Let's remember Rajesh Khanna on the occasion of his 74th birth anniversary

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Rajesh Khanna in Anurodh, Singer
Rajesh Khanna in Anurodh
Let's remember the original superstar of Hindi cinema on the occasion of his 74th birth anniversary. Both his life and career have been celebrated the world over. Several books have been written on him. His mannerisms, dance moves and dialogues still get imitated. BBC’s famous documentary Bombay superstar talks about his superstardom during the early 1970s. This write-up endeavors to present an account of Rajesh Khanna’s life and career , especially keeping in mind the younger generation which although would have certainly heard of Khanna’s acting exploits but isn’t fully aware of his larger than life journey in Hindi cinema. 

While Hindi cinema has seen many superstars since Rajesh Khanna but few come close to matching his persona. Rajesh Khanna, popularly known as Kaka, was the first actor in Indian Cinema to be crowned as “superstar”. Khanna still holds the record of delivering 15 back-to-back solo hits between 1969 and 1972. It was this spree of unprecedented success that catapulted Khanna into superstardom. Rajesh Khanna (birth name Jatin Khanna) was born in Amritsar on 29 December 1942. After the untimely demise of his parents, Khanna was brought up by foster parents who were relatives of his biological parents. Right from an early age, Khanna showed his interest in theater and drama. After brewing his talent in theater, Khanna came to Mumbai (then Bombay) in the early 1960s to start his acting struggle. Khanna shot to fame by winning the All India Talent Contest organized by Filmfare and United Producers where he overhauled ten thousand fellow contestants. By the virtue of his win, Khanna also secured berths in two Hindi feature films: Aakhri Khat, directed by Chetan Anand and Raaz, directed by Ravindra Dave. And the rest is history.

rajesh khanna, sharmila tagore in aradhana
Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana
Shakti Samanta's Aradhana was Khanna's big break. From the late-60s to the mid-70s, Rajesh Khanna was at the pinnacle of stardom. The fans would queue outside his bungalow to get a mere glimpse of his while the producers would wait for months just to get his dates. He would often get mobbed by his fans at shooting locations and functions while his hysteric female fans would send him love letters written in their blood. “Girls married themselves to photographs of Rajesh Khanna, cutting their fingers and applying the blood as sindoor. Rajesh was God, there has never been such hysteria,” reminisced renowned film critic Monojit Lahiri. Khanna was such a phenomenon that even his collaborators used to bask in his starry glory. This applied to his female leads, male co-actors, directors, producers, and also playback singers. While actresses like Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh, and Mumtaz blossomed in Khanna’s stellar presence, the Hindi Cinema also witnessed the resurgence of singer Kishore Kumar, thanks to the "Kishore Kumar-Rajesh Khanna" magic. The duo of Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar, bolstered by musical genius of R. D. Burman, became the most successful actor-singer pair in the history of Indian Cinema as the latter became the official voice of the former on the celluloid. 

rajesh khanna, amitabh khanna, anand, hrishikesh mukherjee
Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in Anand
Even today when Amitabh Bachchan is widely regarded as the superstar of the millennium, Khanna’s superstardom remains unparalleled, for never again in the history of Indian cinema has any actor succeeded in sustaining such unmatched supremacy. Interestingly, it was Bachchan’s supporting acts in Rajesh Khanna starrer Anand (1971) and Namak Haraam (1973) that had finally helped him gain identity in Hindi Cinema during his early days. Coincidentally, it was also Khanna who had helped Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar get their first break as screenplay writers. Saleem and Javed were the architects behind Bachchan's now iconic ‘Angry Young Man’ image with movies like Zanjeer (1973), Deewar (1975), and Sholay (1975).

In a career that spanned over three decades, Khanna acted in over 160 motion-pictures—128 of which were lead performances—winning Filmfare Best Actor Award thrice and the coveted BFJA Award for Best Actor (Hindi) record four times. Although, Khanna was hailed as the king of romance, he also did several important roles in low budget films that helped break stereotypes around widow remarriage, prostitution, pre-marital sex, elder abuse and cancer. While Khanna delivered a plethora of unforgettable performances during his illustrious movie career, his heart-wrenching portrayal of a cancer patient in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971) remains most memorable. 

rajesh khanna in amar prem
Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in Amar Prem
Rajesh Khanna, overwhelmed by his failed marriage to actress Dimple Kapadia, took to drinking as his superstardom slowly began to fade. In the '90s Khanna quit acting and entered active politics. He became the Member of Parliament from the New Delhi Constituency by winning the by-election in 1992. 

After a long illness, Rajesh Khanna passed on 18 July 2012 at the age of 69. He was survived by his wife Dimple Kapadia and two daughters Twinkle and Rinke. Khanna may have lost his battle with death, but he continues to live in the hearts of billions of his diehard fans in India as well as abroad. 

Rajesh “Superstar” Khanna was a phenomenon whose extraordinary exploits as a performer made him much more than just a man, something incredibly formidable: a legend and a god.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

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  1. Very true these lines "Rajesh “Superstar” Khanna was a phenomenon".Thanks for sharing!


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