Heart-throb of an era

Print edition : August 10, 2012

Fans holds a loft a picture of Rajesh Khanna during his funeral in Mumbai on July 19.-RAJANISH KAKADE/AP

Rajesh Khanna swept a generation of filmgoers off their feet with his mannerisms and mesmerising charm.

The film world has an uncanny way of throwing up larger-than-life characters. These individuals, whose astounding reel-life performances are deemed to match their real-life abilities, mostly prefer to go with the popular perception. The story of Rajesh Khannas roller-coaster ride, brief in terms of the years spent at the top, is a prime example of an actors tryst with unprecedented stardom and his reluctance to accept the reality that followed.

The passing away of Rajesh Khanna on July 18 brings the curtain down on an astonishing success story. He had a string of 15 successive hit films between 1969 and 1972 and won three Filmfare awards. Winner of a talent contest in 1965, Rajesh Khanna literally drove into the industry in a Chevrolet Impala. There were no days of struggle for this youngster, who was raised by his affluent foster parents. An impressive debut in 1966 with Akhri Khat ensured that he was noticed despite a heroine-oriented script.

The following year saw Rajesh Khanna in Raaz, a movie made in colour and acknowledged by the man himself as his big break. Before the year ended, he had caught the eye of the discerning with his intense performance in the social drama Baharon Ke Sapne opposite Asha Parekh.

Rajesh Khanna. He had an unprecedented 15 successive hit films between 1969 and 1972.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTHY

It was the year 1969 that truly established Rajesh Khanna at the top. If films such as Khamoshi and the song-less Ittefaq reinforced his place in the industry as a serious performer, the roles in Doli, Do Raaste and, most significantly, Aradhana made him a star.

During the making of Aradhana and Kati Patang, shot concurrently by director Shakti Samanta, Rajesh Khanna was apprehensive of his success because the scripts were heroine-oriented. As it turned out, Sharmila Tagore (in Aradhana) and Asha Parekh (in Kati Patang) got their due, but Rajesh Khanna emerged the winner.

Hit run in early seventies

Rajesh Khanna almost monopolised the cinema halls throughout 1970 with movies such as Kati Patang, Safar, The Train, Sachcha Jootha and Aan Milo Sajna. His domination continued unchallenged in 1971 with Mehboob Ki Mehendi, Maryada, Dushman, Andaz, Choti Bahu, Haathi Mere Saathi and the path-breaking classic, Anand.

Rajesh Khanna gave a memorable performance in Anand. The climax of the story, narrated in flashback, is considered among the most touching sequences seen in Hindi cinema. Anand, played by Rajesh Khanna, losing the battle against cancer left the audience grieving as though they had lost one of their own dear ones. His lines in the film were laced with great recall value.

"Kai Patang", with Asha Parekh-

By this time, Rajesh Khanna had swept the nations film fans off their feet. The songs of his films dominated the charts. He was a household name, with several parents naming their sons after him. Those born after Independence formed the countrys youth that was slowly showing signs of expressing itself with a certain audacity. Looking back, it does not come as a surprise that Rajesh Khannas unprecedented female fan following continues to be the most-talked-about fact of his life and times.

Sharmila Tagore remembers how girls waited for hours together outside the studios to catch a glimpse of Rajesh Khanna. Some sent him love letters written in blood and some even married his photographs. Bindu, another actor of yesteryear, was eyewitness to a group of college girls kissing his car, parked outside Mumbais Mehboob Studio, leaving tell-tale marks of different hues. Javed Akhtar recalls how girls removed the mud from his cars tyres and used it as sindoor. Such was the frenzy, hysteria, or call it madness, of Rajesh Khanna fans.

Music carried the day

During the prime of his illustrious career, Rajesh Khanna gained immensely from the quality of music and the meaningful lyrics of his films. Movies such as Akhri Khat, Raaz, Baharon Ke Sapne, Khamoshi, Doli, Do Raaste, Safar, The Train, Sachcha Jootha, Aan Milo Sajna, Mehboob Ki Mehendi, Maryada, Dushman, Andaz, Anand, Haathi Mere Saathi, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Bawarchi, Apna Desh, Daag, Namak Haraam, Prem Nagar, Ajnabi, Roti, Mehbooba and his last hit film, Avtaar, had songs with recall value.

"Anand", with Amithab Bachchan-

The success of Aradhana, largely attributed to the music by Sachin Dev Burman, also resurrected the careers of Kishore Kumar and Sachindas composer-son Rahul Dev Burman, who stepped in when his father fell ill and recorded the song Roop tera mastana in his own inimitable style.

