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Rajesh Khanna: Remembering A Screen Icon

Rajesh Khanna: Remembering A Screen Icon

July 23, 2012
Shivani Tripathi

Remembering the film icon who changed the face of stardom.



India’s first superstar. The most handsome actor to grace the film screen. The greatest romantic hero.

These are some of the epithets being seen in headlines and news stories around the world describing film actor Rajesh Khanna who passed away Wednesday in Mumbai at the age of 69. Khanna’s passing has not only touched those who remember a certain era, but also many who did not live during that time, such as myself.

The love affair NRI families have with Indian cinema is no secret. Akin to a handwritten letter from across the miles informing us of the latest happenings in India, movies have served as a tie between the country my grandparents left and the country where I was born.

While watching Hindi films at home the adults would often add to the viewing experience by recalling what time was like when the film had released, or mentioning pieces from the hero or heroines real life. While there were many actors whose work we enjoyed, family members would speak of Rajesh Khanna with a special enthusiasm and fondness. Stories of ‘the craze’ were always shared during a viewing of his films and how women of all ages were absolutely mad for him. Unbelievable tales were recounted: females writing love letters in blood, girls running away from home in hopes of marrying the actor, or even women taking dirt from his car tires and applying it like sindoor (vermillion). Despite living in the US, my family was certain of Khanna’s popularity as news clips in film reels revealed footage of girls marrying his photograph, and would give those residing outside India proof of his massive celebrity.

The tone and content of tales involving Khanna would interestingly change depending on when the film in question was made. For the films released during the height of his popularity from the late 60s to early 70s, the comments were complimentary and enforced the image of Khanna as the biggest phenomenon seen in Indian cinema. But for the films from the 80s, including acclaimed and popular films such as ‘Souten’, ‘Amrit’ and ‘Aakhir Kyon’, the comments were about his marriage to a teenager, the live-in relationship with his girlfriend, and his tragic fall from once being the brightest star in the industry.

The same sentiments have been echoed many times by film magazines and news articles about Rajesh Khanna, detailing how he fell victim to his own fame and thought himself invincible. But how is a nation’s first superstar supposed to know how to prepare himself for unimaginable celebrity? How could a man who delivered an incredible fifteen back-to back hit films not consider himself superhuman? And how can a person who was mobbed at every turn not feel lost when the audience no longer has interest in him? No one before Khanna had reached such heights and there was no cautionary tale to evoke. It is when gods fall from grace do they become a lesson for mortals at the cusp of greatness, and the mythology of Rajesh Khanna continues to serve as an example to film stars climbing new heights.

Yet this is not necessarily how he is remembered. Recently while speaking with my mother and asking her about Khanna, I heard a woman of three adult children transform into that giddy thirteen-year-old girl who saw the actor for the first time in ‘Aradhana’ in a Colorado theater. She laughed as she remembered putting a postcard of his image, which she got from an aunty’s film magazine, under her pillow at night as she dreamed of marrying him one day. When I asked her what comes to mind upon the mention of Rajesh Khanna she mentioned handsome, romantic, charismatic and in detail described the way he would smile. Khanna’s rich films are part of the memories my family has of building a new life in America. They worked hard to establish themselves while the melodious songs from his films played in the background.

My mother hasn’t been the only one in recent days to recall the magic he created once upon a time. The incredible outpouring from around the world and by people of all ages proves Rajesh Khanna is more than a legend and much greater than a cautionary tale. He evokes a certain, special time that was made sweeter by the romance, charm and tenderness of his films. And such qualities make for evergreen cinema, and for an immortal artist. 

31 Comments

  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    12.09.12 05:45 AM
    @DR ROOP CHAND TEJWANI I agree. As long as people continue to watch his films, he will be alive.
  • DR ROOP CHAND TEJWANI
    By
    DR ROOP CHAND TEJWANI
    11.09.12 11:19 PM
    Rajesh Khanna passed away, but his memories always remain in shape of Indian film ,we are always like his movies ,
  • Khadija Ejaz
    By
    Khadija Ejaz
    09.08.12 04:33 PM
    Rajesh Khanna was also petty and vindictive in real life. I think people in the entertainment business ought to be the last to look up to.
  • V. Manohar
    By
    V. Manohar
    27.07.12 04:47 PM
    Super Star Rajesh Khanna

    Now the whole world has come to know the real and true Super Star Rajesh Khanna of Indian Cinema. No actor can even match that Talent. My Salute to the one and only King of Romance. Even though there were few good actors from Bollywood. Now thinking back. We truly feel no one had the edge like Rajesh Khanna. May God bless his soul. He is true and complete actor. It seems acting comes naturally for him. Such a rare talent.
    All fans of KAKA, we have a special information for you some thing to be very proud about type the name Rajesh Khanna in google and just see the number of links which appear - 5 CRORES 88 LAKHS and continously increasing , second only to Salman Khan who has 6 .5 Crores , Amitabh Bachchan has 4.50 Crores , Shaharukh 3.20 Crores , Aamir 4.50 Crores , Dev Anand - 45 lakhs , Shammi Kapoor 33 lakhs , Shashi Kapoor 33 lakhs , Dilip Kumar 46 lakhs , Raj Kapoor 55 lakhs, Dharmendra 66 lakhs , Hrithik Roshan 1.50 Crores .
    And at the pace its increasing he may overtake Salman too , in the morining when i saw it was 5.20 Crores its now close to 6.
    Now its responsibility of the fans of Rajesh Khanna and the media to highlight this.
    The Tiger roars again

