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Views | An utterly corny and weirdly feelgood nostalgia

Views | An utterly corny and weirdly feelgood nostalgia

“Was that really him?" I asked my friend. We had been chatting on the phone—I in Delhi, he in Pune, with some IPL match being played out on the TV screens in both our homes. “I think so," I said. “Man, is that how he looks like now?" said my friend. “I think it’s just an actor impersonating him." “No," I said. “It has to be him…" For both of us, as perhaps for millions of people of a certain age, the commercial we had just seen had suddenly opened a wormhole in our memories, tapped out a long-forgotten code. “Bloody hell!" said my friend.

“Soooo sweet!" said a lady friend, laughing in delight and replaying the ad on Youtube. Precisely.

And Rajesh Khanna was a superstar nearly 40 years ago. By the time I started watching Hindi films, he was already waning, slowly but surely being eclipsed by a tall, lanky, brooding man with gracious romance the last thing on his mind. In the Havells commercial, Khanna, a nearly skeletal old man in a tuxedo, looks at the camera and says: “Babumoshai, no one can take my fans away from me." If you can’t figure out who or what that piece of dialogue refers to, you don’t really deserve to know.

So the Rajesh Khanna I knew in the movies was a paunchy man with somewhat bizarre dress sense and acting style. One watched him slide into a film star’s worst nightmare—irrelevance. He briefly tried his hand at politics, and all we could feel was a bit of pity and a bit of scorn.

And now suddenly he is back, a ghost with a gentle grin. “Why did he agree to do this ad?" I asked my friend. “Can’t he figure out that it’s all very comic, at a certain level?" Few Indian film stars have been known to be able to laugh at themselves. I have heard from several people who spent time with Khanna many years after he had been banished from the limelight that the man simply refused to believe that his popularity as an actor had reduced even fractionally. Some cynics may even have interpreted this as worryingly delusionary. It is quite possible that the silliness of the whole concept of the ad—in the end, nothing more than an absurd pun—never struck the lover-god who changed hairstyles and shirt designs for millions of young men in the ‘70s and mesmerized the women.

It is very possible that he missed the joke, but it doesn’t matter. We have no right to ask whether the years of obscurity have blessed with him with a sense of irony and an appreciation of the fleeting nature of things. His sudden reappearance in our consciousness is something to celebrate, an assertion of the value of all our joyous memories, the keepsakes of fun that we have neglected and allowed to gather dust in our lives.

A former superstar in a corny commercial has managed to make a lot of people feel strangely happy, for him—even though we may not have ever cared a bit about him before this—and also for ourselves, in a very personal way.

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