The on-screen pairing of Smita Patil and Rajesh Khanna


Sharada Iyer

Smita Patil made her debut in Hindi cinema with Shyam Benegal’s Charandas Chor in 1975 and continued to act till 1986. Though she made a name for herself as a powerful actress of the ‘parallel cinema’ movement which was gaining momentum at that time, she also made a foray into commercial cinema in a big way and gave her best to whatever roles that came across her way.

She struck a fine balance between both types of cinemas and a good example of this is the year 1982. That was the year when she had great off-beat films like Arth, Umbartha and Bazaar on the one hand and on the other she left an impact in a string of commercial releases like Namak Halal, Shakti, Dil-e-Nadaan, Dard Ka Rishta, Badle ki Aag and Bheegi Palkein.

17th October, 2023 was Smita Patil’s 68th birth anniversary. She died tragically in 1986 within a fortnight of giving birth to her son Prateik Babbar at the young age of 31 years due to post-delivery complications. It is thirty- seven years since she passed away, but her body of work continues to remain enigmatic, impactful, and irreplaceable even today.

This blog-post examines her on-screen pairing with superstar Rajesh Khanna. Both Smita Patil and Rajesh Khanna were highly talented actors but they did not get many opportunities to create any special on-screen magic. By the time they got to act together, Khanna was not the superstar he once was and barring a few of his films, most of his projects in the eighties had quite pathetic plots. Smita was just entering commercial cinema and some of her characters opposite Rajesh Khanna were quite trite and unexciting.

Together they acted in seven films- Amrit, Aakhir Kyon?, Dil-E-Nadaan, Anokha Rishta, Nazrana, Angaaray and Awam. Of these, it was only Amrit with its unique storyline which gave the two actors scope to display their talent in a brilliant way. While Aakhir Kyon? had Rajesh Khanna in a supporting role, Dil-E-Nadaan had Smita Patil in a supporting role. Angaaray had Khanna in a special appearance and Anokha Rishta had Smita in a special appearance. Nazrana and Awam were released after Smita Patil had passed away.

Dil-E-Nadaan (1982)

Director: C V Sridhar

It was in 1982 that the two actors came together for the first time in the film Dil-E-Nadaan, which was a remake of the Tamil hit film ‘Ilamai Oonjal Adugiradu’. The cast also included Shatrughan Sinha and Jaya Prada. The film had Smita Patil only in a side role as the main heroine was Jaya Prada but she managed to leave an impact in her small role.

Shatrughan Sinha and Rajesh Khanna grow up as brothers as Rajesh Khanna as a child had been adopted by Shatrughan’s parents. Rajesh Khanna and Jaya Prada love each other. Smita Patil who plays Rajesh Khanna’s assistant also nurtures romantic feelings for him. Every time Smita sees these two together, she is not very happy. To forget him, she decides to go to her village for a while but it so happens that Rajesh Khanna and Jaya Prada also decide to travel to her village and meet her. However, due to bad weather, Jaya Prada is unable to come and Rajesh Khanna is forced to stay with Smita Patil in her house overnight.

He starts drinking and taking advantage of his drunken state, Smita dresses up like a bride and seduces him to sleep with her. The next morning when Rajesh Khanna realizes his mistake, he writes a note where he apologizes to Smita requesting her to keep this as a secret between them and never to reveal to Jaya Prada. He leaves the note near Smita’s pillow while she is sleeping and leaves the house. But before Smita Patil wakes up, Jaya Prada lands up there and reads the note and comes to know the truth, but neither Smita nor Rajesh Khanna come to know that she knows the truth.

After this Jaya Prada’s behaviour towards Rajesh Khanna changes and now Shatrughan Sinha starts having feelings for her. Meanwhile Smita Patil quits her job and is now pregnant with Khanna’s child. The narrative then proceeds with the usual ingredients of misunderstanding, confusion, sacrifice, and lots of drama before coming to the climax. In the end Smita Patil dies and hands over the child to Rajesh Khanna and Jaya Prada. Shatrughan Sinha also sacrifices his feelings to make his friend happy.

Here is a lovely duet ‘Tera ishq hai meri zindagi…’ from the film in which Smita Patil imagines herself with Rajesh Khanna:

Aakhir Kyon? (1985)

Director: J Om Prakash

Three years later both the actors got together for their second outing in a typical family melodrama Aakhir Kyon? Here Smita Patil plays wife to Rakesh Roshan and Tina Munim forms the third angle of the love triangle. Rajesh Khanna has a supporting role as a friend and well-wisher of Smita Patil whom she meets at a low and vulnerable point in her life. He has feelings for her but she has set new goals for herself and does not wish to be distracted.

Rakesh Roshan and Tina Munim are lovers but he ditches her when it comes to settling down and ends up marrying her cousin, Smita Patil. Everything is rosy in their life till Smita gets pregnant and Tina decides to come and stay with her cousin to help her. Now trouble brews in paradise as their old feelings are rekindled and Rakesh Roshan and Tina start sleeping with each other without Smita’s knowledge.

