Sunday, March 17, 2013


Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to join the Indian Air Force. At least on the evidence of our Bollywood viewing, characters in the Air Force may as well wear a sign saying "I'm doomed." We've seen Air Force pilots:
  • Get killed when their defective planes crash (Flight Lt. Ajay Rathod (Madhavan) in Rang de Basanti (Paint it Saffron, 2006))
  • Get imprisoned for decades by a certain hostile neighboring country (Squadron Leader Veer Pratap Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) in Veer-Zaara (2004))
  • Get shot down during a border conflict with a certain hostile neighboring country (Squadron Leader Shekhar Malhotra (Shashi Kapoor) in Silsila (Connections, 1981))
So when we discover early in Aradhana (Adoration, 1969; directed by Shakti Samanta and written by Sachin Bhowmick) that Arun (Rajesh Khanna) is an Air Force pilot, it can only be a matter of time before the inevitable happens. First, though, he woos Vandana (Sharmila Tagore) by serenading her from a jeep as she travels through the mountains on a train in "Mere Sapno Ki Rani" ("Queen of my dreams"):

(You may recognize this song as one of the many to which Shah Rukh Khan pays homage in "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" from 2009's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A Match Made in Heaven).)

Vandana is swept off her feet by Arun—who could resist?—and a few days later as they are visiting a temple they exchange wedding garlands in the presence of a priest. Caught in a sudden thunderstorm, Arun and Vandana take shelter, and of course Vandana has to remove her wet sari and warm herself by the fire. Although she modestly covers herself with a blanket, the temptation proves too much for both of them, as the thunderstorm raging outside echoes their own overwhelming passions ("Roop Tera Mastana" ("Your beauty is intoxicating")):

Afterwards, Arun assures the guilt-stricken Vandana that they will be married in the eyes of their families as well as in the eyes of God in just a few days; first, though, he just has to make a short flight to bring his uncle and aunt to meet Vandana...

I don't think it will be much of a spoiler if I reveal that, sure enough, Arun's plane crashes and he is fatally injured. On his deathbed, he exacts a promise from the pregnant Vandana that their son will grow up to be an Air Force pilot. That seems reasonable: what parents wouldn't want their son to take up the same profession that killed his dad?

Of course, Arun's death is only the first of a series of tragedies that strike Vandana; mild spoilers follow. Her father dies, leaving her impoverished, and Arun's family rejects her and her story about their secret marriage. She agrees to anonymously give her son Suraj up for adoption, but return to adopt him herself the next day. But her plan goes horribly wrong when another couple, the wealthy but childless Saxenas (Anita Dutt and Abhi Bhattacharya), adopts him first. Vandana then takes a job as a servant in the Saxena household so that she can be close to Suraj as he grows up, even though she can never let him know that she is really his mother.

As if this giant helping of Maternal Self-Sacrifice isn't enough, her employers' sleazy relative Shyam (Manmohan) tries to rape Vandana. The assault is only averted when Suraj comes to his beloved "nanny"'s rescue with a sharp pair of scissors. To protect him, Vandana takes the blame, even though she realizes that it means prison and a lengthy—perhaps permanent—separation from her son.

In the intervening years Suraj (Rajesh Khanna in a double role) becomes a young man, joins the Air Force (gulp) and, like his dad, woos a local beauty with a flirtatious song, "Baghon Mein Bahar Hai" ("Has Spring come to my garden?")

Will Suraj find happiness with the lovely Renu (Farida Jalal)? Will Vandana and Suraj ever be reunited? Will he ever learn that Vandana is his mother? And most importantly, can Suraj somehow avoid the Curse of the Air Force?

Even if you can guess the answers to most of these questions, Aradhana is very much worth seeing for Sharmila Tagore's whole-hearted performance as the devoted Vandana (I'm already seeing Vidya Balan playing the lead in The Sharmila Tagore Story), for the obvious chemistry between Sharmila and the far too handsome Rajesh Khanna (this was the role that made him a superstar), and for the classic S.D. Burman/Anand Bakshi songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, and S.D. Burman himself.

For additional thoughts about Aradhana, please see the reviews by Filmi Geek and Philip Lutgendorf.

Thanks to RajShri Films, you can watch Aradhana with English captions on YouTube for free.

Update 21 March 2013: Memsaab has written two wonderful appreciations of Rajesh Khanna, My ten favorite Rajesh Khanna songs and The complicated superstar.


  1. Lovely review - laughed aloud at the 3 dot points on airforce pilots in various films. Aradhna is indeed famous for its songs. I have been watching an of old Rajesh Khanna films of late - some good ones - Jhoru ka Ghulam, Mere Jeevan Sathi (no of melodious kishore kumar songs, Itefaq, Aan Milo Sajna (alas the DVD stopped half way through - this was supposed to be an original Shemaroo DVD).

    1. Filmbuff, many thanks for your Rajesh Khanna recommendations. We watched his Hrishikesh Mukerjee-directed films Anand (1971) and Bawarchi (1972) several years ago, and I'm looking forward to exploring more of his movies.

    2. I have "Bawarchi" in my "to watch" pile. Rajesh Khanna was good in Itefaq, Namak Haram, Kati Patang, Prem Kahani, Kudrat too tho I would have been happy if Hema Malini got Vinod Khanna in the movie rather than Rajesh! VK is just too handsome

    3. Filmbuff, not that I'm any judge, but I'm not sure I'd want to decide a "handsome-off" between Rajesh and Vinod, two of the best-looking leading men ever. For some reason, though, Vinod rarely gets the girl -- a major flaw in Chandni, for example.

    4. True both are best looking heroes - Rajesh had a kind of romantic charm but Vinod wins hands down in the handsome looks stakes (from a female pov!). In Kudrat Hema looked great paired with Vinod and one can't help feeling that Rajesh got the main lead role coz of his popularity tho as i said he did act well. Yes sadly for us swooning gals vinod rarely gets the girl - agree about the flaw in chandini but Yash Chopra is a "play it safe" director although his Itefaq was not in that category - that is perhaps due to his brother BR Chopra being the producer and the story being written by some body else- this is merely speculation on my part