Grace under Pressure

Grace under Pressure
Kumar Gaurav with his father Rajendra Kumar,Sunil Dutt, Nargis

Even when I was a big star, I knew that the shop was not a permanent one. This is a game of youth that doesn't last forever – not for anyone. So, I nev...

Even when I was a big star, I knew that the shop was not a permanent one. This is a game of youth that doesn't last forever – not for anyone. So, I never allowed myself to bask in the glory of having it all. Nor was I distressed at the thought of my stardom fading away. As a youngster, I had seen for myself how easily misfortune could befall my family. I had made snap decisions all my life and didn't believe in wasting my hard-earned money. Rather, I saved for a rainy day. And by the grace of God that money is still intact- Rajendra Kumar Tuli

The charismatic superstar of the 60s Rajendra Kumar, called the evergreen hero of classic hit films like 'Dil Ek Mandir', 'Ayee Milan ki Bela', 'Arzoo' and Sangam' was also famously known as the Jubilee Kumar for the number of successful films he starred in. His biography penned by Seema Sonik Alimchand traces the untold story of the dispossessed refugee following partition, who led a life of struggles until he entered films, where his career saw super stardom and struggles in equal measure

The year 1971 belonged, without doubt, to the romantic superstar Rajesh Khanna who topped the charts, once again, with a diverse range of movies. These were Haathi Mere Saathi, co-starring Tanuja and a loyal and endearing elephant; Maryada, where he was cast in a secondary role, with Raaj Kumar and Mala Sinha playing the leads; Kati Patang, where his leading lady was Asha Parekh; Mehboob ki Mehndi, which featured Leena Chandavarkar opposite him; and the unforgettable Anand. Meanwhile, Dharmendra was still holding his own with Mera Gaon Mera Desh, while the Kapoors rollicked in Andaz (where Shammi co-starred with Hema Malini and Rajesh Khanna), Sharmilee (in which Shashi was cast opposite Raakhee) and Kal Aaj aur Kal (which featured three generations of the family, from patriarch Prithviraj to grandson Randhir).

Jeetendra too scored with the musical Caravan opposite Asha Parekh. From among the old-timers, Dev Anand reinvented himself with some engaging films, namely, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, where Mumtaz played his lady love but the real sensation was Miss Asia Pacific 1970, Zeenat Aman, cast in the role of his sister; Gambler, with Zaheeda and Shatrughan Sinha as Dev's co-stars; and Tere Mere Sapne, where, interestingly, his director-actor brother Vijay Anand also featured, alongside Mumtaz and Hema Malini. As for Rajendra Kumar, he managed to make it through the year, riding on the shoulders of loyalists like Mohan Kumar, Ramanand Sagar and his own brother Naresh Kumar by working in their productions, although Mohan Kumar's Aap Aye Bahaar Ayee remained the actor's solo release in 1971.

In this film, the characters played by Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana sever their relationship because of mischief on the part of their 'good friend' Prem Chopra, while Rajendra Nath, named Whiskey in the film, introduces some comic relief. The film's compositions, be it the tragic and moving 'Mujhe teri mohabbat ka sahara (I wish I had the support of your love)', the flirtatious 'Tumko bhi toh aisa hi kuchh hota (You too must have felt as I do)' and 'Pooche jo koi mujhse bahar kaisi hoti hai (If someone were to ask me "what is Spring?")', the title song 'Aap aye bahaar ayee (You arrived, and springtime came with you)' or the dance duet 'Koyel kyon gaaye? (Why does the cuckoo sing?)', with Laxmikant and Pyarelal's lilting music coupled with Anand Bakshi's heart-rending lyrics, brought the characters and their relationships alive, contributing to the film's success.

But with just one release that year it was becoming glaringly obvious to all that the former jubilee star's career in films was approaching pack-up time. Rajendra Kumar, however, continued to resist the inevitable and remained unwilling to acknowledge defeat. He kept mulling over ways to get past what he felt was a low phase in his career, brainstorming with himself and occasionally with his dwindling group of benefactors and well-wishers, a few of whom still dropped in to meet him at home from time to time. At Dimple, the star's residence, the wall clock in the veranda showed 9.30 p.m. Rajendra Kumar sat alone in the garden, pulling at his pack of 555 cigarettes from force of habit. The house had quietened down.

Stray beams of light streamed out through the children's bedroom windows. With a sigh, the star leaned back, blowing out smoke rings and watching them drift away, then merge into thin air. Lost in contemplation of these wisps of smoke, the actor recalled the time when his home had been the hub of creative discussions, meetings, money talk, costume and media preparations and many a get-together. An image of the producers, directors, actors and other film staff who would gather here came to mind. Once upon a time, his home had been abuzz with the many comings and goings of people who had regarded him as an indispensable part of their lives. But tonight the well-manicured lawns of the bungalow were silent, desolate.

As the former jubilee star poured himself a drink, all he could hear was a light breeze rustling through the branches of the trees around him. It can't be over just like that, he tried to convince himself. It simply cannot! I live to act. That's who I am. Acting cannot be taken away from me. But, as always, after a few moments of insecurity, his fighting spirit came to the fore. He reminded himself that he had three releases coming up and all of them were promising films.

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