They say Hindi cinema had only one super star — Rajesh Khanna, writes Surekha Kadapa-Bose from Mumbai
Someone up in the sky seems to have suddenly taken a liking to our artists. Otherwise why should we have started losing them in such quick succession — Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan, Dara Singh and now Rajesh Khanna.
At 69, he was the youngest and probably most popular of them all. Rajesh Khanna — Kaka to his near and dear ones — was the quintessential romantic hero who got female fan mail written in blood. The likes of his crazed fan following was never seen, and till today, isn’t seen on Indian cinema.
My younger brother, Ravi, then at a school-going age, would insist that we watch all his films. Once he dragged my aunt, mom and me on our old Vespa scooter for a late night show to watch Avishkaar. “Just watch Khanna Rajesh!” he urged. The total awe and adoration on my brother’s face made me take a close second look at the star.
This Basu Bhattacharya film dealing with marital strife was one of his several films where he looked a stunner and acted with so much ease and conviction that it was very easy for audience to connect with the character. And that is what got Kaka millions of fans. He connected with them.
The late actor had an unknown magnetism which got him hitherto unheard of adulation. He certainly wasn’t good looking, wasn’t tall and topping it all off was a full pimply face. But what he lacked in looks his mischievous smile made up, what his height didn’t do his twinkling eyes, lop-sided walk and tilt of the head did. He became a heartthrob with mere mortal looks, unlike his predecessors Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar or Dharmendra.
As veteran actor Mumtaz, who had acted with him in several hit films — Do Raaste, Succha Jhoota, Apna Desh, Aap Ki Kasam, etc, recalled, “I always teased him about his fan following. Whenever we would enter a hotel, there would be at least 500-600 girls waiting for a glimpse of their favourite star.”
Kaka with his simple mannerisms and ordinary attire — Guru kurta pajama, safari suits and a boy-next-door appeal — was both accessible and dreamable.
His other co-star was Sharmila Tagore with whom his first most successful film, Aradhana, heralded his super star career, and with whom he acted in several other hit films like Safar, Raja Rani, Daag, Amar Prem, etc. Remembering Kaka, she surmised Rajesh Khanna’s popularity well, “Kaka expressed emotions straight from his heart. The dialogue ‘Aap ruk kyun gayen, gaiye na’ (Why have you stopped? Please, keep on singing) from the film Amar Prem, when I was enacting Lata Mangeshkar’s classic song Raina Beeti Jayen, was delivered with so much emotion and sensitivity that it left all of us spellbound at the shoot.”
The magic he weaved with his dialogue delivery was unsurpassed. Be it “Pushpa, I hate tears…” (Amar Prem), “Babumoshai, zindagai aur maut...” (Anand) or “Main marnay se pehle marna nahin chahta” (Safar), it kept his fans hooked to him.
Another point that made Kaka popular was his selection of films. He was one of the stars in those days who, without a second thought, took up projects which other mainstream actors would think twice before accepting. For example, if he did Aradhana, then the same year he did Ittefaq; for every Do Raaste there was a Khamoshi, for Succha Jhoota there was Safar, Kati Patang had Anand and Apna Desh had Bawarchi.
The ease with which he delivered a masala, potboiler film was the same ease with which he did parallel films with simple stories, where he went without a female lead opposite him. And they were all super hits. In fact, Kaka could be credited with sowing the seeds of alternate films in Bollywood.
Shabana Azmi, who acted with him in a couple of films like Thodi Si Bewfaai and his last super hit, Avtaar, still remembers the phenomenal popularity of her co-star. In an interview given after his demise, she said, “He had an amazing blend of super-star distancing, moods, eccentricities and attitude with total groundedness, accessibility and warmth. He never got irritated with fan mobbing or hysteria. He was very affectionate with all of them and that worked superbly for him.”
It seems like every element in the world of Hindi cinema joined together to make Rajesh Khanna a phenomenal super star: his films had the best of music, and there has never been a greater singer than Mohammad Rafi in sur and melody or Mukesh in melancholy.
Matching the popularity of Rajesh Khanna was the voice of Kishore Kumar. Khanna lip synched the songs so well that there was a sort of unison of the two stars. When they came together in Zindagi aik safar hai suhana, Roop tera mastana, Mere sapanon ki rani kab aayegi tu, Kuch to loag kahenge, Yeh kya hua, Achcha to hum chalte hain and many others, all of India and fans worldwide sang with them. Khanna and Kishoreda became us, and we them.