The Rajesh-Kishore-RD trio went on to give several big hits like Ye shaam mastani ( Kati Patang), O mere dil kechain ( Mere Jeevan Saathi), Chingari koi bhadke ( Amar Prem), Main shayar badnaam ( Namak Haraam), Karvaten badlte rahe ( Aap Ki Kasam), Ek ajnabi haseena se ( Ajnabi), Mere naina sawan bhaadon ( Mehbooba), to name a few. Composers such as Salil Chaudhary, Kalyanji Anandji and Laxmikant Pyarelal were among those who contributed to the popularity of Rajesh Khannas films.

"Amar Prem", with Sharmila Tagore-

A romantic hero

Starring in a variety of story lines, Rajesh Khanna paired with all the leading female actors, mainly Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz and Asha Parekh, and provided hit films. Since romance was the flavour of films that were made in these times, Rajesh Khanna appeared a perfect lover. He oozed a certain charm. In small doses, he seemed to have combined the intensity of Dilip Kumar, the lovable ways of Dev Anand and the vulnerability of Raj Kapoor. The continued success of Rajesh Khanna saw the coinage of the term superstar to place him a notch above his illustrious predecessors.

In 1972, Shakti Samanta offered Rajesh Khanna Amar Prem, a tale that had Sharmila Tagore playing the central character. The movie became a huge hit and enhanced Rajesh Khannas popularity, particularly in Bengal where the men copied his style every time they wore their spotless white kurta and dhoti. The bandh-gala kurta he wore in Anand continued to be in fashion. He even experimented with wearing a belt over a short kurta and carried it off in Roti.

"Aradhana", with Sharmila Tagore-

If the Hindi film industry remembers Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor and some others for their andaaz (style), Rajesh Khanna was famous for his adaa (mannerism). Be it the occasional tilt of the head, the paused blink of the eyes, the customary dance steps with economy of movement or the close-up of his disarming smile all went well with his irresistible charm and romantic image.

His popularity soared with the success of Mere Jeevan Saathi, Bawarchi, Apna Desh and Joru Ka Gulam, but the biggest hit of 1972 remained Amar Prem. In this film, Rajesh Khanna delivered the famous line Pushpa, I hate tears, recalled by his fans and mimicry artists even after four decades.

The following year, when Rajesh Khanna gave another example of his impulsive actions and announced his decision to marry a teenaged Dimple Kapadia, Daag and Namak Haraam kept him at the top.

Rajesh Khanna flanked by his wife, Dimple Kapadia, and son in-law, Akshay Kumar, waves to well-wishers gathered outside his bungalow in Mumbai on June 21.-AFP

In 1974, Aap Ki Kasam, Prem Nagar, Ajnabi and Roti hinted at a decline in his career graph. This was also the phase when Rajesh Khanna faced the first major threat to his popularity and stardom. Amitabh Bacchan, the notable supporting actor in Anand and Namak Haraam, had truly arrived following the success of the 1973-release, Zanjeer. The script by Salim-Javed was to alter the definition of hero forever. The changing genre of films was hard to miss. Romance and Rajesh made way for action and Amitabh.

Action was not Rajesh Khannas forte. His attempts at action with films such as Chalta Purzaa and Maha Chor bombed at the box office. Success began eluding him faster than anyone would have thought. He once said: I thought the days of stardom were here forever. I was wrong. Amitabh, perhaps, learnt from the mistakes I made during my prime. I had none to learn from when the bouquets stopped coming. Later, rather reluctantly, Rajesh Khanna agreed to act in Avtaar and received overwhelming acclaim for his part as the head of the family who makes a comeback in life after being deserted by his grown-up sons. The box-office success of this 1983 tear-jerker brought the smile back on the face of Rajesh Khanna. But he could never come to terms with the fact that his days of superstardom were long over.

He almost stopped acting by the end of the 1980s. In 1992, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from New Delhi on the Congress ticket. After the completion of his term in 1996, he returned to the life of a man past his prime and longed for the recognition he once enjoyed. His liking for alcohol took a toll on his health.

Looking frail, he appeared in a commercial earlier this year for a fan manufacturer. It evoked nostalgia, but his fans felt sad to see their hero looking helpless. His health had deteriorated by then as he was fighting a losing battle against cancer.

As in reel life, when he succumbed to cancer in Safar and Anand and millions of his fans shed tears seeing those films, thousands of in Mumbai, braving the rain.

Rajesh Khannas legacy will continue. The impact of his films, his mannerisms and mesmerising charm on a generation of film goers is more than what words can describe. To have lived in the era suffused by the aura of Rajesh Khanna is an experience that will be cherished.

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