Sparkling agelessly among the highpoints of Hindi cinema in the sixties, 'Aradhana', a landmark movie of its time, notched a cinematic crest for director Shakti Samanta and its lead stars Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore. The phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna owes much to the success of 'Aradhana', as it cemented his image as a romantic hero.
This was the first time that Khanna and Tagore came together on screen and the result was sheer magic. Their chemistry could give the likes of Raj Kapoor and Nargis, or Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha a run for their money. Khanna and Tagore were one of the most enduring romantic pairs of their time. After the success of 'Aradhana', Khanna never had reason to look back as he notched success upon success at the box office… till the appearance of Amitabh Bachchan. But that's another story. Suffice to say that 'Aradhana' played a crucial role in building Brand Rajesh Khanna. The lead pair of the movie went on to do many more memorable and not so memorable films together like 'Amar Prem', 'Safar', 'Daag', 'Aavishkar' etc, besides working successfully with other actors as well. Khanna specially enjoyed a lot of screen success with Mumtaz, Tanuja and Hema Malini, as well. But his teaming up with La Tagore, was another feat altogether.
Till 'Aradhana' came along, Khanna was still struggling to make his mark in Hindi films. Samanta's film was the one which helped in giving him an iconic status as the romantic hero. It may be difficult for people of today's generation to understand the frenzied fan following which Khanna commanded in his heydays. It was a different time and a different era. In this film, Khanna got a chance to play a double role, of father and son, though not at the same time, ensuring that he never had to take the risk of graying his hair unlike Tagore, who at the height of her career, essayed a role which spanned youth and old age. She did that not just in 'Aradhana' but also in 'Amar Prem', which also starred Khanna.
One of the reasons behind the Khanna's phenomenal success was not just the great directors that he worked with, but also the fantastic music which characterised all his movies. The late Sachin Dev Burman and his son Rahul Dev Burman composed the music of most of his movies and Kishore Kumar sang most of them. The songs of 'Aradhana', 'Amar Prem' and 'Kati Patang' remain evergreen melodies.
Coming back to 'Aradhana', it had all the makings of a sob story of with the female protagonist Vandana (Sharmila Tagore) left to fend for herself when her lover Arun (Rajesh Khanna), an airforce pilot dies in a crash and she is left literally holding the baby. A pregnant Vandana decides to defy societal norms and give birth to her baby. She intends to give the baby up for adoption and then go ahead and adopt him subsequently, so as to escape censure from society. But everything goes haywire as her baby son, Suraj is adopted by a rich family, the Saxenas. On learning the truth, Mr Saxena (Abhi Bhattacharya) convinces her that her son would be better off with them and coaxes her to join the family as a governess so that she can be close to her son. But fate plays yet another cruel trick. One of the relatives of the family, Shyam (Manmohan) tries to molest her. In his bid to save his governess, the young Suraj accidently kills Shyam. In her bid to save her son, Vandana takes the blame upon herself and goes off to serve a long term in jail. Years later, when she is released, she is unable to locate the family and her son. Then she accepts the offer of the friendly jailor (Madan Puri) and goes to live with him and help him bring up his daughter, Renu (Farida Jalal). In a strange play of coincidences, Renu is in love with an airforce pilot herself, who turns out to be Suraj (Rajesh Khanna, again). Fate brings her back face to face with her son.
The film begins with Vandana being sentenced by the court and then unwinds as a flashback as the story of Vandana and Arun unfolds, their first meeting, their love affair, their decision to secretly marry in a Shiva temple, Arun's subsequent death, Vandana being turned away by Arun's family and, finally with the birth of Suraj and her life with the Saxenas till that fateful day. The first half of the film is predominantly romantic with Arun wooing and winning over the heart of Vandana. Some of the film's best songs are in this section like 'Mere Sapnon Ki Rani', 'Kora Kagaz Tha Man Mera', 'Gunguna Rahein Hain Bhawrein' and the sensuous 'Roop Tera Mastana.' Equally noteworthy is the Lata Mangeshkar solo 'Chanda Hai Tu' and SD Burman's 'Kahe Ko Roye'. Burman dada was in full form in this film and these numbers still have that evocative magic for Hindi film music lovers.
Like most of Shakti Samanta's films, 'Aradhana' too had a strong story line and a very well written out screenplay, thanks to Sachin Bhowmick. No wonder that the film became a golden jubilee hit (completed 50 weeks) in most urban centres. The two star performers, Khanna and Tagore, were in great form in this emotional opus. Khanna was his usual charming self as Arun and then doubling up as Suraj. Tagore too essayed the graduation from a young girl to an old woman effortlessly. It was a calculated risk that she took and it paid off for her handsomely. The chemistry between both stars was most evident in the 'Roop Tera Mastana' number, which was picturised quite sensuously by the director, rare for those times. But this was a movie which was high on drama, emotion, superb music, good acting and terrific direction. All the masala for a mainstream Hindi movie was there in the movie and in just the right doses. Shakti Samanta was in his prime and managed to weld all the talent that was available to him perfectly and tell a moving tale about love and sacrifice. A classic of its times, the magic still endures. Khanna may be a has been these days, Tagore may have semi retired from films, Shakti Samata is no more and neither is SD Burman or Kishore Kumar, but this movie will always remain as a testimony of their talent. Their 'aradhana' to the craft of cinema paid off superbly in this 'Aradhana'.