Rajesh Khanna would always be remembered for bringing in innumerable smiles and happiness to so many people.
IF YOU were born after 1985, perhaps you could not even think of what a superstar is like. Unlike today, when we get 'superstars' every Friday, we once had an actor, who gave 15 super hit films in a row, a record which still stands.
Rajesh Khanna or Kaka, as people call him (though his real name was Jatin Arora) is said to be the first superstar of Hindi cinema. As Indian cinema celebrates its 100 years, this superstar is no more between us. He passed away on July 18, 2012, at the age of 69, after keeping ill for long.
Khanna was a discovery of Filmfare Talent Hunt show. Interestingly, his first released film, 'Akhri Khat' (1966, Director Chetan Anand) was India's official entry to the 40th Academy Awards (Oscars) of 1967. It could not make it though through the final round. His debut film 'Raaz' got released an year later.
Khanna had to wait for five films and three years to see success. Then came 1969 and he got his first blockbuster 'Aradhana'. The dream run which began with Aradhana continued with Do Raaste (1969), Kati Patang (1971), Anand (1971), Amar Prem (1972), Daag (1973), Aap Ki Kasam (1974) and Roti (1974).
From 1969 to 1974, the Rajesh Khanna phenomenon swept Bollywood off its feet and the hysteria he generated was unlike anything seen before and after. When Rajesh Khanna rose to fame in the late sixties, media penetration into the glamour world was negligible. There was no PR machinery going full throttle with press coverage and advertisements. The fan clubs, too, were restricted to sporadic offline gatherings. Incredible as it was, Kaka's spectacular ascent resulted by word of mouth.
The hysteria he generated swept across age and gender. His movies ran to packed houses and his following swelled each passing day. Be it his distinct sartorial sense, his dialogue delivery or his mannerisms, Rajesh Khanna was a pioneer in many sense. It wouldn't be wrong to call him the complete superstar.
As super hits followed, women all over the country swooned over him. Khanna's gentle looks, disarming smile and that famous tilt of the head did wonders for his female following. With Kishore Kumar's dreamy voice for playback, Khanna was perfect prince charming for millions of women. With the sensuous 'Roop Tera Mastana', enthralling 'Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai' and the timeless 'O Mere Dil Ke Chayn' Rajesh Khanna, became — and remains — the King of Romance.
If stories are to be believed, it is said that Khanna’s white car looked pink in the evening with lipstick marks. Marrying Khanna's photo and being called 'Mrs Khanna' was a fashion with girls in those days. Such was Khanna's appeal that an entire generation looked up to the hero who redefined romance with a careless tilt of his head and his arresting expression.
Even as women were swooning over him, male fans were busy emulating his clothes or hairstyle. The 'Gorkha topi' of Aradhana and 'Guru' kurta were made popular by him, and were widely imitated by his male followers.
Just like his movies, Khanna's personal life too made headlines. The matinee idol broke innumerable hearts when he married a much younger Dimple Kapadia at the peak of his career in 1973. However, the frenzy surrounding him did not abate as he continued to make his female fans go weak in the knees.
As Khanna became a box office hit guarantee, his guest appearance in Andaaz (1971) generated more interest than the hero of the film Shammi Kapoor. This also marked the end of Shammi Kapoor era and the peak of the Rajesh Khanna era.
BBC made a documentary on him, Bombay Superstar, and a textbook prescribed by the Bombay University has an essay, 'The Charisma of Rajesh Khanna!' He was the highest paid actor between 1970–79 and shared this honor again with Amitabh bachchan during 1980–87.
By the end of 70s, some of Rajesh Khanna's films did’nt work but he failed to see the writing on the wall as the success of films like Daag, Namak Haram (both 1973), Aap ki Kasam, Prem Nagar and Roti (all 1974) still kept him afloat. Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan had stormed the Industry with his intense 'angry young man' performance in Zanjeer (1973). Every hero fell to the Amitabh onslaught, Rajesh Khanna was no exception. He tried to stay in the news, however, with a sensational marriage to the 'Bobby girl', Dimple Kapadia who was almost 15 years younger to him!
With Amitabh's success, movies with a strong focus on action began to be made. Rajesh Khanna's romantic mannerisms now appeared lackluster and out of tune with times. Even regular films from Shakti Samanta and Hrishikesh Mukherjee didn't work. In fact, both Samanta and Hrishida worked on a new genre with the new superstar, Amitabh Bachchan! To top it all, Khanna's marriage to Dimple was on the rocks and she subsequently left him to resume her acting career with much success.
Though Amardeep (1979) and Thodisi Bewafai (1980) brought Rajesh Khanna some reprieve, it was the triple success of Agar Tum Na Hote (1983), Avtaar (1983) and Souten (1983) that proved to be the last strong flickers in a dying flame. Avtaar particularly saw a good performance from him in the role of a self-respecting garage mechanic.
Khanna was awarded a Filmfare Special Award in 1991 for having starred in 101 films as the solo lead hero and just 21 two hero films in a short span of 25 years. By 2011, he held record for actor with most number of authors backed lead hero films — 106 solo hero films and only 22 two hero films. Khanna has done 163 feature films and 17 short films (his total film tally comes to 180 in 40 years as told by Khanna during the IIFA awards).
Khanna was last seen in a widely criticised movie 'Wafaa’, having Laila Khan (a Pakistani actress murdered recently) apposite him. The film earned him a bad name and he was not seen again.
Incidentally, he came back on camera with his first ever commercial for a fan. He was seen saying ‘Mere fans koi nahi chheen sakta’ with the same old smile. Though the face was not the same, illness broke him and he looked very tired. His famous tilt of the head also features in the ad but earned him more sympathy than glory.
He was a legendry actor, and alike many other lines made famous by his stylish dialogue deliveries, this last lines spoken by him remains true for ever.
Kaka, 'Apke fans koi nahi chheen sakta’. I am also one of them.
Rest in peace Kaka. We will miss you forever!
---Sharad Vatss is a movie buff who works for Pepsi.