Rise and fall of Bollywood’s first superstar – Rajesh Khanna

‘The fault lies not in our stars, but in ours’ – Shakespeare

Lights, Camera, action….these three words have changed the lives of several struggling actors who aspired to make it big in the world of cinema. Indian cinema was ruled by several legends like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kumar and Dharmendra. Despite having so many talented legends, why was Rajesh Khanna conferred the title of superstar? He neither had a dynamic physique like Dharmendra nor did he have a strong presence like Dilip Kumar. So what made him stand apart from the crowd? Why the girls in that 70’s era were so mad about him? It was not just madness, it was hysteria.

Even today’s contemporary stars like Shahrukh, Salman and Ranbir don’t have those hysterical fans like Rajesh Khanna had. After ‘Namak Haram’, the charm and stardom of Rajesh Khanna started fading as he couldn’t accept the bitter truth that a new era of cinema had started with arrival of action movies and angry young man that changed the course of cinema. Who destroyed Rajesh Khanna? – His ego or the changing cinema trends. In his dark phase, his situation was no less than King Lear who was ignored, neglected and abandoned by the people who once worshipped him. After giving a successive 17 hits in a row, this first superstar was suddenly gone into oblivion. His failure came soon as his success. This article explores the man behind the superstar who arrived, conquered and was defeated.

I got familiar with his performance when I watched Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand on Doordarshan metro channel. The role of ‘Anand Sehgal’ portrayed by Rajesh Khanna was larger than life. This role was initially offered to shashi kapoor and Kishore Kumar, but unfortunately for some reasons they couldn’t take this offer. Even dharmendra wanted to be a part of this movie, but Hrishikesh zeroed on to Rajesh Khanna to play the titular role.

 This movie is a milestone in history of Indian cinema because Anand was not just a character for movie audience; but an inspiration to stay happy even in tough times. His dying moment in the movie ‘Anand’ left people tear-eyed. Rajesh Khanna was only the super star who owned a sports car during his struggling times. His original name was Jatin Khanna. He wanted to use the name ‘Jeetendra’ as his screen name for debuting in movies. When he realized that this name was already taken by his friend Ravi Kapoor, he settled on to pick Rajesh as his screen name. His earlier movies were flop. It was Aradhna that changed the destiny of Rajesh Khanna. After that there was no looking back. He is the only superstar to deliver 17 consecutive hit movies in a row.

‘Babu Moshay, Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin’ – lines from movie ‘Anand’

During the shooting of Anand, Amitabh was a newbie struggler. It was Rajesh Khanna who had referred Amitabh to Hrishikesh for role of Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee in movie Anand. Little had he realized that Amitabh would replace him and become the next superstar. Amitabh’s struggle paid off with Zanjeer and he was the new ‘Angry young man’ of Indian cinema. Cinema was changing. People wanted to see a new hero who was a rebel and this reflected in Amitabh. He was a star overnight. In ‘Namak Haram’ Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh came together for the second time. This time, it was Amitabh who stole the show. Rajesh Khanna had a gut feeling that his days of stardom were numbered. Thus began a rivalry between Rajesh and Amitabh. Though Rajesh Khanna gave some hit movies like Avatar, Souten, Amrit and Kudrat, he was unsuccessful to retain back his stardom. His darkest hours followed by split up with his wife Dimple. He was a loner. During his successful years, he teamed up with Kishore Kumar and R.D.Burman to give successful movies like Aradhna, Kati Patang, Amar Prem and Kudrat. Kishoreda was his voice that rocked the music chart in 70’s. The voice of Kishoreda was very instrumental in making Rajesh Khanna a megastar. But the demise of Kishoreda in 1985 devastated Rajesh Khanna. He has lost his golden voice. Even his close friend – Jeetendra was well stable with movies like Himmatwala and Mawali. With no one to back him, he immersed himself in melancholia from which he never emerged.

I always wanted to write about movie ‘Anand’ in my blog. But every time, I started to write, one or other office or personal work brought disturbance to my creative process. Ironically I got the inspiration to write the story after hearing the news of his demise on July 17th 2012. The golden era of Rajesh Khanna ended with his death. I was left in shock and tears. After coming back from office, my fingers started typing the story of Anand fiercely. It was the loss of the superstar that gave me inspiration to write the article. Sorrow has always been instrumental in creating masterpieces. My article was not a masterpiece, but it was a tribute to a forgotten superstar who once ruled the cinema with his charm. His memorable line from movie Amar Prem was -‘Pushpa, I hate tears. His role from movie ‘Amar Prem’ reflected his melancholia. He wept in his heart, but couldn’t see anyone weeping.

Legends like Rajesh Khanna can never be forgotten. He still lives on in the hearts of his innumerable fans. Hope you all will like this story of a forgotten superstar who still rules the Indian cinema through his memorable movies.

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4 thoughts on “Rise and fall of Bollywood’s first superstar – Rajesh Khanna

  1. What a beautiful write-up…way to go Prashant…there was so much in this article that I enjoyed reading in full detail.

    It is indeed true that Rajesh Khanna fell prey to the paradigm-altering change in the taste of the audience with regard to the silver screen hero and gone were the days of the 60s when ladies used to swoon over chocolate boys- they now wanted to see tougher, alpha-male men who can kick ass and still look dashing and spectacular.

    Amitabh Bachchan fitted the bill perfectly and yet he also proved that he could be a solid and versatile actor as well. Rajesh Khanna was limited as an actor and while Bachchan was reinventing himself with relentless energy even in the 80s and 90s right up to the 2000s even after so many debacles, Khanna could not quite try and sustain the stardom that he had enjoyed in his brief run. As it happens, it is probable that Khanna was merely the right person in the wrong time, He would have found more success in the 60s than at the wee end of that decade and the beginning of a whole new time in Hindi cinema.

    It was really enlightening to know too, Prashant, that you found Bachchan more powerful than Khanna in ‘Namak Haraam’. I agree with you, fully. That was one of those instances that brought out the fact that Bachchan was indeed a very solid performer whose sun had finally dawned and it was like a tragic warning to Khanna that his time was over. Even today, I feel that Bachchan really stole the show in that brilliant film.

    While I am no fan of Khanna, (may favorite is still Big B), this article was nothing short of brilliant. Also, loved that you highlighted the quintessential role of the superb Kishore Kumar in making Rajesh Khanna’s songs and films so popular…

  2. Wow! Such a delight to read about Rajesh Khanna. Lot of facts that I never knew, specially his real name 🙂
    Happy to ready your articles and learn lot of things :). Keep writing.

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