This piece appeared in the July 19, 2012 Mumbai edition of DNA
The romantic 1960s took off with 'Yahoo' Shammi Kapoor's 'Junglee' and went through the gilded love stories of films of silver jubilee Rajendra Kumar of 'Arzoo' and 'Mere Mehboob'. Young girls then, who must be in their mid-sxities and early seventies idol-worshipped Kumar and took pleasure in the comic antics of Kapoor. It looked like romanticism on-screen and of-screen had peaked.
Then Rajesh Khanna happened.
Shakti Samanta-directed 'Aradhana' in 1969 unleashed a romantic typhoon that knocked off everything standing. After this film, teenage girls, who must be now in their late fifties and early sixties did something that their older sisters and mothers would not ever thought of doing. They pestered their parents to take them to see Rajesh Khanna, and when they read that he was down with fever, they fanned his photographs and sighed endlessly and shed innocent tears.
There were stars before Rajesh Khanna and there was star adulation.The Hindi film industry had not seen anything like it before. They called him the “Super Star”. There were bigger stars before him like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, and there were big stars after him. Amitabh Bachchan came to be known as the “one-man industry”. Rajesh Khanna remained the only super star long phenomenon after he faded away. Mass adulation never again touched the Rajesh Khanna peak.
There was the struggle phase before the supernova explosion. The first film he shot was Chetan Anand's “Aakhri Khat”, an artistic movie that did not cause any box office ripples. The first film that was released was “Raaz”, in which he acted with debutante Babita, who later married Randhir Kapoor. Of course, the present generation would recognise her as the mother of Karishma and Kareena Kappor. Rajesh Khanna and Babita wrote to each other about the first film experience in the magazine “Star & Style”. It was the innocent way of promoting the film. “Raaz” is now remembered because it launched Rajesh Khanna though not in the big way. It was “Aradhana” that did it.
When he acted with Asha Parekh, who was then the leading heroine, in “Bahaaron Ke Sapne”, his second film after “Raaz”, it was remembered because of Asha Parekh. Fortunes changed when the super star acted with her in “Kati Patang” in in early '70s, and the film was a success because of him and Asha Parekh won the Filmfare award for best actress for the film.
The famous star clash was between Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed “Namak Haram”. The stories went round that Rajesh Khanna made Bachchan do the shots again and again to tire him out and he could outshine him that way. Most viewers were bowled over by Bachchan's hallmark dramatic performance. A re-viewing of the film would show that Khanna acted superbly and Bachchan had to work so much harder to measure up to Khanna.
The Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore starrer “Amar Prem” will be remembered as much for its hautning music and songs of Kishore Kumar as for the stylises acting of Khanna and Tagore. The memorable and pleasing role that Khanna ever did was again in Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed “Bawarchi” where Khanna's flair for the comic turn showed the good actor he was.
Rajesh Khanna was concsious of his super star status he did not slip into secondary roles of father and uncle in the films. He did not ever think of doing those grey and dark characters to prove that he is a superb actor. The super star did not ever want to leave his hero's perch.
There were two films where he played an older man and where the herpoic glint remained undimmed. The first was “Avtar”, where he plays the pater familias of a small and small-income family, and refuses to bend before misfortune. Shabana Azmi plays his wife in this film. The other is Rishi Kapoor-directed “Aa Ab Laut Chale” in the late 1990s, where he remains the unbending, dignified and mellowed patriarch.
Rajesh Khanna retained his super star glow till the end, a reminder of the unparalleled explosion of fan adulation ever to happen in Hindi films.