Bollywood superstar Rajesh Khanna, who passed away last week after a prolonged illness, was the first actor to give 15 super-hit flicks in three years.
As the winner of the United Producers Talent Contest in 1965, Rajesh Khanna had come a long way. He was a not overtly handsome, yet ’70s actresses like Waheeda Rehman desired to be cast opposite him. He didn’t have the ideal built of a he-man, yet no other actor has since commanded a female following like him. Above all, he wasn’t even the best actor produced in India, but it was his charisma, a shake of the head and stylish antics that saw him leap over the likes of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor as well as Dev Anand to super stardom.
Born as Jatin Arora on December 29, 1942, and adopted by his father’s childless relatives, he was named Rajesh Khanna by his uncle so that he could do well in films. It is even said that after winning the talent contest, he went for auditions in an MG sports car, something unheard of in those days. Financially he was stronger than most of the leading men of his era, even before he landed blockbusters. Several reports from that era suggest that many girls in India married his photograph, applying their own blood as sindoor to solemnise the ceremony.
Pampered in his youth and worshipped as an actor, Rajesh had an enviable career. His first movie, Aakhri Khat (1966) did well, but couldn’t rival the success of Shammi Kapoor’s Teesri Manzil or Dharmendra’s Phool Aur Pathar. His next few films — Raaz, Baharon Kay Sapne and Aurat — didn’t do well at the box office either. However, Aradhana (1969) started a chain reaction that saw him deliver hits after hits, including the songless Ittefaq and commercial flicks like Bandhan, Do Raaste, Khamoshi, The Train, Succha Jhoota, Safar, Kati Patang, Anand and Haathi Mere Saathi. He also gave screenwriters Salim-Javed (who later delivered hits like Sholay, Kaala Pathar and Shakti) their first break in Haathi Mere Saathi. Even Amitabh Bachchan admits that before he became an actor, he was a Rajesh Khanna fan.
Rajesh Khanna adjusted comfortably into any role offered to him — be it the sculptor in his debut movie Aakhri Khat, the air force pilot in Aradhna, the cancer patient in Anand, the forest office in Kati Patang, the cook in Bawarchi or the working class hero of Namak Haram.
Rajesh Khanna’s popularity suffered declined in the latter part of his career by way with his typical acting and inability to improvise in the films of the ’80s and beyond. — O.A.