“What is it they are showing in these movies? I cannot watch it,” she used to say to her close friends, baring a mother's soul that bled even knowing the “make believe” dimension of the celluloid world.
Reminiscing his family's close association with the Khannas, Ramesh Bhatlekar at whose residence, Rajesh had spent a few months during his two-year-long stint as a college student in the city, said, “His mother Leelavati used to give vent to her feelings while talking to my mother, after he rose to become a star. His screen deaths annoyed her.”
The Bollywood icon had become a heartthrob of millions with his uncanny ability to portray a romantic hero and also a tragic one with his roles in 'Anand', 'Safar' and 'Baharon Ke Sapne' that moved the audience to tears with the poignancy it conveyed.
The Khannas and the Bhatlekar family stayed in the same building 'Sarsaswati Nivas' at Thakurdwar in Girgaum in Mumbai.
“My father was a family doctor of Chunnilal Khanna, (Rajesh's father) and we grew together. Later, after passing the matriculation board exam, I moved to Pune, where my father had built a house on Apte Road in Deccan Gymkhana area,” the 70-year-old Bhatlekar said.
“I took admission in Fergusson college for what was called 'pre-degree' (first year) in science stream. Rajesh's family also decided to send him to Pune, (traditionally considered a seat of education) for the Arts course. He however, landed late and could not get admission to the same college. Finally, he enrolled in the Wadia College in the city's camp area,” he continued.
Rajesh was just 16-year-old when he came to Pune for college education and stayed with the Bhatlekars for a few months in their bungalow named 'Sangam', before arranging for an alternative accommodation in the vicinity of Wadia college, in Camp area, where he studied from 1959 to 1961 for his BA. That time, the name enrolled was Jatinder Chunnilal Khanna.
Asked to recall the would-be star's stay with the Bhatlekar family, Ramesh said, “We had a close association with the Khanna family since our Mumbai days and therefore he was comfortable with my mother and liked the Maharashtrian food at our home. “During his stay with us, he used to take an auto-rickshaw to go to Wadia college, which was at the other end of the city.”
Rajesh went back to Mumbai after doing first two years of Bachelor of Arts at Wadia and completed his graduation there, he added.
“We used to play together in Girgaum in Mumbai. Even as a young boy, Rajesh, who had good looks with a pink complexion, always aspired to be an actor. Once he showed me a photograph of his and told me with an innocent pride that he had sent it to Raj Kapoor asking him for a role in films,” Bhatlekar said.
“He and his family were always very gracious and maintained relations with us even after he became a star. When he married Dimple in 1973, Rajesh and his family invited us for the wedding in Mumbai. Among the large assembly of guest celebrities, when he noticed my parents, he sent Premnath (the late actor) to take us to the stage, where the newly-wed couple was seated accepting greetings...His mother – Leelavati -- gifted a traditional saree to my mother on the occasion,” Bhatlekar said in a choked voice.