Hanif Zaveri, author of Mehmood’s biography, told me that the late actor and comedian Mehmood used to address Rajesh Khanna as Kathor (translating to ‘heartless’ in English) in a friendly way. He signed Rajesh for a home production Janta Hawaldar, a major portion of which was to be shot at his own farmhouse. The entire production unit along with Rajesh was staying at Mehmood’s farmhouse. Problems started when one of Mehmood’s sons greeted Rajesh with a friendly hello. Rajesh took the boy’s casual attitude as an insult, because he felt it did not contain the respect he thought he deserved. He showed his displeasure and his starry tantrums took a turn for the worse.

It would take Mehmood, a respected senior actor, hours to get Rajesh to come out for a shot. Perhaps throwing his weight around in this manner was Rajesh’s way of trying to command the respect he felt he was losing. One day, as the tantrums got out of hand, Mehmood’s patience dried up completely. He lost his temper and gave Rajesh a tight slap. Rajesh was stunned. Zaveri says, ‘I have this statement from Mehmood. He gave Rajesh Khanna one tight slap for his tantrums and said, “You might be a superstar of your own house. I have paid you and you will finish my film.” After that the film shoot was completed without difficulties.’

It can be questioned whether this incident points towards the increasing loss of respect for Rajesh Khanna in the industry. Had his starry tantrums overstayed their welcome? Did he script his own downfall by alienating people who could have helped him?

According to Hanif Zaveri, ‘Rajesh Khanna didn’t know how to maintain interpersonal relationships. Now look at Jeetendra, he wasn’t a very good actor, but he knew how to keep good relations, and see how far he went. Jeetendrasaab told me once that he doesn’t know how to cry. If a scene demands crying, then he hides his face with his hands and cries.’ But Rajesh Khanna knew how to cry. He knew how to die, how to love, how to sing, how to emote, how to laugh and how to be angry . . . on screen. What he did not know perhaps was how to communicate well off-screen.

This lack of communication affected all his personal relationships, especially the one he shared with Dimple, his wife of nine years. Not only had the film industry started speaking against Rajesh, but so had his in-laws. The Kapadia family always believed that eventually Rajesh would relent and allow Dimple to get back to films. But when it became evident that this might not be the case, the Kapadias began to rant against their son-in-law. Towards the latter half of the 1970s Chunnibhai Kapadia became the prime source of stories against Rajesh’s behaviour towards Dimple. This led to the gossip columnists coining the term CIB: Chunnibhai Information Bureau. He gave ample fodder to keep the gossip columns aflow with titbits from the personal life of Rajesh and Dimple. This was not to the liking of the ex-superstar. Journalist Ingrid Albuquerque wrote about this cold war in a piece called ‘Rajesh vs. the Caucus of Four’ ‒ the ‘four’ being Dimple, her parents and her sister, Simple.

Time and again Dimple would walk out, threaten divorce and emotionally blackmail Rajesh, but she would always come back to him with the kids. Gossip magazines wrote about how every second month Dimple would leave Aashirwad only to come back in some time, suggesting that it all was a publicity stunt. ‘Fear drove Dimple back to Kaka, not love. My daughter lacks the guts of a Raakhee to stand up for herself,’ stated an agitated Chunnibhai Kapadia.

Khanna maintained a calculated silence on all this. When Bhawana Somaaya directly asked him about his marriage being the biggest joke in town, Rajesh Khanna in his veritable filmy style answered, ‘When everyone casts stones, the temptation to come out with the truth in all its gory detail is great. But ultimately, it serves no purpose, because your greatest pain becomes a source of ridicule. So I would rather be crucified than speak.’

With both his in-laws and the media taking potshots at his tempestuous marriage and declining career, Rajesh’s self-confidence deteriorated every day. Lots of new and younger men had come into the industry after him and were now standing at par with him or had overtaken him altogether. One can imagine his battered state of mind ‒ he was alone, irritated, frustrated, and fighting a losing battle with a slowly expanding inferiority complex. Every day he tried to drown the inner turmoil of loss with alcohol, but it would just fuel the fire. Even alcohol couldn’t take away the sting of his now-absolute downfall.

And then one fateful night, the incident occurred that shook the very foundation of his being. Years later he recalled, ‘I remember once at three in the morning, I was pretty high on spirits and, suddenly it was too much for me to stomach, because it was my first taste of failure. One after another, seven films had flopped in a row. It was raining, pitch dark and up there alone on my terrace, I lost control. I yelled out, “Parvardigar hum gareebon ka itna sakht imtihaan na le ki hum tere vajood ko inkar dein.”’ [Don’t test my patience to such an extent that I question your very existence.]

Hearing his screams his wife Dimple and the house staff came running to the terrace. He was crying terribly. He couldn’t forget this night for the rest of his life. One can imagine the drama and pathos of that night. It must have been a deadly cocktail: alcohol, depression and the crushing humiliation of failure. Perhaps he also felt betrayed by his fans who had written him off. Perhaps the pain he felt stirred other anguished memories from his past. Perhaps the fact that he had been pushed this far truly frightened him. One wonders if Rajesh was struck by the bizarre realization that he had recreated scenes just like this in his movies so many times before. He was a protagonist then. He was the protagonist now. Reel to real. It all played out like notes of the same melody, as though he was destined to live his roles. The actor who showed luminous dreams to millions of fans was faced with life’s brutal realities that night. But he was struggling to comprehend and accept this reality. Perhaps he did not wish to learn how.

Later he admitted that in his lean phase he had even gone to the extent of thinking of suicide under depression. He said, ‘Once, I even attempted walking into the sea, but at the last minute pulled myself out of the depression. “I will not die a failure,” I promised myself. I don’t want people to say Rajesh Khanna was a coward.’

Excerpted with permission from Rajesh Khanna: The Untold Story of India's First Superstar, Yasser Usman, Penguin Books India.