50 Yrs of ‘Aradhana’: Behind-the-Scenes of the Rajesh-Sharmila Hit

It began in early 1961. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha, adjudged the best feature film of 1960 at the National Awards (Known as State Awards then), by default, was also India’s nomination at the Berlin Film Festival where Mukherjee would be there in June, representing the film. Sachin Bhowmick, who wrote Anuradha, was also planning his first trip to the continent, and part of the finances were arranged by Rahul Dev Burman. Shammi Kapoor, and Hemen Ganguly - Rotarian, film producer, and Dilip Kumar’s style guru, among others.

In anticipation of further collaboration, Bhowmick had floated another story idea to Mukherjee. The story was based on a Hollywood flick, To Each His Own (1946), starring Olivia de Havilland (incidentally, at 103, she is probably the longest living actress at present), in an Oscar winning performance. Mukherjee, whose Anuradha was a woman-oriented script, was fine with another.

Nutan, the actress next suggested by Mukherjee had to be ruled out as she was in the family way. Next in the line was Nargis; she had retired and refused to come back. Mala Sinha too was a name which popped up during discussions. But things did not move and the story remained with Bhowmick.

Aradhana was inspired by the Hollywood film To Each His Own.

Aradhana’s Original Title

Very soon, the search for the lead was on. Mukherjee suggested Suchitra Sen, someone he felt was capable of carrying a strong role. By that time, however, Ms Sen’s Hindi market had plummeted. While Bombai ka Babu (1960) had a decent run, she had received the role on the rebound as Madhubala had to leave after a few shoots due to ill health. Sarhad , another Dev Anand – Suchitra Sen-starrer which released the same year, had failed. Ms Sen would not do a Hindi film for the next 5 years, and Mamta (1966) which brought her back was a Calcutta production.

Nutan, the actress next suggested by Mukherjee had to be ruled out as she was in the family way. Next in the line was Nargis; she had retired and refused to come back. Mala Sinha too was a name which popped up during discussions. But things did not move and the story remained with Bhowmick.

Cut to 1967.

As the decade rolled out, Sachin Bhowmick, a struggler in the late 1950s through to the early 60s, was an established writer. He had outgrown his fascination for Bengali and Urdu literature and learnt to work the Bollywood way by inventing and changing stories to fall in line with what the Bombay film industry wanted. But there were times he thought of doing something meaningful. It was during the making of Shakti Samanta’s An Evening in Paris that the story he had parked in 1961 again engaged his mind. And as he narrated it to Samanta, he found an instant taker, as it reminded Samanta of his mother.

Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna on location.

The story was given a name. Subah Pyar Ki, borrowed from the refrain of Raat ke Humsafar from An Evening in Paris. Soon it made it to the back cover of the booklets of An Evening in Paris to be sold outside the theatres. Samanta had planned another film, The Great Gambler, to be shot in the US. This too made it to the back cover.

The Casting

Finding the leading man for Subah Pyar Ki did not take much time, given the budgetary constraints. Samanta, a member of the United Producers group was instrumental in selecting Jatin aka Rajesh Khanna as one of the eight winners of the United Producers - Filmfare contest in 1965. Samanta later liked what he saw of Rajesh in Baharon ke Sapne (1967), Khanna’s second signed (first was Raaz) and fourth released film (Again, Raaz, and not Aakhri Khat as believed was the first. Aakhri Khat was the first to be censored and the third to be released). Rajesh was fresh, willing to work hard, and carried no ostensibly visible attitude then. He was to be paid only Rs 35,000 as per his contract with UP. Rajesh came from a theatre background and had the tendency to overact, but Hindi cinema loved overacting. There was only one guideline for preparing for the role. Go back to the films of Dev Anand and carry some of his mannerisms.

Burman had worked with Samanta in the late 1950s (Insan Jag Utha) and the early 1960s (Naughty Boy), and wanted Rs 5000 more than Rs 75,000, his rate in Insan Jag Utha. Samanta promised him a hundred thousand (one lakh).

A photo card of Aradhana.

