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Remembering Rajesh Khanna
Indian cinema has known no bigger star than Rajesh Khanna. Between 1969 and 1974 he had to his credit a staggering 16 blockbusters, most of them record-breakers. Men women and kids alike were under the Khanna spell. And while the magic lasted all other actors were eclipsed. Then one day, it all evaporated. Just why Rajesh Khanna lost his superstardom is a subject for another day. Here we list the 10 most powerful films of the actor for whom the epithetic ‘superstar’ was coined.
- Aradhana (1969): Here is where it all began. Though Khanna had earlier given muted but sensitive performances in Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat and Nasir Hussain’s Baharon Ke Sapne, it was Aradhana that turned the actor into the most sensational matinee idol of all times. Yes, the songs also helped. Kishore Kumar’s voice in ‘Mere sapnon ki rani’, ‘Roop tera mastana’ and ‘Kora kagaz ttha yeh mann mera’ lent a lure to the charismatic persona. With Aradhana began Khanna’s fabulously fruitful association with Kishore Kumar and director Shanti Samanta. The superstar was directed by Samanta in 8 films, most of them blockbusters.
- Ittefaq(1969): It took a devilish amount of daring for the superstar to move away from his lately-acquired image of a romantic star to play a neurotic murder suspect on the run. The entire experimental film, directed by Yash Chopra, unfolded during one stormy night. Incidentally Khanna sported a beard for this role which caused continuity problems with Raj Khosla’s Do Raaste, which he shot simultaneously. Though Do Raaste is one of Khanna’s biggest hits the central role was performed by Balraj Sahni.
- Kati Patang(1971): In most of his biggest hits Khanna played variations of Devdas, the long-suffering tragic hero pining for a lost love, who dies at the end. He played a lonely man who drowns his sorrow in alcohol. Never one to shy away from heroine-centric films, Khanna gladly and convincingly took second lead to Asha Parekh. But he had all the R D Burman-Kishore Kumar songs; ‘Yeh jo mohabbat hai’, ‘Yeh Shaam mastani’ and ‘Pyar deewana hota hai’.
- Anand(1971): Many, including yours truly, consider Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand to be Khanna’s most memorable film and character. The terminally ill Anand Sehgal’s kinship with the sober and reticent Babu Moshai (Amitabh Bachchan) was modeled on director Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s friendship with Raj Kapoor. Anand’s role was first offered to Kapoor, then Kishore Kumar and Shashi Kapoor. In hindsight it’s inconceivable to imagine anyone but Rajesh Khanna as Anand.
- Sachcha Jhutha(1970): In 1970, Rajesh Khanna had two blockbusters the suspense thriller The Train and Manmohan Desai’s Sachcha Jhutha, and two highly acclaimed performances in Khamoshi and Safar, both directed by Asit Sen (not the comic actor of the 1950s but the acclaimed director). Khanna in Sachcha Jhutha was a rage singing Meri pyari beheniya banegi dulhaniya to his screen sister Naaz. This was his third double role after Aradhana and the pre-stardom suspense film Raaz.
- Safar(1970): A masterpiece on the existential dilemma: how long does one live for life to acquire significance? Yet one more tragic role for Khanna where he dies at the end.This delicately drama was powered by his understated performance and complemented by Sharmila Tagore’s serene presence.
- Haathi Mere Saathi(1971): During 1971 Rajesh Khanna featured in a staggering 10 films. Haathi Mere Saathi was complete kitsch about a man’s obsession with his pet elephant at the cost of his marriage. Perhaps the biggest of all the Khanna blockbusters this film endeared the superstar to kids and animal lovers. He teamed up with Tanuja again in Mere Jeevan Saathi with far less success.
- Amar Prem(1972): At the peak of his popularity Rajesh Khanna did this blockbuster film. Amar Prem is about a lonely man in a sterile marriage and his platonic relationship with a nurturing prostitute. Khanna and Tagore were simply magic without one intimate moment as man and beloved. And the songs, those immortal Kishore Kumar-R D Burman melodies, such as ‘Chingari koi bhadke’, ‘Yeh kya hua kaise hua’, and ‘Kuch toh log kahenge’ made us swoon. The audience loved everything he did.
- Aavishkar(1974): Stripped of all the superstar mannerisms that turned India into a Khanna-obsessed nation, this Basu Bhattacharya directed marital drama saw Khanna and Sharmila Tagore do a Richard Burton and Liz Taylor from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. The implosive anger was redemptive in its recriminations.
- Aap Ki Kasam(1974): One of Rajesh Khanna’s last blockbusters, it featured him with his other favourite co-star Mumtaz (apart from Sharmila Tagore), in a grey role as a suspicious husband whose jealousy ruins the marriage. In hindsight the Kishore Kumar song ‘Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hai jo makaam, woh phir nahi aate’ seems to be poet Anand Bakshi’s anthem for Rajesh Khanna’s career. If only he hadn’t allowed the stunning success to go to his head.