May 26, 2018, 8:02 am IST
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A Tale of Two Phenomenons

A Tale of Two Phenomenons

Sushil Kumar, Jan 27, 2018

Yes, this is a tale of two Phenomenons. One emerged as a messiah for the masses, who swore their allegiance to this man, who they were sure could make a real difference to the nation’s polity. The other generated a huge euphoria that led people to believe that cupid must be in the air, because they could not help but falling in love.

Their sudden appearance and luminescence in their respective arenas was a ‘Raaz’. Initially people thought that their instant success was an ‘Ittefaq’. Both traversed a terrain which was akin to ‘Do Raaste’, one in acting, and the other in activism; but it was clear that both had boarded ‘The Train’ to super-success. Jealous competitors claimed that their stardom was a ‘Sachaa Jhutha’ affair, and hoped it would enter the ‘Khamoshi’ phase soon; but they proved their detractors wrong and enjoyed a great ‘Safar’. The way the two meteors shot to fame was as if they were pre-destined due to their ‘Aradhana’ of previous lifetimes.

We thought their ‘Amar Prem’ with their respective constituents would last long. But before they knew what hit them, their super-celeb status was dangling like a ‘Kati Patang’. The ‘Anand’ that they had generated among their legions of supporters evaporated, and many started perceiving a ‘Dushman’ in them -- and somehow, the duo couldn’t erase the ‘Daag’ of ill-will that was subsequently created.  

You would have guessed—we are talking of Rajesh Khanna (RK) and Arvind Kejriwal (AK). Here were two colorful personalities of contemporary history, who blazed an unbelievable trail, due to which each one is termed as a “Phenomenon”. Both belonged to different eras, both were active in different fields, but both to be a phenomenon, essentially required a mass connect, which they created successfully; because to be a phenomenon either in cinema or politics demands an organically-grown mass following of die-hard fans.

Rajesh Khanna, made his appearance on the silver screen in 1966, but the RK Phenomenon was sealed & delivered in 1969 with the blockbuster, ‘Aradhana’. It’s reported that he had 15 consecutive solo super-hits between 1969 and 1972, which still is an unbroken record in Indian film history. Though his 24 karat-gold tenure lasted for just about half a decade, the RK Phenomenon had no parallels—in fact it is claimed that the word “superstar” in the filmy lexicon, was first coined to describe this astounding phenomenon.

Arvind Kejriwal’s  ‘Aradhana’-moment came in 2011 ,when he teamed up with Anna Hazare and fired the public imagination like no one ever had done before in the past two decades, in matters regarding probity in public life. The AK Phenomenon had taken birth! And in a matter of 5 years, he had created a sensation, not just in Delhi, but across the country as the media’s and the honest Indian’s chosen darling.

While RK was the staple diet of every film journalist & entertainment magazine during his heydays, AK was more fortunate, since his stardom coincided with the networked world of social media, digital & television journalism. In fact, his critics still allege that the AK Phenomenon was media-manufactured-- which later imploded in the ballot box, as the public had concluded that the prevailing set of politicians seemed utterly irredeemable.

RK challenged the established mega stars with his boy-next-door looks, normally adorning a simple kurta-trouser combo; just about 1.75 m tall with no great physique or personality to boast of. And that was the age when established celluloid giants ruled the box office-- Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Raaj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Rishi Kapoor…It can be said that they were better-looking actors with better physiques and better histrionic ability. But RK had the Wow factor. Bollywood is replete with the tales of many Khans: from Yusuf Khan to Shahrukh Khan. But the asli Romance Khan was Rajesh Khan(na)! 

Coincidentally, AK burst into the political mindscape wearing an unimpressive half-sleeve shirt over a pair of loosely-fit trousers and sandals, plus the Gandhi topi which the new-gen congress fraternity had abandoned as unfashionable. He was just 1.65 m in height and looked puny in front of the dominant political stalwarts of that era—L.K.Advani, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sonia Gandhi, Mamta Banerji, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Mulayam Yadav, Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit…

The AK Phenomenon, sans any political lineage or dynastic crutch, rode roughshod over all these political superstars. In fact even Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, commended AAP’s strategy and success in the Delhi elections. When asked whether AAP represents the common man, he said, “I think in a sense they are. AAP’s arrival in India politics must be a major achievement and it has done better than I thought it might, and I am happy about it”. Like Rajesh Khanna, somehow, Arvind Kejriwal too had the Wow Factor.  