Among the lot considered for the leading lady was Aparna Sen who had come to Bombay for Kewal Kashyap’s Viswas (1969) and was stationed at The Taj. However, Samanta went back to the girl he knew best. Rinku (Sharmila). The deal was signed. For Bhowmick, it was an ambitious conception. For Samanta, an experiment to carry out before jumping on the film he thought would made money - The Great Gambler.

The experiment had to wait, however.

The Muhurat

In early 1968, due to rising costs of film production, a group named ‘Action Committee’ had been formed by small film producers. The group put forth a set of rules to be followed by producers, distributors, theatre owners and other allied bodies related to film production, including the CMDA (Cine Music Directors Association). When producers and theatre owners were reluctant to follow the pronouncement, another group was formed by the small producers who also roped in technicians, actors and many other people related to the profession. They were named ‘Film Sena’.

Rajesh Khanna with filmmaker Shakti Samanta.

Film Sena and the Action Committee pressed upon the IMPPA (Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association) and forced the stoppage of film production and delivery of prints to cinema halls in Bombay. Planned to be implemented on 31 March, it was put into force from 5 April. The movement was finally called off on 24 April after multiple meetings involving the FFI, CMDA, IMPPA, and others, with the Film Sena and the Action Committee. By that time, An Evening in Paris, which was doing rather well, suffered losses. This led to the delay in launching the muhurat of Subah Pyar Ki, and it was ultimately held at Famous Studios on 1 June, 1968.

Shankar Jaikishan vs SD Burman

Samanta’s first choice of composers were Shankar and Jaikishan, but limitations in budget forced him to request Sachin Dev Burman for his services. Burman had worked with Samanta in the late 1950s (Insan Jag Utha) and the early 1960s (Naughty Boy), and wanted Rs 5000 more than Rs 75,000, his rate in Insan Jag Utha. Samanta promised him a hundred thousand (one lakh). An ecstatic Burman promised exotic stuff. And kept his word. Literally. The first song recorded was Roop Tera Mastana..., on 17 June.

SD Burman, Shakti Samanta, Rajesh Khanna and RD Burman. 

Burman’s contribution was more than just the music. It was he who objected to the name Subah Pyar Ki. This led Samanta to reconsider. And to his rescue came his publicity designer.

Getting the Title Aradhana

Chandramohan Gupta, better known as C Mohan, was a publicity designer who had worked for many leading filmmakers of the 1950s and the 1960s. The artist in him probably wanted to marry art and commerce, and he had announced a film starring small time actors Shiv Kumar and Zeb Rehman. Music composition was entrusted to Sonik-Omi.

Among the filmmakers Mohan catered to was Shakti Samanta. Mohan’s posters, especially with the Eiffel tower in the background was one of the USPs of the publicity material of An Evening in Paris, though by some mistake his name had been left out from the credits. Samanta met Mohan at Natraj Studios, to start the publicity cycle, and Mohan too emphasised on a simple, non-Urdu name.

Samanta knew that Mohan had announced a film. He also knew that there hardly had been any progress on the production front. Samanta liked the name which was registered, and requested Mohan to part with the same. After some pestering, Mohan sold it.

A poster of Aradhana.

Aradhana was born in a new avatar, with a new director, new actors, and a star composer. Mohan added his artistic brilliance to the title, stretching the letters ‘d’ and ‘h’ and joining them to create the form of a lotus.

When Aradhana Finally Released

After a few reels of shoot, the story was modified to include the double role angle. Gulshan Nanda was drafted into the team. While they remained good friends, Bhowmick and Samanta did not collaborate again.

Scheduled for an all India release on 24 October, 1969, Aradhana had staggered and delayed releases due to scarcity of budget and prints. The first release happened on 7 November, 1969.

How the film turned the industry upside down is another story for another day

Sharmila Tagore gets busy with her Alistair MacLean. 

Just for the record, would like to mention that the viewers cared little for basic facts as long they were entertained. They were busy listening to Mere Sapno ki Rani... when Sharmila Tagore, in pre-independent India, was reading a novel published in 1966 (When Eight Bells Toll by Alistair MacLean). Time travel, anybody?

(Anirudha Bhattacharjee is an SAP consultant working out of Bangalore. He is the author of the National Award-winning R D Burman the man the music, the MAMI winner Gaata Rahe Mera Dil and the critically acclaimed S D Burman: the prince-musician.)

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