‘Main apne bete ho hero nahin bana sakaa’

To see the 92-year-old father attending court for his son’s bail plea was more heartbreaking than any scene from Rajkumar Kohli’s cinema.

Rajkumar Kohli had a tremendous ear for hit music and box office collections.

His collaboration with composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal started early. The songs in Kohli’s Nagin (1976) resonate with music lovers to this day especially Lataji‘s Tere sang pyar main nahin todna, the song which introduced Reena Roy’s snake-woman persona on screen and catapulted her to instant stardom.

“No one knew at that time that the film and its songs would become so popular. I went on to do several other films with Kohli saab, including the other superhit Jaani Dushman (1979). But nothing in his career, or mine could equal the craze of Nagin,” says Reena Roy.

Nagin spawned an entire new genre of commercial Hindi cinema: The revenge of the snake-woman.

It is said that the genre was inspired by Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black. But I seriously doubt Kholi would grab at a source of inspiration as remote as Truffaut.

Whatever the opinion of Kohli’s cinema, the one thing that it cannot be accused of is not being original.

Most Kohli aficionados think his directorial career and his hugely productive association with Laxmikant-Pyarelal started with Nagin. This is not true.

Kohli’s first film was Lutera in 1965 in which Nishi, who was to later become his wife, played the leading lady.

Lutera featured a slew of scintillating songs sung by Lataji: Sanam raah bhoole yahan aate aate, Neend nigahon se kho jaati hai, Kissiko pataa na chale baat ka, Raat se kaho ruke zara… each a delectable piece of life.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the music of Kohli’s cinema went much further than the cinema itself; although if we are talking purely box office then Kohli’s success ratio was no sneezing matter.

After Nagin which was the biggest grosser of 1976, Kohli directed Jaani Dushman with almost the same cast.

This too was a blockbuster, followed by Muqabla, Badle Ki Aag, all hits.

Raj Tilak (1984) in which Kamal Haasan worked with Kohli for the first and last time has a very special place in the actor’s heart.

Recalled Kamal, “Sarika and I met on the sets of a Hindi film, Raj Kumar Kohli’s Raj Tilak. We both used to be on the sets promptly every morning at 7.30 a.m. You know we had a clear 3-4 hours every day together, because shooting never began before 11 am. We had all the time in the world to talk and become close friends. So I guess I have a lot to be thankful to Mr Raj Kumar Kohli for.”

Kohli’s dark days began with his relentless efforts to launch his son Armaan as a leading man in Virodhi (1993), followed by Aulad Ke Dushman (1993), Qahar (1997) and Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani (2002).

Every attempt to launch his son failed. Armaan, who was later jailed for alleged drug-related charges, remained Raj Kumar Kohli’s one abiding regret in life.

Main apne bete ho hero nahin bana sakaa,” Raj Kumar Kohli told a friend.

To see the 92-year-old father attending court for his son’s bail plea was more heartbreaking than any scene from Kohli’s cinema.

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