However, Smita ends up finding the truth and feels disgusted when Rakesh Roshan tells her that she must accept his relationship with Tina. After their baby girl is born, Smita leaves the house,  hands over the child to the nanny and decides to start life afresh on a new note and have no connections with her past. At this juncture she meets Rajesh Khanna who becomes a friend and helps her. She starts writing and soon makes a name for herself as an author. Her books become best-sellers.

Meanwhile Rakesh Roshan and Tina’s life has become a bed of thorns as they keep having fights and get on each other’s nerves. To make matters worse they start having financial problems. Time passes and now Smita’s daughter’s marriage is fixed. She comes to know of this and offers to write a book for Rakesh Roshan’s company to help him financially and enable him to bear the wedding expenses. He invites her for their daughter’s wedding but she refuses saying she never wants her daughter to know what she had endured and does not want to come between her daughter and Tina, as the latter is the mother figure in her daughter’s life.

In the end Rajesh Khanna who has been waiting all these years in the background allowing Smita to fulfill her dream of standing on her own feet and achieve something confesses his feelings and they get together. Though the film is basically Smita’s journey of how she discovers herself after being betrayed by her husband the scenes whenever Rajesh Khanna and Smita Patil come together are worth watching and they look nice together.

Here’s a lovely song from the film- ‘Ek andhera laakh sitaare…’ :

Anokha Rishta (1986)

Director: I V Sasi

This film was a remake of the Malayalam film Kanamarayathu which in turn was loosely based on the novel Daddy-Long-Legs written by Jean Webster. The film introduced a new actress Sabeeha who was the daughter of the popular yesteryear actress of the B&W era, Ameeta. The film deals with the unique relationship between a young orphan girl and her mentor who is more than two decades older to her.

Sabeeha is an orphan who is under the care of a missionary school run by nuns. Tanuja in the role of Mother Superior is the head of the school. Sabeeha’s education is sponsored by a benevolent businessman whom the child has never met but refers to him as her ‘uncle’ and communicates everything to him about her studies and her life through letters. Unknown to her this old man passes away and now her sponsorship is taken up by his son played by Rajesh Khanna.

Rajesh Khanna is in love with Smita Patil who is a doctor but their families do not allow their marriage as they belong to different religions. So, they decide to remain just friends! Sabeeha meets Rajesh Khanna at her friend’s birthday party and without knowing that he is her ‘uncle’ who sponsors her education, she falls in love with him. In fact, so great is her infatuation and obsession for him that she is blind to the age gap between them. She is unable to talk about her feelings freely with anyone- neither the nuns in her school nor her ‘Uncle’. She has no friend in whom she can confide.

She becomes insanely jealous of Rajesh and Smita’s friendship and is always imagining them together in a sexual manner. To break their friendship, she spreads lies that Rajesh Khanna has got her pregnant. Things start spiralling out of control and when Rajesh Khanna questions her for her atrocious lies, she decides to become a nun. Now Smita urges Rajesh Khanna to be more sensitive and save the girl from taking this drastic step. He intervenes in the end and makes her see reason and gives her hand to a young man who Khanna knows loves Sabeeha dearly.

The story was off-beat but direction was just okay. Newcomer Sabeeha could not really act her part well. Smita Patil had very little to contribute and one wonders why she took up this role!  Rajesh Khanna in a role befitting his age was good.

Angaaray (1986)

Director: Rajesh Sethi

A typical rape-revenge saga of the eighties, the film’s script focused on how the regressive values and thoughts of people in a society are as much to blame as the rapist for the heart-wrenching plight of any rape victim and how such a heinous act goes unpunished because of our hollow justice system. The film deals with Smita Patil’s journey from a hard-working girl who stays with her mother and younger brother Alankar, to becoming a rape victim when she falls prey to her boss Shakti Kapoor’s lusty intentions, and finally her revenge to quench her anger and get justice.

Smita Patil is cast opposite Raj Babbar who plays an inspector and saves her from a rape attempt by Shakti Kapoor once. He has feelings for her but before he musters up courage to confess about his love to her, his America-returned friend, played by Rajesh Khanna, falls in love with her, proposes to her and they get engaged. He leaves soon after their engagement and their marriage is to be held during his next trip to India. However, fate has other plans and Smita unfortunately gets raped by Shakti Kapoor. Now Rajesh Khanna’s parents without his knowledge break off the wedding when they come to know of the rape.

At this juncture Raj Babbar manages to confess his love for her and she is very happy. But here again his mother objects to him marrying a rape victim and frustrated at these useless societal beliefs she decides to become a courtesan and feels safe here. Soon after, when she learns that Shakti Kapoor has managed to kill her younger brother also, she decides to take justice in her hands. She gets hold of a rifle from her watchman friend Ifthekar and kills Shakti Kapoor. The court mercifully understands the whole scenario and decides to let her go free and now Raj Babbar’s mother also accepts her.

Smita Patil comes up with a brilliant performance. She is no whimpering victim here but takes on whatever fate throws at her with a raised chin and an innate strength and dignity. On the other hand, Rajesh Khanna sadly seemed a misfit for the role and for the first time overacts in the short screen time that he gets. There was no scope to showcase any on-screen chemistry, but they do have a song picturized on them.

