On the legendary actor’s death anniversary, we share with you an excerpt from his biography, Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna by Gautam Chintamani
With his popularity credited largely to luck and good timing for too long in his career, Daag’s triumph proved that Khanna’s super success wasn’t just coincidence. It is difficult to imagine any other actor from that period besides Khanna who could convincingly portray Sunil. He made the complexity of the character look effortless and never let the film look implausible. The success that Yash Chopra would enjoy following Daag with films like Deewar (1975), Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Trishul (1979) ultimately pushed Daag into the background, from where it would largely pop up as the film that ushered in a new phase in his life.
The film also went on to create an urban legend that remains one of Hindi film industry’s most romanticized myths. According to a cross section of people from within the film industry, especially Khanna’s close confidants, Rajesh Khanna and Yash Chopra had an unofficial agreement that Daag would be a coproduction between the two. Even though Yash Chopra, like his brother Baldev Raj Chopra, was officially Yash Raj Chopra, the presence of ‘Raj’ in Yash Raj Films banner is believed by many to stand for ‘Rajesh’. If stories are to be believed, the circumstances in which Yash Chopra started his production house were far from rosy. It had been a decade since he started directing, and all his films had been for B.R. Chopra’s production house, and it was Khanna, along with producer Gulshan Rai, 78 DARK STAR who helped Yash in more ways than one when he decided to go independent.
Khanna’s presence in the film helped Yash put the project together with less difficulty than it otherwise might have entailed, because when Daag was beginning to be filmed, Khanna was at the peak of his popularity. The falling out between Khanna and Yash Chopra following Daag that resulted in the actor not featuring in any of the director’s ventures over the next decade and a half and Khanna teaming up with B.R. Chopra adds to the mystery surrounding the whole issue. But the perceived veracity of this tale depends largely on which side one chooses to view the whole affair from, as the bigger the myth, the more sides a story tends to have in the world of Hindi cinema.
Irrespective, the success of Daag should have ideally inspired a creative partnership between Rajesh Khanna and Yash Chopra, who had seen a successful collaboration with Ittefaq too. But that wasn’t meant to be. And while Chopra went on to helm Deewar which, in a way, sealed Khanna’s fate, Khanna not only had to contend with seeing Yash collaborate with the very man who would take away his crown, but was also at the receiving end of the wrath of Salim–Javed, the writing duo he practically discovered.