The Press heralds him as the first superstar of Hindi films. K.N. Vijayan pays tribute to the late Rajesh Khanna who died on Wednesday aged 69
FOR Malaysians, Rajesh Khanna will always be remembered as the hero of Hindi movie Haathi Mere Saathi which created history in 1971, it being the first film to enjoy a 100-day run in a local theatre.
It tells of a man’s love for his four elephants, which even transcended his love for his wife (played by Tanuja).
The movie, which boasted hit songs, was popular with all races. Who can forget the song Chal, Chal, Mere Saathi by Kishore Kumar, with music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal? It remains a favourite till today.
Hindi film buff Bulbir Singh recalls that Haathi Mere Saathi played at the Diamond theatre in the Chinese majority area of Jinjang in Kuala Lumpur for six months. He said the movie also played for four months at the Central cinema in Jalan Dang Wangi, KL and six months at a cinema in Penang.
He said Rajesh’s other movies that played well due to their storyline were Mehbooba, Amar Prem, Ajnabee and Prem Nagar. Incidentally, that movie was remade in Tamil as Nalla Neram with MGR in the lead. It was also a hit.
Rajesh is also well-known for his role in Aradhana which featured the hit songs Roop Tera Mastana and Mere Sapno Ki Rani, both sung by Kishore Kumar under S.D. Burman’s composition.
The story of a woman who becomes pregnant before her wedding proved a sensational hit when released in 1969 and made Rajesh a superstar. People who saw the movie also raved over the heroine, Sharmila Tagore (mother of Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan).
Rajesh’s other hits included Kati Patang and Andaz. His fame catapulted after he married Dimple Kapadia, the young heroine of the 1973 hit movie Bobby, which made Rishi Kapoor a household name. They had met at Bollywood parties and married six months before Dimple’s debut film was released.
Dimple, 15 years younger than Rajesh, gave him two daughters — actress Twinkle Khanna who is married to actor Akshay Kumar and Rinke Khanna, also an actress, who is married to London-based investment banker Sameer Saran.
But after the Dimple-Rajesh marriage ended in 1983, Dimple went on to carve a successful career in films, appearing in more than 60 movies, including Cocktail, playing now in cinemas.
Some reports say Rajesh and Dimple never completed their divorce proceedings and were often seen together at parties. She and her children were reported to have cared for Rajesh during his final days.
He was said to have been involved in relationships with two other Bollywood actresses, Anju Mahendru — who starred with him in the film Souten — from the late 1960s to 70s and Tina Munim in the ‘80s.
Women were besotted by his clean-shaven good looks and soothing voice. In fact, there were even reports of how his female fans “married” themselves to his photographs. Some crazy fans even wrote letters to him in their blood.
It was said that predecessors Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar broke hearts in their time but the hysteria connected with Rajesh was unprecedented.
Born as Jatin Khanna on Dec 29, 1942, Rajesh was raised by wealthy foster parents who were relatives of his biological parents. His interest in school plays and a win in an all India talent contest saw him make his Bollywood debut in 1966 in Aakhri Khat.
In a career spanning 20 years, he was the only actor said to have given 15 successive super hits between 1969 and 1972.
Kishore Kumar became his favourite playback singer and the songs were so popular that they served to make Rajesh even more popular. He even used to sit in for the music composing sessions so that he could have a say in the selection of tunes.
Rajesh also dabbled in politics as a Congress Lok Sabha member of parliament between 1992 and 1996.
But as time went on cinema audiences’ tastes changed; the emergence of “angry young men” roles played by actors like Amitabh Bachchan (who acted with him in Anand) affected Rajesh’s lover boy roles, which lost their pull at the box-office. And like many other actors, drinking and loneliness also took their toll.
Unlike Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh was unable to reinvent himself for present-day audiences. But his movies mark him as the king of romance of the 1970s.
Rajesh Khanna’s funeral was held in Mumbai on Thursday