What is about death of actors that makes people go irrationally sentimental? People who have never even seen or spoken to Rajesh Khanna in person feel or claim to feel a sense of loss. There was a near stampede today as his fans thronged the crematorium. “He’ll be missed” says one of the media reports. Missed? The man had stopped acting long back. So the ‘missing’ is not something that arises from the news of his death.
His fans knew him only through the characters he portrayed. So are they mourning the death of the characters that he played? That doesn’t make sense. The characters had a finite shelf life anyway- till that particular movie ended. And it was possible that one or two of the characters played by him would have died too. His fans did not take that so personally.
Is it charisma? As I wondered in an earlier post, why should actors have a fan following at all? Unlike singers or cricketers whose real persona display their respective skills in real life, what is seen by the public in movies are virtual images of actors. It would be logical for the virtual character to be admired, but why the actor in flesh and blood? He won’t even be able to sing a single line of the popular song that his “character” had sung in the movie.
People do identify, vicariously, with the film characters and find an outlet for their fantasies through them. If they cannot – or do not want to- distinguish between the actor and the character he plays, his death could cause a deep sense of loss, as if a part of one’s self had been snatched away. The ‘fantasy’ world gets shattered when the actor- the creator of the characters- dies.
Do you have an explanation?
Sunil Gavaskar in his column last week ( online link not available) paid tributes to Rajesh Khanna and commentator, Suresh Saraiya and said that such heroes ought to be remembered.
About Suresh Saraiya, he had fond recollections. It was Suresh who brought Gavaskar a photograph of his new-born son, Rohan, when he was on a long tour of West Indies. He also recalled the hard work he put in as a commentator and his passion for the game. It is clear that Gavaskar knew him personally and closely. Therefore, his sense of loss on the passing away of Suresh Saraiya is understandable.
About Rajesh Khanna, Gavaskar writes that his movies were very popular with the Indian team. In particular, Ashok Mankad was a great fan and would imitate the actor very well. Mankad would entertain the team, acting out scenes from many a Rajesh Khanna film.
In the entire piece, Gavaskar provides no evidence that he knew Rajesh Khanna personally. He knew only the on-screen persona but seemed to make no distinction between the actor and the characters he played.