Hindi Cinema wouldn’t have been the same had there been no Rajesh Khanna in it. Sure, there were stars before like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor who are till date called the stalwarts, but the phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna sort of changed the way a fan treated his favourite star.
The man gave what Indian cinema needed. A superstar. And boy, did the country swoon over him or what? His aura, his style of delivering dialogues, his trademark side tilt while wooing heroines, his hairstyle - everything was lapped by the hungry fans. Everything was copied and worshipped.
Born as Jatin Khanna in Amritsar on 29 December, 1942, the superstar was raised by foster parents who were relatives of his biological parents. The young Jatin was always keen on acting and took part in school and college theatre. He also happened to inspire his childhood friend Ravi Kapoor to take up acting, who later went on to become a star in his own right - actor Jeetendra.
Rajesh Khanna was a talent hunt find. He was one of eight finalists in the 1965 All India Talent Contest organised by United Producers and Filmfare. Offers started pouring in soon enough and he made his debut in 1966 in ‘Aakhri Khat’ which was directed by Chetan Anand. Several memorable films followed soon - Raaz, Ittefaq, Aurat. But it took Shakti Samanta’s ‘Aradhana’ to catapult Khanna to the superstar status.
A smash hit, the film is still considered a path breaking film in terms of its bold story line, memorable music, and the fresh pairing of Sharmila Tagore-Rajesh Khanna. The duo acted in some more films post the success of ‘Aaradhana’ and most of them were successful ones.
While the director and the actress were appreciated by critics and awarded the Best Director and Best Actress award respectively at the Filmfare Awards that year, it was Kaka (he was fondly called Kaka by fans, friends and family) who got the most adulation from his fans. Girls, especially, swooned over the charming hero. They kissed his car, got married to his photographs and mobbed him wherever he went. He was in fact one the first few stars to get police protection during public outings. The film industry had never seen such craze over any actor before. They were shocked to witness such frenzy. Rajesh Khanna evoked such sentiments amongst fans. No other star before him had made such an impact on people. They were not worshipped the way he was. And the adulation was unparalleled.
When he got married to actress Dimple Kapadia in March 1973, many girls cried to sleep for several nights and nursed heartbreaks for several months. Such was his aura.
But unlike the current crop of stars, his superstar status never preceded or overshadowed his acting abilities. Some of Khanna’s best performances came in early in his career, some at the peak of his career, but he, the actor, remained consistent with his performance. From a jealous husband in ‘Aap Ki Kasam’ to the multi talented chef in ‘Bawarchi’ to the recluse alcoholic of ‘Amar Prem’- Rajesh Khanna essayed a wide range of characters which are still distinct in our memory. Who can forget that last scene of ‘Anand’ where Amitabh Bachchan cajoles a dead Rajesh Khanna to say something, anything and suddenly ‘Babumoshai’ booms out of the gramophone?
And today, when the stalwart is no more, perhaps this scene can be played on and on in our mind while we, just like Amitabh, hope against hope that the legendary star says something just to reassure us that he is there.
But, just like he had said to Pushpa how he ‘hates tears’, let’s not shed any tears for the great actor. Let us celebrate him, the actor and his films because that’s what made him an ultimate superstar. As he had himself said in 'Anand', "Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi."
Rest in peace Kaka.