NEW DELHI, July 18: He carried his fame lightly. He was a stout-hearted Punjabi from Amritsar who probably forgot to take care of his liver and perished at 69 to its seductions. Women flirted with his images for all of the two decades or more when he ruled Mumbai’s film industry as India’s first and possibly only superstar.
Female fans worshipped his framed pictures and slit their wrists when he married Dimple Kapadia, a one-movie starlet in 1973, when she was half his age. Rajiv Gandhi, in his last political duty before flying to his death in Tamil Nadu, came to vote for him when he switched from films to politics in the 1991 parliamentary elections.
Rajesh Khanna was narrowly defeated in that election from New Delhi by opposition leader L.K. Advani. But when Advani quit the seat in favour of his election from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, Rajesh Khanna easily beat rival and fellow actor Shatrughan Sinha in the ensuing contest to enter parliament.
He had replaced Amitabh Bachchan as the Gandhi family’s Mumbai mascot.
Naturally, Sonia Gandhi grieved Rajesh Khanna’s death in Mumbai on Wednesday and so did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among millions of Indians. In Pakistan, special programmes were broadcast by TV channels to mark the passing of an era.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf described him as a “great actor”. Ordinary fans from across the border took to social networking websites to share their sorrow and memories.
In a special message, Prime Minister Ashraf said Khanna was “a great actor whose contribution to the field of films and arts would be long remembered”.
He said Khanna had a “large fan following across the borders and captivated audiences with his excellent acting skills”. He said he shared the grief of the bereaved family.
In a message to Khanna’s daughter Twinkle, Prime Minister Singh recalled the fame of the late actor and noted that his popularity as a romantic hero in the 1960s and 1970s is a part of our film folklore.
Observing that Khanna was a celebrated artiste who entertained millions of Indians with his performance in a variety of films, Dr Singh said: “His legacy will live on in the form of the numerous entertaining and acclaimed films that he leaves behind.”
The prime minister noted that the late actor was called the first superstar of the Indian cinema and the powerful roles he essayed in classics like Anand, Aradhana, Kati Patang and Amar Prem stand testimony to his artistic genius. Some years ago, the new reigning movie star Shahrukh Khan had described Rajesh Khanna as the only superstar the Indian film industry ever had.