Amrit (1986)

Director: Mohan Kumar

Fresh from the success of his film Avatar, director Mohan Kumar teams up with Rajesh Khanna again to come up with an emotional family drama Amrit. This time the heroine is Smita Patil. Both the actors get to play old characters in the film and come up with superlative performances.  Their gestures, nuances and mannerisms as old people were so natural and believable. This film is a must-watch just for their superb acting.

Rajesh Khanna is a widower who stays with his son and daughter-in-law but is ill-treated by them. His only friend in the house is his little grandson and the two spend a lot of time with each other. Similarly, Smita Patil is a widow staying with her son and daughter-in-law and ill-treated by them. Her friend in the house is her little granddaughter.

Both Khanna and Smita take their respective grandchild to the park in the evening and manage to strike a conversation with each other as they sit watching their grandkids play together. Soon they become friends and get to know about each other’s families and as the narrative progresses their true condition in their respective houses is also exposed to one another. Their common pain and suffering bring them closer. After they are thrown out of their respective houses by their families, they start living together and take care of each other. Years later, their grandchildren land at their doorstep. Now the are grown up and have got married to each other.

The film ends on a positive note that what seems to be the end of a road at one point in life, could be the beginning of a new journey and a brighter tomorrow. Here is a fabulous song from the film:

Nazrana (1987)

Director: Ravi Tandon

This film had one of the most convoluted plots ever to have been written and it felt sad to see three super actors- Rajesh Khanna, Smita Patil and Sridevi- being part of this most forgettable venture. Unfortunately, Rajesh Khanna’s character is not likeable and he comes across as a man of lust and no morals. Smita Patil plays quite a regressive character but her acting is top class. Sridevi is just okay in the small role she has.

In the film Smita Patil plays Rajesh Khanna’s wife, Sridevi is their old maid’s daughter and a third actress Preeti Sapru plays a model who works for Khanna. She has set her eyes on Rajesh Khanna and his wealth and will go to any lengths to become his wife. Though Rajesh and Smita are happily married, she has a problem due to which she can never conceive. Sridevi lives in the slum with her mother but she is forced to rub mud over her face and body to make her look ugly and to keep the goons away from her (How do writers even come up with such ideas!).

However, one rainy night, when Smita Patil is away visiting her parents, and Rajesh Khanna is alone in the house, he spots Sridevi dancing in the rain and slowly when her mud comes off from the rainwater revealing her real fair skin, he realizes she is quite a beauty. He decides to replace Preeti Sapru and make Sridevi the new model for his company. He makes her wear Smita Patil’s sari and takes her to a party where the producer starts to misbehave with her. An enraged Khanna walks out of the party holding Sridevi’s hand and when they reach home, somehow events happen which lead them to sleep with each other.

The next morning when Smita lands up unannounced, she realizes what had happened in her absence. Her anger knows no bounds and though she forbids Sridevi from ever entering the house, she continues to stay with Khanna under the same roof. Not only does Rajesh Khanna not show any remorse for his unforgivable act, he even slaps Smita when she confronts him. The film takes a huge turn downhill from here and after a lot of bosh and nonsense which even includes Preeti Sapru being killed, the film reaches the climax when Sridevi dies handing over her child to Smita Patil and Rajesh Khanna.

Despite the horrendous plot, people flocked to see the film in cinema halls just for the sake of Smita Patil as this was the first film to be released after her demise.

Awam (1987)

Director: B R Chopra

Keeping in tune with his usual body of work, director B R Chopra’s Awam had a socially relevant subject which was both engaging as well as entertaining. The plot involved a government espionage ring operating with certain high-profile people and the army has been called in to investigate the matter. Rajesh Khanna plays an army officer who works with his chief Nana Patekar to uncover the face of the gang members.

The director managed to rope in a superb line-up of talented artistes who lent the necessary gravitas to the subject and kept the narrative interesting. These included- Ashok Kumar, Ifthekar, Om Shivpuri, Shafi Inamdar, Satish Shah, Saeed Jafferey, Dr Shriram Lagoo, Nana Patekar, Raj Babbar, Deepak Parashar, Vijay Arora, Chandrashekhar, and Sushma Seth. Actress Poonam Dhillon plays Rajesh Khanna’s love interest while Smita Patil is Raj Babbar’s heroine.

Though Rajesh Khanna and Smita Patil were not cast opposite each other, they had some scenes together as both Raj Babbar and Smita help him in his investigation. When he starts to come closer to the truth, Rajesh Khanna is subject to court-martial and asked to step down by planting false evidence. To uncover the identity of the criminals and to nab them red-handed, Khanna pretends to join with the wrong-doers and after a lot of thrilling action scenes, everything falls in place. Smita Patil has a couple of powerful scenes.  

(Trivia: It was actress Rekha who dubbed for Smita Patil in the entire film and though Rekha has done a decent job, the voice difference cannot be ignored)






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