Sensational Superstars of Bollywood – Rajesh Khanna
His popularity soared when there was little film journalism and no PR machinery
In times of Rajini Mania, when Amitabh Bachchan has charted new highs with KBC4 and SRK has even the Germans going gaga over him, the question of who is the biggest of them all remains as ever.
But long before fans erected temples and exchanged the now famous Rajini jokes, and the Bollywood media had split to pen paeans on Big B and SRK’s genius, there was a superstardom of a different kind.
It was when Rajesh Khanna rose to glory. And when he did, back in the late Sixties, the media’s penetration into the glam world was negligible. There was no PR machinery going full throttle with press coverage and advertisements. And the fan clubs were restricted to sporadic offline gatherings. Incredible as it was, Kaka’s spectacular ascent resulted by word of mouth.
The hysteria he created swept across ages, gender and genres. His movies ran to full 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.
The pin up boy
Khanna’s gentle looks, disarming smile and that famous tilt of the head did wonders for his female following. And with Kishore Kumar’s dreamy voice for playback, this was just what the doctor ordered. With the sensuous Roop Tera Mastana, enthralling Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai and the timeless O Mere Dil Ke Chain Rajesh Khanna, became — and remains — the King of Romance.
Anecdotes about the Kaka hysteria abound. Movie magazine once reported in the 1990s how disappointed his female fans were when Rajesh Khanna married Dimple Kapadia. One girl even named her pup after Dimple and would kick her.
If Kaka made women go weak in their knees, he made men imitate his distinct style. Be it the Gorkha topi from Aradhana (1969) or the round collared short guru kurtas or the mufflers, Khanna was a fashion icon in his own sense. The experiments with his looks — the smart defence officer avatar in Aradhana, the brooding persona in Do Raaste (1969) or the dhoti-clad Bengali babu in Amar Prem (1972) — they were all loved by the audience.
Rajesh Khanna debuted in the year 1964 with Chetan Anand’s critically acclaimed Aakhri Khat and it was three years later, in 1969, that he hit the jackpot. The dream run that began with Aradhana continued with Do Raaste, Kati Patang (1971), Anand (1971), Amar Prem (1972), Daag (1973), Aap Ki Kasam (1974) and Roti (1974).
He not only tasted box office success during this time but also rendered some of his finest performances. Be it the chilling portrayal of a convict on the run (Ittefaq, 1969) or the depressed mental patient in Khamoshi (1970), Khanna managed intense roles very effectively. He was equally comfortable playing emotionally challenging characters and his work in Safar (1970), Avishkaar (1973) and Anand (1971) exemplify this. Even though he worked in close association with directors like Shakti Samanta and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Khanna’s sweeping success at the box office was marked with collaborations with all the top filmmakers of the era like Manmohan Desai (Saccha Jhutha 1970; Roti), J Om Prakash (Aap Ki Kasam, 1974; Aakhir Kyon, 1985) and Yash Chopra (Daag, 1973). He romanced almost all the leading ladies of his time though his jodi with Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz remains enviable till date. Called his golden period, there was just no stopping for Khanna till 1974.
Like every transient phenomenon, the stardom supernova had run its course. Failing movies, a flagging career, emergence of fresh faces slowly took the sheen off Kaka’s face. Since then, reams have been dedicated to Khanna’s dramatic downfall and his disappointing career moves.
But what stands out is his meteoric rise. The adulation he earned was pure, just like the joy he gave movie goers. The joy that will outlive his time. And to quote the parting lines from his most famous film Anand, “Anand maraa nahi, Anand marte nahin.”