When we have to name some evergreen actors of Bollywood, the name Rajesh Khanna comes first in mind to many. He is often referred as the first superstar or original superstar of Indian cinema. The record which he created in 1969-1971 by giving highest solo hits, is still an unbroken record. He did 106 solo films, among which many were acclaimed with ratings above 4 out of 5 by many newspapers.
Birth And Childhood
His birth name was Jatin Khanna and he was born on 29th December 1942, in Amritsar, Punjab state, India to Lala Hiranand and Chandrani Khanna. Rajesh Khanna was adopted and raised by Chunnilal Khanna and Leelawati Khanna, who were relatives of his biological parents. His adoptive parents moved from Lahore to Mumbai as a result of their Railway contract job. He did his schooling at St. Sebastian’s Goan High School. He graduated in Arts from Nowrosjee Wadia College in Pune from 1959 to 1961. He later studied at K. C. College, Mumbai where he participated in several dramas and stage plays and won prizes. His role as a wounded mute soldier in the play Andha Yug gained him huge applause. He had a childhood friend named Ravi Kapoor who also become a successful actor named Jeetendra.
All India Talent Contest
Rajesh Khanna was one among the eight finalists selected among 10,000 candidates, in the All India Talent contest, in 1965. Khanna won the contest and G P Sippy and Nasir became the first to sign his film “Aakhri Khat (1966)” after he won the contest.
After his victory over the competition, he was offered one more movie “Raaz (1967)” both of which were the pre-determined prize for winning the contest. He made his debut in 1966 through the movie Aakhri Khat directed by Chetan Anand. This movie made India’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 40th Oscar Academy Awards in 1967. Khanna said in an interview that “Though Aakhri Khat is my first film, I received my first break as a leading actor in Ravindra Dave’s, Raaz, in 1967”.
His movies “Aurat (1967)”, “Baharon Ke Sapne (1967)”, “Doli (1969)”, “Aradhana (1969)” and “Ittefaq (1969)” were all hits. Through his dual roles as father and son, Rajesh Khanna rose to ‘Instant National Fame’ with the movie Aradhana. Film critics called him as the first superstar of Indian cinema. His movie, “Haathi Mere Saathi (1971)”, became the highest grossing movie of the year.
Later in the same year, his another movie, named “Badnam Farishte (1971)” became the first flop film after his 17 consecutive hits from 1969. The film “Maalik (1972)” was also unsuccessful.
Rise to Stardom
His Hindi movies “Dushman (1971)”, “Amar Prem (1972)”, ”Apna Desh (1972)” and “Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972)”, together earned more than 5 crores. His other films of 1972 such as “Dil Daulat Duniya”, “Bawarchi”, “Joroo Ka Ghulam” and “Shehzada” earned more than 4.5 crores. His next release “Anuraag (1972)” was a hit too.
Crazy Female Fans
During the peak of his career, he had a lot of female fans waiting for him outside his house even at midnight. Many female fans kissed his car and covering that with lipstick marks, cheering and chanting his name. Some went beyond the limit by sending him letters written with their blood. During the filming of the movie “Amar Prem (1972),” there was a scene that needed to be shot at Howrah Bridge with a boat carrying Khanna and Sharmila under the bridge. But directors feared that when fans know Khanna was there, a huge crowd will form to get a glimpse of their favourite actor, which will eventually lead the bridge to collapse. Some fans went to the extreme end and even married his photograph! He would often need police protection when out in public.
Interest in Music
Music became one of the biggest attractions of many Rajesh Khanna films throughout his career. His films were always known for the music with chartbuster soundtracks. The main reason for this was that Khanna used to personally sit in music sessions with music directors such as Kalyanji Anandji, R. D. Burman, Shankar Jaikishen, Lakshmikant Pyarelal, S.D. Burman, Bappi Lahiri and select tunes for duets and solo songs in his films.
The trio of Rajesh Khanna, Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman made several songs in a number of popular films, including “Kati Patang (1970)“, “Aap Ki Kasam (1974)“, “Ajnabee (1974)“, “Namak Haraam (1973)“, “Maha Chor (1976)“, “Karm (1977)“, “Phir Wohi Raat (1980)“, “Aanchal (1980)“, “Kudrat (1981)“, “Ashanti (1982)“, “Agar Tum Na Hote (1983)“, “Awaaz (1984)“, “Hum Dono (1985)“, “Alag Alag (1985),” etc.
Chemistry With Co-Actors
His chemistry with Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Asha Parekh, Zeenat Aman, Tanuja and Hema Malini was quite popular with the audience. With Sharmila Tagore he has done 8 movies, with Hema Malini he has done 15 movies all in romantic genres and with Mumtaz, he has done 8 movies.
