“I hate tears,” he may have said if he could see the mourners outside his house. The dialogue from the Bollywood film Amar Prem will remain immortal while the mortal behind it has progressed to his heavenly abode.
Rajesh Khanna had been battling health issues since April this year. He passed away after a prolonged fight with cancer.
“The word superstar was coined after him,” says Amitabh Bachchan, who succeeded the title after Rajesh Khanna.
Super star Rajesh Khanna entertained movie lovers over 40 years, with more than 160 movies. I remember talking to an Asian man from Hong Kong in New Zealand, who fondly spoke about Rajesh Khanna and even recited “mere sapno ki raani” for me.
Born Jatin Khanna on 29 December 1942, the superstar left his family in Punjab and came to follow his Bollywood dream in Mumbai, despite his family’s resistance.
Fondly known as Kaka, Rajesh Khanna adopted his on-screen name of “Rajesh” at the insistence of his uncle. While he made his debut with Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat (1966), it wasn’t until Raaz a year later was released that a star was born.
Since that movie, there was no looking back as the actor delivered numerous commercially successful and critically acclaimed Bollywood movies between 1969 and 1972.
Legendary singer Kishore Kumar lent his voice to Rajesh Khanna who mesmerised the audience for a decade. The jury is still out whether Kishore Kumar played a major role in Rajesh’s success or the actor helped the singer’s career. From Zindagi Kaisi hai paheli, to Zindagi Ka Safar, his songs glamorised the humour with a dark underside of sadness.
He became the heartthrob for an entire generation growing up in the 1970s. “From an 8-year old to a 40-year old, there were so many women who would give an arm and a leg to get one glimpse of the superstar,” says his co-actor Shabana Azmi.
“I have seen old women embrace him with tears in their eyes and young girls actually swoon in his presence. Hysterical and manic.”
Legend has it that he was Bollywood’s first actor that was given Police protection.
“I remember,” says director Shekhar Kapur. “It was called ‘Rajesh Khanna Hysteria’. This was not just stardom.It was hope.”
But he broke many hearts when he announced his marriage to debutante actor Dimple Kapadia, whose first movie Bobby (1973) was about to release. Rajesh and Dimple had two daughters, Twinkle and Rinky, before separating nine years later.
The superstar was later romantically linked to another upcoming actor, Tina Munim, who kept seeing Rajesh until she left Bollywood to pursue higher studies. Tina Munim later married Mukesh Ambani, one of India’s richest industrialists.
The romantic hero was involved with fashion designer Anju Mahendru during his early years in Bollywood, for almost seven years, before the Dimple-era.
The winner of three Filmfare best actor awards did not win the hearts of many with his soft picturisation of a young man, ever doomed by a tragedy, from not winning the love of his life in one movie (Safar), to not winning the battle for life (Anand).
It was his ability to smile in the face of such adversities that his fans could relate directly to, which resulted in unprecedented adulation.
But it wasn’t just movies that he portrayed the sad undertone. While accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at IIFA awards in 2009, he said, “Yeah bhi ek daur hai, woh bhi ek daur tha!” (This is a time, as it was back then!). The superstar was probably not living well through a life that lacked the limelight he was so used to.
He lived through the same sad undertone.