Eerily, Sushant Singh Rajput died in 5 out of the 12 films he completed before his sudden shocking and untimely death on June 14, 2020. In his big-screen debut film Kai Po Che(2013), Sushant’s character dies, as does the protagonists of Raabta, Kedarnath, Sonchiriya, and Dil Bechara. In Chhichhore Sushant’s character didn’t die but got close to it.
This is quite a lot of dying in a brief career of 7 years. The only screen hero who died more than Sushant on screen was Rajesh Khanna. Rajesh Khanna repeatedly played characters who went bravely and defiantly to their death.His death in Aradhana made him a superstar.In another of his celebrated roles in Safar , he sang in his playback Kishore Kumar’s voice, Zindagi se bahot pyar humnein kiya maut se be bhi mohabbat nibhayenge hum/Rote-rote zamanein mein aaye magar hanste hanste zamanein se jayenge hum…
Rajesh Khanna’s love affair with death began in his career-making film Aradhana when the airforce pilot Arun perishes leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend to face stigma and ostracization. Khanna romanced the most beautiful women on screen but went to bed with death.
After Aradhana he made a career out of playing doomed characters.A year later in Asit Sen’s underrated masterpiece Safar played an artiste dying of cancer.This was the second film that proved how comfortable the actor was doing death scenes.He virtually relished the moments when his character gasped his last. During the same year as Safar he again smiled his way through cancer into death in Anand, immortalizing his career by taking on death headlongAfter the trilogy of great tragic roles Rajesh Khanna did the spectacularly successful guest appeareance in Ramesh Sippy’s Andaz where he dies singing Zindagi ek safar hai suhana yahan kal kya ho kissne jaana.
In 1973 Hrishikesh Mukherjee made Namak Haraam the Indian version of Becket. Neither Amitabh Bachchan nor Rajesh Khanna was told who would get the ‘privilege’ of dying at the end. On the day when the death scene was to be shot both the actors arrived on the set to see Khanna’s garlanded photograph.The biggest superstar of Indian cinema died yet again.
In the 1974 marital drama Aap Ki Kasam an entire mythology of mortality is woven around the song Zindai ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo maqaam who phir nahin aate. The penitent husband travels from place to place seeking atonement for his mistaken belief that his wife was unfaithful. He dies at his daughter’s wedding venue.The entire episode echoed Ashok Kumar’s journey and death in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Aashirwad.
With the help of directors from the Bimal Roy school of filmmaking like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Asit Sen, Shakti Samanta and Raj Khosla, Rakesh Khanna repeatedly created the persona of the tragically domed hero.A post-modernist Devdas.
In 1974’s blockbuster Roti Khanna is gunned down at the Indo-Pak border as tries to cross with his girlfriend Mumtaz. By this point in his career Khanna was unnecessarily imposing mortality on his characters.In several of his post-superstardom films like Prem Nagar, Amar Deep, Avatar, and Dard we can see Rajesh Khanna struggling to bring his characters to a tragic closure merely out of habit.
Interestingly most of Rajesh Khanna’s death-stricken character were played earlier in his phase of superstardom. Sushant too would have probably outgrown the tragic phase in his career if life itself hadn’t decided to draw a curtain on him.