Superstar who turned romance, and even death, into high art

A rose, a candle, a couplet. Rajesh Khanna, Hindi cinema’s first real superstar who passed away in Mumbai following a prolonged illness on Wednesday, used these props freely and easily to capture for the first time in Indian cinema a romance that was both adult and modern.

He was made less by the characters he played or the lines penned by dialogue writers than his idiosyncratic mannerisms — the drawls, the pauses, the sudden sparkle in his eyes, the fresh and easy smile, and the playful tilt of the head. Even when stricken with cancer, or ‘lymphosarcoma of the intestine — as Anand, a character he played in the film of the same name, was — that tilt and smile barely faltered.

To understand what Rajesh Khanna was or how he altered the persona of the film hero, it is important to stress what he was not. He was not a loveable tramp like Raj Kapoor, nor a tragedy king like Dilip Kumar. He did not trade on his masculinity like Dharmendra and rarely, if ever, played the hero with shades of grey as Dev Anand liked to do. He was the stuff of soft romance, his characters often earnest and virtuous, his performances enhanced by a face that was a fortune and a style of acting that used eyes, lips, hands, and vocal chords to great effect.

Women, who were driven to distraction by his carefree and non-threatening charm, swooned over him in droves. As Sharmila Tagore, his co-star in many films, observed, the hysteria around his stardom reached feverish pitches with women marrying his photographs and pulling at his clothes. In the mid-Seventies, three women slit their wrists during the screening of Aap ki Kasam in old Delhi.

He got his break in cinema in Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat in 1966 as a result of winning a talent competition.

This was followed by Ravindra Dave’s Raaz, opposite Babita, which he regarded as his first major break. But it was only a couple of years later, when he made bold to play almost a second fiddle to Sharmila Tagore in Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana, that a star was born. Despite being a heroine-oriented film, the mix of S.D. Burman’s mesmerising music and Kishore Kumar’s voice, brought Rajesh Khanna into his own. The song “Mere sapno ki rani” became a youth anthem of the ‘60s and is still remembered for its memorable train sequence. Ironically it was entirely canned with Rajesh Khanna shot in a jeep in Darjeeling and Sharmila Tagore, pictured in a train, filmed in Bombay’s Nataraj studio.

The two would go on to forge a successful partnership in other films such as Safar and Amar Prem. He also had a fine run with Mumtaz, doing eight films with her, and in the bargain helping her to graduate from a B-grade movie actress to the top league.

Affectionately called Kaka, he charmed and yodelled his way through a series of films such as Do Raaste, Roti, Kati Patang, Bawarchi and Anand. His success was all the more remarkable as it came at a time when the industry was still singing hosannas to the peerless Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. But with a record 15 consecutive superhits, there was no questioning his quick and undisputed ascent to superstardom.

In truth, he must owe at least a small portion of his success to Kishore Kumar’s songs such as “Mere sapno ki rani”, “Roop tera mastana” and “Karvate badalte rahe saari raat hum.”. After the success of Haathi Mere Saathi, Salim-Javed who had penned the film, offered to refashion Khanna’s image as an Angry Young Man. He declined. And his loss was Amitabh Bachchan’s gain.

Khanna’s decline came as rapidly as his rise. After a decade of ruling the box office, his position was usurped by Bachchan, who had acted with him in Anand. Rajesh Khanna was not getting any younger and the cinema fans of the 1980s and 1990s seemed ready for a more volatile and rebellious hero. After attempts to romance the much younger Jayaprada and Sridevi in Awaaz and Masterji flopped miserably, he took on a semi-comic role in Maqsad. He tried to stay in the hunt with multi-starrers, but with the exception of Avtar, a weepy saga remembered more for its bhajan “Chalo bulava aaya hai,” success eluded him.

His personal life, which included a broken marriage with Dimple Kapadia, was chequered. And unlike Bachchan, he was unable to refashion himself to remain relevant in Bollywood once he reached the middle age. It was only somewhat recently that he did his first commercial, a television advertisement for a fan manufacturer. With the popular song “Yeh Shaam Mastani” in the background and an old, almost infirm Rajesh Khanna in the foreground, it was an attempt to evoke nostalgia.

The advertisement was greeted with mixed reactions, with many fans preferring to remember him as the man he was at the height of his powers, the charmer who successfully serenaded and seduced the best actresses on screen. But it was a reminder that Rajesh Khanna, despite his flirtation with politics and his stint as a Congress Lok Sabha MP between 1992 and 1996, always yearned to be under the arc-lights. That was his true place, even if he found it difficult to accept that stardom, like life itself, is a transient thing.

