Remembering Rajesh Khanna

Seven years ago, India’s first superstar bid the world goodbye. And what a phenomenon he was!

Rajesh Khanna starred in 15 consecutive solo hit films from 1969 to 1971.

When Rajesh Khanna died in 2012, my children were aghast seeing my mother crying like a 16-year-old. They kept asking me why she was crying so hard. Who was he to her? They simply kept bombarding me with their innocent queries.

How do I explain the phenomenon of the first ever superstar Rajesh Khanna?

I was born in the era of Amitabh Bachchan, a little after Rajesh Khanna’s glory years. But I could still empathise with my mother because I had watched Rajesh Khanna’s movies with her, and had grown up on stories of his popularity.

I had heard about fans mobbing him and grabbing at his clothes. Girls kissed his car, leaving it imprinted with their lipstick marks. Hysterical fans would stand chanting his name and producers would line up outside his bungalow every day. 

Rajesh Khanna had mesmerised everyone with his captivating eyes and charming mannerisms. He had become a national rage. Girls wrote letters to him in blood. Some reportedly got married to his photographs, dramatically cutting their fingers and applying blood on the forehead, as he had done to a heroine in one of his runaway hits. After all, he had taught the entire nation how to romance. 

People had never seen such stardom and euphoria before, and for millions, he was God. 

Rajesh Khanna gave 15 consecutive solo hits, still an unbroken record. All his films had songs sung to this day. What if he had given those hits over a long span, and not back to back? One longs to see one’s favourite people always rising, and not falling. Anyway, the fairytale era ended abruptly. When I was in Mumbai for my studies, I got to see him. He was the chief guest at an event. He recited his famous dialogue, ‘Izzatein, shoharatein, ulfatein, chahatein koi bhi cheej iss duniya mein rehati nahi, aaj mein hoon jahan, kal koi aur tha, yeh bhi ek daur hai, woh bhi ek daur tha.’ (Prestige, fame, love, admiration… nothing lasts in the world forever. Yesterday someone was where I am today. That was a phase, and this is a phase). 

I was upset when he recited this couplet, and declared his favourite actor was Amitabh Bachchan. We clapped and cheered, but we all knew it was not true. He was in love with himself and only himself.

Some narrate stories of his unpleasant real-life behaviour. But I try to understand him. He was the first, so he didn’t have any footsteps to follow in. Perhaps any star who found himself in Rajesh Khanna’s shoes would have behaved that way. For Amitabh, it was easier because he came next; he knew exactly how not to behave. 

I deployed Rajesh Khanna’s famous line from Amar Prem on my mother: ‘Pushpa, I hate tears.’ She was even more distraught. She stopped crying only when I told her my children would watch Rajesh Khanna’s movies and sing his songs. That way, he would live on.

As they say of one his most famous characters, ‘Anand kabhi marte nahin!’ Anand (also means ‘happiness’) never dies.  Rajesh Khanna will never die either.

(The author is an actor, singer, writer and director)

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