Ode to India's 1st superstar: Remembering Rajesh Khanna's charisma on his sixth death anniversary

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‘Anand mara nahi…Anand marte nahi, who knew that these sublime words from the cult classic film Anand will become synonymous with Rajesh Khanna, its lead protagonist? On his sixth death anniversary today (July 17) thousands of his fans remember Khanna who was endearingly called as ‘Kaka’. Khanna was India’s first superstar. In fact, the term ‘superstar’ was coined for him because the fan following and the frenzy he incited in the hearts of his fans was unprecedented. Rajesh’s real name was Jatin Khanna and he was born in Amritsar, Punjab.

Khanna won the 1965 All India Talent Contest, organized by United Producers and Filmfare amongst 10,000 contestants who had applied for the competition. The United Producers organization comprised of BR Chopra, Bimal Roy, GP Sippy, HS Rawail, Nasir Husain, J. Om Prakash, Mohan Saigal, Shakti Samanta and Subodh Mukherji who also judged the contest. Khanna’s debut film was Aakhri Khat directed by Chetan Anand, followed by Raaz which was directed by Ravindra Dave both of which were his pre-determined prize for winning the contest.

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Kaka delivered 15 solo hit films from 1969 to 1971 an unprecedented and still unbroken record. His craze and popularity were such that girls even got married to his photographs. In 1974, BBC made a film on him titled Bombay Superstar. Khanna was well loved for his characteristic mannerisms, the tilt of the neck, signature hand gestures and the raised eyebrows made girls’ hearts aflutter. When the news of his marriage to actress Dimple Kapadia came out, many girls slit their wrists around the country. Veteran actress Sharmila Tagore who shared screen space with Khanna in many films like Aradhana, Raja Rani, Amar Prem has said that women came out in droves to see him. They would stand in queues outside the studios to catch a glimpse of him and he needed police protection when he was out in public.

He was in a relationship with actress Anju Mahendroo for many years but the two broke up without citing any reasons. Rajesh then went on to marry Dimple Kapadia who was 16 at the time while he was 34-years-old. Dimple was about to make her debut in the film Bobby opposite Rishi Kapoor. The news of their marriage left many around the country unhappy and bereft. Apparently, a small clip of Rajesh and Dimple’s marriage was played in theatres before the film’s telecast and people thronged to cinema theatres to see this. The marriage was short lived and the two soon parted ways after nine years of staying together.

However, the divorce proceedings were never completed and Rajesh and Dimple reconciled in later years. They have two daughters Twinkle Khanna and Rinke Khanna. Twinkle and Rinke both tried their hands at acting but did not fare too well. However, Twinkle became a successful interior designer and is now a published bestselling author and is married to actor Akshay Kumar.

Rajesh also influenced fashion with his trademark safari suits and ‘guru kurtas’. Collared kurtas with rolled back sleeves are credited to Rajesh Khanna even today. Kaka’s safari suits with trademark broad belts had many takers and were a style statement.

The current generation might swear by Shah Rukh Khan as the romantic hero but it was Rajesh Khanna who actually gave us a crash course in romance. He gave some of the best romantic films we have ever witnessed in celluloid. He gave some of the best romantic films ever in AradhanaAan Milo Sajna, and Amar Prem. Actor Anupam Kher had tweeted about Khanna on his demise, “Rajesh Khanna gave us a crash course in romance. He introduced us to a special twinkle in the eye that made us feel good about ourselves."

Rajesh’s dialogues from Anand, Amar Prem, Aradhana and Kati Patang are still remembered. His Pushpa, I hate tears became legends in popular culture. His rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan was another famous episode of his life. Amitabh might be the biggest star today but at one point of time, his claim to fame was that he had worked with Rajesh Khanna and shared screen space with him. Amitabh and Rajesh worked in such films as Anand and Namak Haram. Amitabh’s angry young man persona edged Rajesh’s romantic hero image at a time when India was also changing. Khanna could not fathom the fact that his popularity was slipping and went under depression and resorted to alcohol to combat stress. However, Bachchan has said that the word ‘superstar’ will always be associated with Khanna and no one can parallel the love and adulation that the actor received.

Kaka also tried his hand at politics too. At the insistence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Khanna contested a few elections and defeated fellow actor Shatrughan Sinha too. He gave a tough competition to Lal Krishna Advani as well. Later on, he bid adieu to politics. Khanna's enigma was also because of the hit songs that featured in his films. Kishore Kumar got a new lease of life when he started singing for Khanna and some of S.D.Burman's greatest hits were given for Rajesh's films.

Khanna won three Filmfare Best Actor Awards, one Filmfare Special Guest Actor Award in 1973, a Filmfare Special Award in 1991 after 25 years in the Hindi film industry. He also received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award at the 50th anniversary Filmfare award ceremony in 2005. A postage stamp, bearing his likeness, was released by the India Post to honour him on may 3, 2013. A bronze statue of Rajesh Khanna was unveiled at Bandra Bandstand, Mumbai and an intersection in Girgaon has been named "Superstar Rajesh Khanna Chowk" in his memory.

Zindagi Ke Safar Main Guzar Jaatey Hai Jo Mukaam...Woh Phir Nahi Aatey...

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