The cult status he enjoyed for five years left him with a lifetime of hope. He believed he would regain stardom and did his best with some memorable performances through this fight.
Rajesh Khanna’s eulogy can only be one of superlatives. To think of a super duper star dying before 70 of cancer could make you cringe for words. Yet, remember his life pattern, much like his film characters, was on the rebound and his obit will read like an elegy.
Fondly called Kaka, the actor is hailed as India’s first superstar after 15 consecutive solo superhits between 1969 and 1972, a record that remains unbroken.
Born as Jatin Arora in Amritsar on December 29, 1942, he was adopted and raised by foster parents. It was his uncle who changed his name from an uncommon to a common name when he decided to join films.
Khanna lived in Thakurdwar near Girgaon and attended St Sebastiana’s Goan High School in Girgaon, along with his friend Ravi Kapoor, who later took the stage name Jeetendra.
The former MP from New Delhi constituency is survived by estranged wife Dimple Kapadia and daughters Twinkle and Rinke, sons-in-law Akshay Kumar and Samir Saran and grandchildren.
His rise to a Bollywood superstar reads like a racy script. As a struggling actor in Mumbai, Rajesh Khanna won the All India Talent Contest organised in association with Filmfare, beating over 10,000 contestants in 1965.
Later, at the peak of his career, Khanna, would be mobbed during public appearances as fans kissed his car, which would be covered with lipstick marks. They lined the road, cheering and chanting his name. Female fans sent him letters written in blood.
Rajesh began his career with Aakhri Khat in 1966. He became a superstar like no other with his work in hits like Aradhana, Do Raaste, Safar and Anand. Though the actor got his first break in Chetan Anand’s Akhri Khat, and followed it up with a few films including Asit Sen’s Khamoshi, it wasn’t until his double role in Aradhana in 1969 opposte Sharmila Tagore that a star was born.
Through the early 1970s, films like Kati Patang, Safar, Ittefaq, Aan Milo Sajna and Haathi Mere Saathi consolidated his superstardom. During this phase, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand remains one of the actor’s most memorable performances. Khanna, music composer RD Burman and singer Kishore Kumar were a team most sought after in the early ’70s.
Between Aradhana in 1969 and Prem Kahani in 1975, Rajesh enjoyed god-like status. Rajesh Khanna’s romantic persona in songs like Mere sapno ki raani, O mere dil ke chain and Roop tera mastana made many young women’s heart slump.
Kaka’s predecessors Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar broke hearts in their time no doubt, but the hysteria connected with Khanna was unsurpassed.
Aradhana also saw the resurgence of Kishore Kumar, who went on to become the official playback voice of Khanna; the actor-singer duo delivered a number of hits subsequently.
After Aradhana, Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) became the biggest hit and also the biggest grosser ever till then. Khanna appeared in 163 feature films of which 106 had him as the solo lead hero and 22 were two-hero projects.
He won three Filmfare Best Actor awards and was nominated for it fourteen times. He was awarded the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement award in 2005.
Despite his heartthrob status, Khanna played a variety of roles — the terminally ill Anand, a chef in Bawarchi, a lonely husband in Amar Prem, and a psychiatric patient in Khamoshi. Khanna mingled with the best talents of his time, be it directors, actresses and composers. Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi and Asha Parekh included. Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz became his leading ladies in many films including Amar Prem and Aap Ki Kasam.
Directors like Shakti Samanta, Yash Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Ramesh Sippy worked with Khanna. His films’ music made them more memorable, with the trio of composer RD Burman, Kishore and he working together in more than 30 films.
The commercial success of his films declined during 1976–78. After 1978, Khanna starred in critically acclaimed films such as Amado, Phir Wohi Raat, Dard, Dhanwan, Avtaar and Agar Tum Na Hote.
Though Rajesh Khanna’s popularity declined with the rise of the angry young man — Amitabh Bachchan — the star continued to deliver hits well into the 1980s with films like Souten, Dharam Kanta and Maqsad.
He eventually moved on to do older and character roles and enjoyed box-office success with Avatar and Swarg.
Though Khanna appeared in a B-grade film recently, it was a commercial for Havells Fans directed by R Balki that brought him back to the limelight, earlier this year. That final wave from his Mumbai residence, like the address to his fans, will haunt us for long!