. What we like to refer to as ‘He has made it in life’ or as Saif today advertises for a certain “Music CDs” – “Its your life – Make it Large”. Rajesh Khanna made it large indeed…
Having disappeared from the scene for a long time, Rajesh Khanna had always retained an old world charm for me. Because unlike many of his counterparts who have kept on hamming about, he was someone who I thought had gracefully retired from the scene – a male Garbo as it were. Leaving his admirers with his best memories…
And that is why the sudden onrush of the reality is like a jolt of shock. Seeing Rajesh Khanna like this – decrepit, vulnerable is like having a beautiful picture transform into an ugly morass before your eyes.
Why this ad? He seems to be making a mockery of his own situation with reference to fans. He refers to the legions of his fans that have disappeared along with his vanished health and looks. If this was the adman’s way of promoting Havell’s fans through the creative method of self-irony, sorry man, it absolutely does not work for me!!
What comes across instead is a blatant way of giving shock value to the ad. The adman knows that seeing Rajesh Khanna like this would become a talking point the moment it dawns upon the viewer who it is. And by talking about, we would probably be talking about the Havell’s fan as well. And therefore maybe buy a fan when we go to a shop.
And it will probably work too!! Its brutal, cold but probably effective…
However what it actually shows is an attempt to exploit a man’s misfortune, financial or loneliness, or both, to deliver differentiation in a cluttered space. To make the ad stand out. Rajesh Khanna is dispensable, a mere vehicle to get the ad noticed, a one time only shock bomb. Of course, the adman would argue that the actor was actually happy to do the ad and its within his rights to therefore make the ad. Since no-one is coerced, it seems perfectly logical in today's give and take world…
Maybe that is the problem. It is too logical. The adman makes the ad armed with a host of logic. We the viewer feel an uncomfortable feeling gnawing at the pit end of the stomach because we know that its wrong somewhere. Except we don't know who to blame. If the main stakeholders are fine with it, what is it that we feel wrong?
Is it our primitive sense of what dignity means? Dignity – amorphous, indescribable, what Dylan tried to explain in an incredible feat of poetry. Dignity, which we understand only when we see it. Dignity – which we want and seek in people we love and admire especially our vintage heroes. Maybe that is the ineffable feeling that I get when I see this ad, the feeling that something vital is missing here. Is it dignity?
I do feel an anger though. Something similar to what Amitabh Bachchan’s character felt at the end of Anand. We all know life is unpredictable and can be cruel and unjust. But until we see something affecting the people we loved and admired, the feeling remains an objective one. Rajesh Khanna in the Havell’s ad seems to being the fact closer. We grow old, we lose our vitality and we die. Why the hell does it have to be so hard sometimes…
The anger is probably something like the famous “I Accuse!!” dialogue in the Ritwik Ghatak’s masterpiece – Meghe Dhaka Tara. When, in the film, a catastrophe caused by fate befalls a family already reeling under severe stress, the old father breaks out into a agitated loud “I Accuse!”. When his son asks him “Kare?” (who?), the father slowly lowers his upraised finger and lowers his head and whispers – “Kareyo noi” (no one)
That's exactly how I feel
To you Rajesh Khanna. I choose to remember you the way I remember you best…and I will NOT buy the fan you endorse…So sorry!
I absolutely refuse to yield my place to a Havell’s fan!!