The BBC made a movie about him named “Bombay Superstar (1973)” which was later written as the “Charisma of Rajesh Khanna” on a textbook prescribed by Mumbai University when the actor was at the peak of his career.
Between 1976 and 1978, he acted in 14 films among which 5 became box office hits and 9 became unsuccessful. The change of his genre from romantic and social movies to action-oriented multi-starrer caused a decline in Rajesh Khanna’s career in terms of box office ratings. Later, an unexpected and only successful movie of actor Joy Mukherjee, “Chhailla Babu (1977)” gave a career boost to Khanna. His movies “Maha Chor (1976)”, “Anurodh (1977)”, “Karm (1977)”, “Tinku (1977)”, “Bhola Bhala (1978)” became blockbuster hits.
Commercial Success in Various Genres
From 1979 to 1982, Khanna acted in several movies which all became commercially successful. Some of them are, as “Amar Deep, Phir Wohi Raat, Bandish, Thodisi Bewafaii, Dard, Kudrat, Dhanwan, Ashanti, Avtaar, Agar Tum Na Hote, Souten, Jaanwar, Asha Jyoti, Awaaz, Naya Kadam, Hum Dono, Babu, Aaj Ka M.L.A. Ram Avtar, Shatru, Insaaf Main Karoonga”. Tina Munim and Khanna became best on and off screen couples at that time. He did around 20 multi-star films among which some notable films are “Rajput (1982)“, “Nishaan (1983)”, “Maqsad (1984),” etc. Khanna almost worked in all genres reaching almost all audience from every corner of the society. For example, in his movie “Babu (1985)” he played as a rickshaw puller, thriller in “Red Rose (1980)” as a psychopath, political adventure in “Awam (1987)”, fantasy in “Bundal Baaz (1976)” and “Jaanwar (1983)”, criminal in “Phir Wohi Raat (1980)” and “Angaaray (1986)“, comedy in “Joru Ka Ghulam (1972)”, “Bawarchi (1972)”, “Hum Dono (1985)” and “Masterji (1985)”, action in “Ashanti (1982),” and “Zamana (1985)”, and family dramas addressing different issues in “Aanchal (1980)“, “Amrit (1986)” and “Agar Tum Na Hote (1983)” and films addressing issues of social concerns in “Avtaar (1983)“, “Naya Kadam (1984)“,”Aakhir Kyon (1985)”, etc.
Career in Politics
During the peak of his career, he rejected many cinema offers and entered politics. He served as M P in Congress for the period 1991 to 1996. He then returned to movies in 1994 by “Khudai”. He did several movies after that as a character artist. He also starred in four television series from 2000-2009.
Personal Life And Death
He married Dimple Kapadia in 1973, when she was a blooming actress. Her debut film released 8 months after her marriage. She was ardent fan of Rajesh Khanna. Together they have two daughters namely Twinkle Khanna who is married to famous Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar and second daughter Rinke Khanna who is also an actor. After being terminally ill, Rajesh Khanna died on 18th July 2012. He was awarded India’s third highest civilian honour, Padma Bhushan.
The Reason Behind Rajesh Khanna’s Success
The main reason for the continuous success of Rajesh Khanna’s films was he did movies of every genre simultaneously and had more critically acclaimed films to his credit than all other Hindi actors of every generation. This marks the difference between him and his predecessors, successors, contemporaries. Khanna’s films not only ran successfully in Hindi speaking areas but also celebrated in the whole of India. Rajesh Khanna was one among the very few actors who knew how to manage his star life in order to maintain a balance between different kinds of cinema and remain popular among both kind of audiences – masses and classes for displaying his craft.
Kamal Hassan’s Deep Bond With Rajesh Khanna
Actor Kamal Hassan was a very good friend of Rajesh Khanna. Kamal quoted in an interview, to narrate how he experienced Khanna’s stardom in an incident in 1985- “He probably hadn’t been to a public theatre since he became a star. When we reached, things were okay. He enjoyed the mediocre film (The Swarm) thoroughly and refused to leave until the end titles. That’s when I panicked. This was Rajesh Khanna, the star of the millennium. If audiences got to know he was present there would be a stampede and blood on my hands. But Mr Khanna refused to listen. He stayed on till the end. The inevitable happened after the show. All hell broke loose as audiences realised he was there. I became Rajesh Khanna’s bodyguard and security officer as I took him through the crowd. His shirt was torn, but he was enjoying himself thoroughly. He giggled and chuckled like a child.”