    V. Manohar
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    26.07.12 08:26 AM
    @kumud Thank you so much. I completely agree with your sentiment, and know many others do as well :)
  • kumud
    By
    kumud
    25.07.12 09:01 AM
    Fantastic writing Shivani! There was and will be only one Rajesh Khanna.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    25.07.12 04:58 AM
    @Shweta What a lovely comment, Shweta. Thank you. You're very right...that era of cinema is very special. Mr. Khanna certainly did his part in making that moment in time different from the others.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    25.07.12 04:47 AM
    @Sabyasachi Patra Thank you for the kind compliment.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    25.07.12 04:42 AM
    @Deepa Duraisamy Your kind words are very much appreciated, Deepa. So many memories and tales have once again come alive since Khanna's passing. Thank you for sharing your experience.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    25.07.12 04:35 AM
    @Rajpriya Thank you very much for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    25.07.12 04:33 AM
    @Ashok Vaishnav Thanks for sharing. Mr. Sethi's piece reads like an expose of sorts. If he had to write pieces on film actors with similar quirks (past and present), he would be a very busy man.
  • Shweta
    By
    Shweta
    24.07.12 07:31 PM
    Well done Shivani! You really captured the charm of Rajesh Khanna, and how important he was to the Indian and NRI experience. The quality of film that was produced in that era cant be denied.
  • Sabyasachi Patra
    By
    Sabyasachi Patra
    24.07.12 03:47 PM
    Very nicely written article. Surely he was a icon.
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    By
    Deepa Duraisamy
    24.07.12 01:04 PM
    Beautifully done Shivani. Like any other Indian family, when Rajesh Khanna passed away, mine too reminisced of those days. Tales and anecdotes would come up, my father would sing his songs, he was a fine actor. No doubt about it. His tales would live for years to come!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    24.07.12 10:23 AM
    Correction:

    Yours is a very well thought and well written article.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    24.07.12 10:21 AM
    @Shivani,

    Yours is a very well thought and well thought article. To be become extremely popular and then providing enough reasons to be in a negative scenario is hard for fans to gulp down. Bill Clinton lost his popularity when it was almost at its zenith similarly. I remember watching Aradhana at least five times when it was first released.

    Great you are not sing the French national anthem because some else one wants you.
  • Ashok Vaishnav
    By
    Ashok Vaishnav
    24.07.12 09:42 AM
    Shri Sunil Sethi presents a very intersting, a rather contrarian view on persona of Rajesh Khanna - http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/sunil-sethistar-who-couldnt-cope/480974/

    "Rajesh Khanna’s life can be viewed as a paradigm of stardom’s tragedy. He found both success and failure hard to handle." ---- sentence really does sum up Rajesh Khanna - the phenomenon
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    24.07.12 05:54 AM
    @behroz Thank you for the passionate comment. You are very right...he has touched many lives and the music from his films are indeed priceless. A true superstar.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    24.07.12 05:51 AM
    @Harry I think the shot of him in 'Aradhana' wearing a red turtleneck/blue suit and a sweet smile will always be how I think of him. As far as his personal life is concerned, I don't think it's possible to be a star and have a private life.
  • behroz
    By
    behroz
    23.07.12 10:20 PM
    hi

    what can one comment on a super star who filled our hearts with amazing entertainment filled with priceless music these souls come down for a reason to fill up the hearts with gratitude
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    23.07.12 07:44 PM
    @ Shivani

    I always associated Rajesh Khannas movies with happy memories, when I was younger. He was a superstar in his art and there is no question about it. I think regarding his private life should be left private.

    HARRY
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    23.07.12 05:23 PM
    @Ranita Sinha Thank you so much for sharing such a lovely story, Ranita! I'm sure many women felt the same...at least your mother made sure you'd be taken care of by your dad :) And thank you for the compliment!
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    23.07.12 05:16 PM
    @Ashok Vaishnav Thank you very much for sharing your perspective, Ashok. I absolutely agree...he and his body of work have a timeless quality. I recently saw 'Sacha Jhoota' and was so thankful for dvds!
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    23.07.12 05:11 PM
    @Stuti Thanks! Good point. Living-in with a much younger woman, (while he was technically married) in a time where live-in relationships weren't as accepted was quite scandalous. Fans perhaps wanted to see him live a more wholesome life. It can be hard to separate real life from reel life.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    23.07.12 05:05 PM
    @love letters I think that's how many females start their description of Rajesh Khanna. In all fairness, his smile was disarming :)
  • Ranita Sinha
    By
    Ranita Sinha
    23.07.12 03:49 PM
    my mother is a die hard fan of Rajesh Khanna..she would always tell us 'if any day Rajesh Khanna comes and ask me to marry him u people please stay with ur dad..because i will not loose the opportunity'..we used to get really mad at her..but Rajesh Khanna's fans are like this only..RIP Rajesh Khannaji..nd a nice post Shivani..
  • Ashok Vaishnav
    By
    Ashok Vaishnav
    23.07.12 12:39 PM
    Coming in from a person who happens to be from a period couple of generation after Rajesh Khanna actaully performed originally, makes this piece quite special.

    Inicidebtally, there are more people, belonging to the then contemporary generation or belonging to the later egneration who have seen re-runs in the theaters or on TV or DVDs, who fondly remember hinm for his inherent acting prowess.

    He definitely desrves to be remebered - which ever way you may like him....
  • Stuti
    By
    Stuti
    23.07.12 11:44 AM
    Good One Shivani! But I don't know why his live-in relationship really made me think whether to continue respecting him as a person or only as an artist
  • love letters
    By
    love letters
    23.07.12 10:09 AM
    when i ask my mom about Rajesh khanna,first she would like to describe about his smile. later she will describe his movies.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    23.07.12 07:26 AM
    @smanteris Thank you so much for the kind words! I really enjoyed writing this piece.
  • smanteris
    By
    smanteris
    23.07.12 07:06 AM
    I loved the article! Ms. Tripathi, you are an excellent writer!

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