When Rajesh Khanna passed away, there were a flurry of nostalgic tributes. Amitabh Bachchan wrote in his blog, ‘… The frenzy and the following he garnered was a sight to behold. In the 1970 era, his fans came from Spain to meet him - a most unheard of occurrence then. In his trade mark Rajesh Khanna kurta pyjama, he almost always looked the boy next door, one that girls would want to take home to Mother…’

Some of the tweet-tributes are worth recalling:

Shah Rukh Khan: To live with intention & walk to the edge. Play with abandon, choose with no regret. Smile & made us do the same. Sir, u defined our era. RIP

Mahesh Bhatt: When we lose a loved one, something within us dies. Our generation loved Rajesh Khanna. Today a bit of us dies with this enigmatic star.

Shekhar Kapur: If u weren't there, and you did not see it, you will never again experience an event that hit the nation like a hurricane as #RIPRajeshKhanna did.

Shobha De: India's only real Superstar is no more. Rajesh Khanna was and remains 'The Phenomenon'. 

Shahid Kapoor: RIP to the 1st king of romance, Rajesh Khanna

Ken Ghosh: RIP Rajesh Khanna- my first memory of a film theatre was weeping while watching ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’.

Both RK and AK hit the country like a tornado, which left in its wake destruction of the competition due to the onslaught of fan hysteria of astronomical proportions. But the meteoric rise couldn’t sustain itself.

Though it is early days to write off Arvind Kejriwal, it can be safely presumed that the “Phenomenon Phase” is over –just as it got over for Rajesh Khanna in circa 1974-75. The approval of the President of India of the recommendation of the Election Commission disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs for holding “Office of Profit”, may turn out to be the proverbial nail in the phenomenon’s coffin.

But it must be conceded that only a phenomenon could have the magnetic power to attract some of the most accomplished and committed minds to a newborn political party. Does one still remember the marquee names who volunteered for Aam Admi Party?  Kiran Bedi, Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Capt. GR Gopinath, Mallika Sarabhai, Admiral L.Ramdas(Retd.), Meera Sanyal(RBS), Ashutosh(IBN 7), V.Balakrishnan(Infosys), Adarsh Shastri(Apple)…and many more.

So what happened to this ‘Bandhan’ of idealist go-getters? How come the ‘Baharon key Sapney’ that they aspired got shattered? What happened to millions of Indians who imagined that they were on the threshold of creating their very own ‘Apna Desh’?

How is it that the press who lionized Arvind Kejriwal, started commenting, over the years, that he was behaving like any other political ‘Shehazada’; or becoming an ‘Ajnabi within his own party; or degenerating into a potential ‘Namak Haram’; and worse a ‘Bundalbaz’? It was just three years ago, in Feb 2015, that AAP won a stunning 67 out of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Earlier in Dec 2013, he had routed three-time Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit in his maiden election stint.

How did all this magic appear and disappear in a flash is still an enigma. Probably a few lines from one of the immortal melodies from ‘Amar Prem’, filmed on Rajesh Khanna, may be a pointer:

‘…Humne jo dekha tha, sunaa tha

Kya bataye wo kya tha

Sapna salona tha

Khatam to hona tha, hua

Yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua

kyon hua, jab hua, tab hua

Oh chhodo, yeh na socho…yeh kya hua…’

The Rajesh Khanna Phenomenon related to a make-believe world of mesmerized fans and ambitious box office stakeholders led by a celluloid Pied Piper. But the Arvind Kejriwal Phenomenon was the harbinger of a unique experiment, and promised a revolution of sorts, that never materialized.  Quickly, hordes of well-wishers realizing that the Promised Land was a mirage, started deserting the new 'Avatar' of their hero.

But there are still many hopefuls whose 'Anurodh' is that AK should reform the negative 'Thodi si Bewafai ' streak within himself; and rebuild the 'Maryada' of a movement which had the potential to recast the political landscape of India.  


Are you sleeping, are you sleeping 

Arvindbhai , Arvindbhai 

Death knell is ringing, Death knell is ringing

Ding, dang dong, Ding, dang, dong 

Are you snoozing, are you snoozing 

Arvindbhai, Arvindbhai 

AAP is imploding, AAP is imploding

Ding, dang, dong, Ding, dang, dong! 


Sushil Kumar, Management Specialist, Former Dean, Amrita School of Business.  

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