I grew up on healthy doses of Rajesh Khanna the handsome, with easily the most amazing smile, a dreamy voice and a unique dialogue delivery style – India’s first and if you ask me only Superstar!!! Born Jatin Khanna in 1942, he would have turned 70 this year. Instead the whole country is in mourning as he passes away quietly in his home this morning.
Rajesh Khanna came into Bollywood after winning the All India Talent Contest organised by United Producers and Filmfare from more than ten thousand contestants in 1965. The young and charming boy with oodles of confidence was actually very camera shy and had to do many takes to get his first scene right in his debut film Akhri Khat. But the movie in general and his performance in particular went on to be critically acclaimed and was India’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 40th Oscar Academy Awards in 1967. He went on to win many a hearts with his performances in Baharon Ke Sapney, Aurat, Doli, Aradhana and Ittefaq. Waheeda Rehman later suggested Asit Sen to take Khanna for the lead role in Khamoshi. And with that started the superhero’s journey to stardom.
His “instant national fame” reached dizzying heights with Aradhana and he was referred to as the first superstar of India. In that film, Rajesh Khanna was cast in a double role (father and son) opposite the lovely Sharmila Tagore and the sprightly Farida Jalal. He complemented both actresses beautifully making the audience believe that no one else could be a better match to the two ladies! The film also saw the resurgence of Kishore Kumar, who eventually became the official playback voice of Rajesh Khanna. “Kaka” as he was fondly referred to gave 15 consecutive solo super-hits between 1969 to 1971, which is still an unbroken record in Indian film history.
To me his movies meant music! Many of the musical scores for Khanna’s films were composed by S.D.Burman, R.D.Burman and Lakshmikant Pyarelal. The Kishore Kumar-Rajesh Khanna combination worked miracles and it was almost impossible to see them as separate identities. They became a singer-actor duo who churned superhit songs one after the other. Yeh kya hua, Aap ki Kasam, Hey kitney sapne, Diye Jalte hain, humein aur jeeney ki, Zindagi ka safar… and many many more. Every song filmed on him became an instant hit and has continued to kindle the romance in every heart till today! Every girl has wanted some man to sing Jivan se bhari teri ankhein and mean it the way he did!!!
At the peak of his career he was mobbed during public appearances. Women came out in droves to see him. Such was his appeal that women stood in queues outside studios for just a fleeting glimpse of the demi-God. He needed police protection when he was in public. No one had ever witnessed such adoration for a film star before him. Fans lined the road, cheering and chanting his name and kissed his car, which would be covered with lipstick marks. Female fans sent him letters written in their blood, had his name tattooed on their arms!!! There used to be a line of cars of his producers and hysterical fans outside his bungalow every day. Truckloads of flowers arrived at his home “Ashirvaad” on his birthday. No one commanded as much stardom as did he. Never in India has there been a man that was so loved by his fans. An interesting snippet was during the filming of Amar Prem. In the film was a scene that needed to be filmed at Howrah Bridge with a boat carrying Khanna with Sharmila moving under the bridge. The authorities ruled this scene out as they realized that if the public found out that the hero of the film would be there, it may create problems on the bridge itself, and that it might collapse due to the number of people trying to get a glimpse of their favourite actor!!!!! Such was his charm, so huge his persona and charisma….
And this charm and charisma was not limited by age. Though a hero of my era he was well loved by people of my mother’s era and I was stunned to find my nieces and nephews watching his movies or playing his songs in their car as they drove around. Watching his movies used to be a family outing!!! I remember watching Haathi Mere Saathi (one of his biggest hits and also the biggest grosser ever till then) with my parents and brother. I remember seeing that movie 7 times!!!! I remembered every dialogue of his and cried every time I saw the movie when his pet elephant died. His inimitable style and charm won the hearts of women across generations….
Rajesh Khanna is no more but his gorgeous style of the slanted head a smile and a wink will live in my heart forever. “Anand mara nahin, Anand martey nahin” as Amitabh said about Rajesh Khanna in Anand upon the death of his character in the movie…. As the whole nation mourned over the death of India’s Superstar I did not shed any tears Kaka… only because you hate them!!!! My star, my hero…. RIP