Forgotten Movie Icons of Yesteryears – Rakesh Kumar
Rakesh Kumar began his career in the 70s as an assistant director to Prakash Mehra in a small movie called Zanjeer where the Angry Young Man phenomenon was born. He took his learnings and the camaraderie he built with Big B and prepared to debut as a director. He immediately tasted success with the Amitabh Bachchan – Vinod Khanna superhit Khoon Pasina which was followed by a string of commercial successes with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
Big B enjoyed collaborating with Rakesh Kumar as they mixed comedy, romance, action, drama and music to create Bollywood masala magic on the screen. Rakesh Kumar even convinced the superstar to sing in his own voice in their next movie and so was born Amitabh Bachchan the unlikeliest of playback singers with the superhit song “Mere Paas Aao Mere Dosto” from Mr Natwarlal. Audiences loved his next movies Mr Natwarlal, Do Aur Do Paanch (Big B with Shashi Kapoor) and Yaarana (Big B with Amjad Khan). However Rakesh Kumar’s name is rarely listed with the other directors from Big B’s days of superstardom like Yash Chopra, Ramesh Sippy, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra and Tinnu Anand. So what happened?
Rakesh Kumar decided to make a small parallel project along with Yaarana with Amjad Khan in lead role, Tanuja and Aruna Irani along with a string of common character actors in both movies. This small budget parallel project was called Commander and it did average business at the box office. Amitabh Bachchan even did a small cameo and song to help the movie at the box office. However as compared to Rakesh’s earlier productions, Commander’s production value, editing and direction was a bit inferior to his previous super hits.
Rakesh then planned to make another Big B masala movie titled Tiger but after multiple delays the movie got stalled and eventually dropped. This is when the highly in demand Rakesh signed newcomer Sanjay Dutt who had just tasted success with Rocky along with Subhash Ghai who was starting Vidhaata with Dutt. The movie was called Johny I Love You and as Sanjay Dutt has often commented in his interviews this is one movie which he made on auto-pilot during his drug infused period and has no memory of making it. While Subhash Ghai’s Sanjay Dutt starrer Vidhaata became a blockbuster, Johny I Love you performed below average at the box office in 1982. Rakesh Kumar had started to lose his touch.
This is when Rakesh picked up 3 back to back projects which got delayed for a long time and eventually bombed on release ending his midas touch at the box office. The first project was Dil Tujhko Diya with newcomers Kumar Gaurav and Rati Agnihotri fresh off the success of Love Story and Ek Duuje Ke Liye. However the mega failure of Kumar Gaurav’s Star and Lover followed by Romance, Hum Hain Lajawab and All Rounder kept pushing Rakesh’s movie to 1987 when it finally saw the light of day courtesy the success of Mahesh Bhatt’s Naam starring Kumar Gaurav and Sanjay Dutt. Dil Tujhko Diya looked very dated on release and failed to garner any excitement.
His other movie which also released in 1987 was Khel Tamasha starring Asrani in lead role along with Aruna Irani and newbie Kimi Katkar. This movie didnt even register with the audience at the box office. Rakesh Kumar also made another small budget movie which pitted Men vs Women called Kaun Jeeta Kaun Haara starring Aruna Irani, Madhoo Kapoor and Satyajit best remembered as the kid from Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Shor.
However no distributor wanted to release this movie. Rakesh called in a few favors and got his favorite superstar Amitabh Bachchan to appear as a pseudo-protagonist in the movie. He creatively changed the movie’s script by making the original movie, a story that the superstar Big B (Playing himself) narrates to a bus of students who pick him up when his car breaks down on way to the set of his forthcoming movie Shahenshah. Along with Big B, other actors like Suresh Oberoi, Amrish Puri, Ram Sethi, Jagdeep signed up along with Shahenshah’s director Tinnu Anand. This star cast enabled Rakesh to finally get a release date. However despite the good intention of making a movie about the battle of the sexes, equality and social reform, the movie ended up becoming a slightly dated, bit patchy and surprisingly regressive movie when taken out of context. Everything came crashing down for the director in 1987 after the much delayed Dil Dujhko Diya, Khel Tamasha and Kaun Jeeta Kaun Haara all bombed at the box office.
After this box office debacle it took Rakesh Kumar 5 years before he released one more movie which he started with a newcomer named Salman Khan, whose father had co-written the story where it all started in 1973 with Zanjeer. However when Salman Khan appeared as a Blonde Prince in 1992’s Suryavanshi, audiences just flipped in their seats, the movie bombed and Rakesh Kumar vanished from the silver screen forever.
30 years later, Rakesh Kumar’s name was in the news again when Big B wrote “No, I shall hesitate to go to his funeral .. for I shall not be able to bear the sight of an inert Rakesh!”. Rakesh passed away from cancer at the end of last year. His name may not be as famous as the big directors of the 70s and 80s who rode the wave of Masala hits with superstar Big B, but anyone who has watched and enjoyed Khoon Pasina, Mr Natwarlal, Do Aur Do Paanch and Yaarana have him to thank for all the fun, melodies and masala he packed in those movies for the masses.
Mere Paas Aao Mere Doston Ek Kissa Suno. Kayi Saal Pehle Ki Yeh Baat Hai. Bhayanak Andheri Si Raat Mein Liye Apni Bandook Main Haath Mein Ghane Jangalon Se Guzarta Hua Kahin Ja Raha Tha…..Ja Raha Tha…..Nahi Aa Raha Tha…….Nahi Ja Raha Tha……Rakesh Kumar, Thanks for all the fun movies and precious childhood memories.