Rajesh Khanna, actor, died in Mumbai on 18 July 2012, aged 69. He was born in Amritsar on 29 December 1942. He is survived by two daughters, Twinkle and Rinke.

IANS adds

Fondly known as Kaka, Khanna worked in about 160 films including. Here is his filmography:


—1966 “Akhri khat“

—1967 “Raaz“

—1967 “Baharo Ke sapne“

—1967 “Woman“

—1968 “Shrimanji“

—1969 “Khamoshi“

—1969 “Doli“

—1969 “Bandhan“

—1969 “Aradhana“

—1969 “Ittefaq“

—1969 “Do Raaste“


—1970 “Safar“

—1970 “Kati Patang“

—1970 “The Train’

—1970 “Sachaa Jhutha“

—1970 “Aan Milo Sajana“

—1971 “Mehboob Ki Mehandi“

—1971 “Maryada“

—1971 “Guddi“

—1971 “Dushman“

—1971 “Andaz“

—1971 “Anand“

—1971 “Haathi Mere Saathi“

—1971 “Choti Bahu“

—1972 “Shehzada“

—1972 “Mere Jeevan Saathi“

—1972 “Malik“

—1972 “Dil Daulat Duniya“

—1972 “Bawarchi“

—1972 “Apna Desh“

—1972 “Anuraag“

—1972 “Amar Prem“

—1972 “Joroo Ka Ghulam“

—1973 “Daag: A Poem of Love“

—1973 “Raja Rani“

—1973 “Bombay Superstar“

—1973 “Namak Haraam“

—1974 “Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi“

—1974 “Aap Ki Kasam“

—1974 “Prem Nagar“

—1974 “Ajanabee“

—1974 “Avishkaar“

—1974 “Roti“

—1975 “Prem Kahani“

—1975 “Aakraman“

—1976 “Maha Chor“

—1976 “Ginny Aur Johny“

—1976 “Bundal Baaz“

—1976 “Mehbooba“

—1977 “Tinku“

—1977 “Karm“

—1977 “Chalta Purza“

—1977 “Anurodh“

—1977 “Tyaag“

—1977 “Aaina“

—1977 “Chhailla Babu“

—1977 “Hatyara“

—1977 “Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein“

—1977 “Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka“

—1978 “Chakravyuha”

—1978 “Bhola Bhala“

—1978 “Naukri“

—1979 “Muqabla“

—1979 “Janta Hawaldar“

—1979 “Bebus“

—1979 “Amar Deep“

—1979 “Prem Bandhan“


—1980 “Bandish“

—1980 “Red Rose“

—1980 “Phir Wohi Raat“

—1980 “Aanchal“

—1981 “Bharosa“

—1981 “Dushman Dost“

—1981 “Kudrat“

—1981 “Sundara Satarkar“

—1981 “Dhanwan“

—1981 “Dard“

—1981 “Fiffty Fiffty“

—1982 “Rajput“

—1982 “Ashanti“

—1982 “Dil—E—Nadaan“

—1982 “Dharam Kanta“

—1982 “Ayaash“

—1982 “Jaanwar“

—1983 “Avtaar“

—1983 “Souten“

—1983 “Agar Tum Na Hote“

—1984 “Asha Jyoti“

—1984 “Dharam Aur Qanoon“

—1984 “Awaaz“

—1985 “Zamana“

—1985 “Hum Dono“

—1985 “Masterji“

—1985 “Bewafai“

—1985 “Aakhir Kyon?”

—1985 “Alag Alag

—1985 “Babu“

—1985 “Awara Baap“

—1986 “Angaaray“

—1986 “Amrit“

—1986 “Anokha Rishta“

—1987 “Sitapur Ki Geeta“

—1987 “Nazrana“

—1988 “Vijay“

—1989 “Main Tera Dushman“

—1989 “Ghar Ka Chiraag“


—1990 “Jai Shiv Shankar“

—1990 “Dushman“

—1990 “Swarg“

—1991 “Ghar Parivaar“

__1991 “Begunaah“

—1994 “Khudai“

—1999 “Aa Ab Laut Chalen“


—2001 “Pyaar Zindagi Hai“

—2002 “Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa“

—2008 “Wafaa“

As Producer:

—1985 “Alag Alag”

—1989 “Police Ke Peeche Police”

—1990 “Jai Shiv Shankar”

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