Julie M: As a fitting tribute to the romantic heartthrob of Bollywood…we chose Rajesh Khanna in his award winning role, Anand (1971).
Jenny K: His passing last week leaves a large empty place in the Bollywood pantheon that will take a lot to fill. His work in this film garnered him the Filmfare Best Actor award for that year, and it was really deserved.
Julie M: Anand is not a romantic role for him; although there is a somewhat tragic romance in the back story, it gives Khanna the chance to show his dramatic range and boy-next-door good looks to advantage. For a 15-minute overview (sorry, no subtitles), check this out.
Plot summary: After winning an award for writing a novel, Dr. Baskhar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan, in his debut lead role) tells, in flashback, the true story of the man who inspired the book. Banerjee is an oncologist, a very serious man, and is disillusioned about how little he can do to cure people who live in poverty and can barely afford food, much less expensive medicines. At a visit to a fellow doctor to discuss a case he meets the doctor’s old friend, Anand (Rajesh Khanna), a jovial and chatty fellow who has recently arrived in Mumbai from Delhi. Banerjee is first overwhelmed, then charmed, by Anand’s energy and unflagging good spirits, particularly when he learns that Anand is in the final stages of an incurable cancer.
Anand gravitates to Banerjee, and Banerjee invites Anand to leave his nursing home and move in with him. Over the course of the next hour or so of story we watch the friendship grow, and Anand’s philosophy of making as many friends as possible, finding poetry in the everyday and living life to the fullest grows on Banerjee. Anand plays matchmaker between Banerjee and a former patient that he has a crush on, and delights in the budding romance; but he occasionally lets his more pensive side slip out.
By the end of the film Banerjee has learned to love and to let go, and reluctantly bids Anand goodbye.
Rajesh Khanna is perfect as the bubbly Anand, and his small round form contrasts visually with Bachchan’s tall sober angularities. The bromance works because of this dichotomy, and Khanna’s beaming face totally charmed me. And the songs are supposed to be among the most poetic and heartfelt of its era.
Jenny K: I agree that Rajesh Khanna lights up the screen in every scene. He certainly put everything into it…and how young Amitabh looks! Soooo schweet, as the saying goes. Ah, Indian filmmakers do know how to do the male friendship right, don’t they? They always give us the most touching emotional scenes, and depict honest affection between guys, even if they aren’t relatives. It’s nice to see that kind of relationship put out there without worrying about how it might come across. Hint: America…you could take a lesson or two!
Julie M: My feeling about RK is that he’s so innocent, his eyes are so soulful, and his forte seemed so much to be the “earnest romantic guy,” that seeing him in this bromance was a bit unexpected. I was kind of bowled over by the energy. He didn’t get to play off a leading lady here, and what was so wonderful about him was his chemistry with the best romantic leads of the day: Sharmila, Zeenat, even Simple Kapadia. We’ve talked about that side of him here in Anurodh and here in Ajnabee.
Jenny K: Before I watched Anand I started to watch his first big hit Aradhana(Worship) (1969) with Sharmila Tagore that I had sitting in the pile near my DVD player for some reason. By the way, what is it with all his “A” titles? You’d think it was his lucky letter, like “K” is for Karan Johar!
In any case, Rajesh was much more romantic and charming in Aradhana, blithely singing to his yet-undiscovered love, Sharmila, while she gazes from a train as he drives in his car next to it. The archetypal filmi hero. I’ll update the post when I’ve finished the film, but it is chugging along, delightfully.
Julie M: And in Anand, RK had great hair. That was what was so weird about him—in 90% of his films he had bad hair, and spotty skin, and a chubby face, and supremely bad clothes, yet the combination was irresistible.
Jenny K: I thought Rajesh looked wonderful all through, different from BigB (always one of our favorite guys) but still quite attractive. He aged well, too, rather elder statesman-esque. I enjoyed his cameo playing Akshaye Khanna’s estranged father in Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999).
I also liked some of our old standby character actors…Lalita Pawar playing the easily thawed hospital Matron cum Ma, who we saw as the principal in Shammi’s Professor. And Johnny Walker of all those Guru Dutt films, doing, for him, almost a straight dramatic role as Issabhai. Almost didn’t recognize him!
Julie M: Didn’t you get kind of a reverse Kal Ho Naa Ho vibe off Anand? You know, cute charming dying guy puts best friend together with life partner before passing away? And the death scene was SO reminiscent of this one in KHNH. Is that a trope in Indian film or was KHNH deliberately calling back Anand?
Jenny K: I don’t know if it was on purpose, but with the dying man changing the life of the ones he loves, though the sex is changed (Preity taking the Amitabh role, sort of), it really feels intentional. All the behind the scenes matchmaking, to get his friends and family taken care of before he goes, then little things, like the scenes in the kitchens, with Anand/Aman (note the similar names, too?!?) cutting onions, etc. cooking for the family, talking a blue streak, so much that it almost seems annoying as much as charming. And the late Dara Singh showing up in both films, too. Dara was very handsome in a large, oversized way, wasn’t he?
Julie M: I’m sure it’s on purpose. Too close not to be.
Jenny K: Also, you have a few of the unfortunate parallels, too…like how healthy both of them look until moments before they die, actually, unbelievably so. And how they linger on until they have their last words with everyone concerned (either live, or on tape) and then check out, messiah-like, having taken care of everyone, he/they can now rest in peace. Yep, you’re right, both of those last scenes are weep-fests.
Julie M: Just for fun, here is the “chatty dying man has pensive moment” song from KHNH that parallels the one in Anand.
Jenny K: Though it isn’t my favorite Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, it was a nice one with good performances. It did a very thorough job letting us linger over the lesson Anand leaves us with…it’s not how early you go out, it’s how you live your life, and the grace with which you leave it.
Julie M: Anand is available in whole form, free, with subtitles, on YouTube. RIP, Kaka.
Gone but never forgotten!!