Rajendra Kumar was a One-Man discovery channel!

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Rajendra Kumar with Vyjayanthimala in Sangam. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

His 95th birth anniversary falls July 20. Rajendra Kumar was known as the Jubilee Star, a lucky mascot with a stream of Silver and Golden Jubilee hits from 1957’s Mother India to 1972’s Aap Aaye Bahaar Ayee. Rajinder Tuli (his real name) was born on July 20, 95 years ago, to a wealthy family that lost all in Partition, and went to Delhi as refugees.

When he passed away on July 12, 1999, he was one of the wealthiest men in the Hindi film industry, a man who had never splurged his hard-earned income but had invested wisely (it is said also in fisheries!), just like he had invested in relationships with the film fraternity.

His hits were legion, including Mother India, Dhool Ka Phool, Dil Ek Mandir, Sasural, Gharana, Pyar Ka Sagar, Kanoon, Mere Mehboob, Zindagi, Ayee Milan Ki Bela, Sangam, Arzoo, Suraj, Anjaana, Talash, Geet, Ganwaar and others.

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For someone who was initially considered no more than a pale imitation of the great Dilip Kumar (based on some ‘tragic’ roles), Rajendra Kumar grew into his own, excelling in frothy romances, serious family melodramas and the occasional thriller or action drama. He formed hit teams with Vyjayanthimala, Mala Sinha and Sadhana and even co-starred with later names like Hema Malini, Raakhee and Rekha.

But a side not talked much about of this actor is how Rajendra Kumar (we will now refer to him as RK) encouraged, introduced, was responsible for the big breaks of, or otherwise mentored so many new talents.

It was in 1995 that Himesh Reshammiya made his debut as composer, producer and story writer with the TV serial Andaz. He approached the actor for a major role, which marked the actor’s first of two forays into television. With this very successful show, the composer made his overall debut and later produced and composed for more serials before making a solid mark in films.

Another eminent name whose first film starred RK was the late director Yash Chopra with Dhool Ka Phool (1959), which set him on the road to glory that ended only in 2012!

Filmmaker-lyricist Saawan Kumar was associated with flops before RK, then past his starry peak, agreed to star in his emotional drama, Saajan Bina Suhagan (1978). With this jubilee hit, Saawan Kumar took off in a big way.

RK was also lucky for Feroz Khan, who was stuck in the B-grade film circuit until he was cast in a parallel role in his starrer, Arzoo. Even earlier, RK had tried to help Khan, who was cast in Ek Sapera Ek Lutera (1965), with which RK’s brother Naresh Kumar was launched as producer-director with a banner named after RK’s daughter —Dimple Films.

R.D. Burman was another composer for whom the star proved very lucky. RK helped nephew Ramesh Behl set up his own banner, Rose Movies, in 1970 by ghost-producing The Train, which took the composer to the forefront 9 years after his debut—this had never happened even with earlier masterly scores like Teesri Manzil or Padosan! And for this film, as lead actress Nanda had testified, Rajesh Khanna too had been signed even before Aradhana!

Rose Movies’ next film, Jawani Diwani, also presented by RK, starred Randhir Kapoor, eldest son of RK’s bosom buddy and colleague Raj Kapoor. The film set the young Kapoor on a success trail.

Rajendra Kumar’s son Kumar Gaurav became a teenage heartthrob with RK’s official debut as producer, Love Story in 1981. In Love Story, RK also introduced Rahul Rawail, his one-time boss and mentor H.S. Rawail’s son as a director, besides heroine Vijayeta Pandit. RK wanted a fresh voice for his son and R.D. Burman brought in Amit Kumar for all his songs—a major breakthrough for the singer. (Interestingly, RK was very good friends with Kishore Kumar, who yet sang just one song for him!)

H.S. Rawail was one of RK’s earliest benefactors, as the actor had assisted the filmmaker in five films, and it is said that he did not really want to become an actor. However, destiny took the actor to stardom, and so when Rawail faced a lean phase in the early ‘60s, the ever-helpful now-top-star revived his mentor’s fortunes by putting together and acting in the film Mere Mehboob, which proved a golden jubilee blockbuster.

Kumar Gaurav remembers that the late actor-filmmaker-writer O.P. Ralhan and his father first met as co-strugglers who shared a rental place. “Ralhan-saab became my maternal uncle, mom’s brother. My father helped set him up as a producer with Gehra Daag and earlier as an actor in Pyar Ka Sagar.”

It is said that it was RK who also recommended Dharmendra for the rugged career-defining role in Ralhan’s Phool Aur Patthar. Manoj Kumar also called RK “The quintessential good man who never played politics and was like an elder brother to many newcomers. He provided them food, help, advice as well as a lot of moral strength.” RK even stood surety for the first cars of Manoj and Dharmendra! And it was in Rawail’s Kanch Ki Gudiya that Manoj got his break as a hero, on RK’s recommendation.

Rajendra Kumar with filmmaker Mohan Kumar, whose career took off with Aas Ka Panchhi starring the actor. Photo: Late Mohan Kumar

Two major beneficiaries of RK’s generosity were filmmaker producer J. Om Prakash (who had earlier made an anonymous flop named Farmaish and is Hrithik Roshan’s maternal grandfather) and director Mohan Kumar, both of whom got their breaks in Aas Ka Panchhi starring RK.

Rakesh Roshan, Hrithik’s father, too got his first break in Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani at the recommendation of RK, who had worked earlier with the film’s director T. Prakash Rao, in the hits Sasural and Humrahi.

In the mid-‘60s, when Suraj was being made, RK persuaded Ajit to do the villain’s role in the film, setting him off on a flourishing new career after a flop phase as a hero.

David Dhawan, now also known as Varun Dhawan’s dad, also started off under RK. He was the in-house film editor at Dimple Studios, and Saawan Kumar got him to edit Saajan Bina Suhagan. Later, he edited their in-house productions Love Story and Naam and directed RK’s production Jurrat. Since the late 1980s, David has been one of our most successful directors.

Mahesh Bhatt, inundated with commercial flops and also the man behind offbeat cinema like Arth and Saaransh, took off only after directing RK’s Naam (1986), which incidentally also zoomed Pankaj Udhas to universal fame with the milestone success of the song Chitthi aayi hai. This film, incidentally, launched Salim Khan as independent writer after his split with Javed Akhtar, and remains his only solo hit as writer.

Sadly, RK never won a Best Actor award despite nominations in three consecutive years from 1964 to 1966. But the government of India did bestow him with the Padma Shri. And he really deserved this honor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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