Screen legend Rajesh Khanna passed away July 18, at the age of 69 in Mumbai after a long illness. Here are some highlights from his life.
• 1929-1964: He was born Jatin Khanna on Dec. 29, 1929, in Amritsar.
It is not clear whether after being orphaned he was adopted by a wealthy uncle and aunt or an unrelated rich couple, but he had a great upbringing. It is said that he adopted their second name Khanna out of sheer gratitude. Rajesh Khanna as a name was given by the same uncle.
Khanna came to Mumbai far before he began to look for film offers, and stayed in Maharashtrian- and Gujarati-dominated Girgaum in Mumbai in a small house with them. He knew immaculate English because he had studied in a missionary school throughout. Khanna struggled as an actor to meet producers in his own MG sports car, not on foot. His parents ensured that!
A good friend in his struggling days was Ravi Kapoor, who later became Jeetendra. At one point Khanna had claimed that he had “tutored” his friend for the latter’s first audition.
• 1965-1966: He won the Filmfare-United Producers’ talent contest beating Vinod Mehra, who would take another six years to get a break. There were 10,000 contestants. As part of the prize, he won films with G.P. Sippy (“Raaz”) and Nasir Husain (“Baharon Ke Sapne”) and Chetan Anand (“Aakhri Khat”) also signed him. He also signed South titan S.S. Vasan’s “Aurat” in the second lead to Feroz Khan! “Raaz” released first. “Baharon…” and “Aakhri Khat” had two of his most offbeat characterizations. “Baharon Ke Sapne” was the only film of the four to do average business. It was his first association and the beginning of a long friendship with R.D. Burman.
• 1967: Khanna’s first chartbuster, to break a myth, was Kalyanji-Anandji’s “Akele Hain Chale Aao” by Mohammed Rafi in “Raaz.”
• 1968: The next films this boy-next-door signed were Shakti Samanta’s “Aradhana” and Raj Khosla’s “Do Raaste.” Composer-producer Hemant Kumar signed him at Waheeda Rehman’s recommendation for “Khamoshi,” the last of his black-and-white films. South hit maker A. Subba Rao cast him in “Doli,” produced by top lyricist Rajendra Krishan’s brother.
• 1969: Jubilee star Rajendra Kumar turned backdoor producer with “The Train” and cast him at top actress Nanda’s recommendation. Nanda loved to back young heroes and help them find a footing.
Just before “Aradhana” and “Do Raaste” released, Yash Chopra launched and completed “Ittefaq” for B.R. Chopra and this film, “Doli” and “Khamoshi” released back to back in then last four months of 1969.
History and hysteria were created. The first two films became blockbusters, notching up 100 weeks run in Mumbai’s theaters that were placed diagonally opposite each other: Roxy and Opera House. “Doli,” a family melodrama, became a hit and “Ittefaq” a rage.
“Aradhana” began Khanna’s association with Samanta, Sharmila Tagore and Kishore Kumar. It was his first dual role, and the film also marked his first association with lyricist Anand Bakshi. Kishore also sang a song each in “Khamoshi” (critically appreciated) and “Do Raaste”, which began his association with his most successful co-star ever, Mumtaz, and Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
• 1970-1972: From 1970 to 1972, Khanna had 20 more jubilees, and survived debacles like “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” (the first film in which he had a financial stake), “Chhoti Bahu,’ “Dil Daulat Duniya,” “Malik,” “Joroo Ka Gulam,” “Shehzada” and “Mere Jeevan Saathi.” Even “Bawarchi,” in which his work was loved, was a flop.
“Saccha Jhutha” and “Anand” were his best performances then and “Haathi Mere Saathi,” his biggest hit, the first Hindi film to touch one crore per territory (when ticket prices were Rs. 2 in the best theaters!).
However, by this time, along with the star hysteria, Khanna’s success went to his head and he started developing “chamchas” (hangers-on) and putting off genuine friends. Parties, booze and erratic schedules became a norm, alongside a superstardom at its zenith — girls swooned at his sight, married his photographs, and put lipstick marks over his car; and men imitated his dressing sense (the guru kurta became a fashion statement), hair-style and his mannerisms.
• 1973: The advent of Rishi Kapoor in “Bobby” and Amitabh Bachchan in “Zanjeer” contributed to the beginning of his decline. Rishi was a young romantic heartthrob and Bachchan changed trends with an angst then identifiable in India’s social scenario.
Rajesh Khanna dumped girlfriend Anju Mahendru, who had been his support system for many years, and married Dimple Kapadia, who played “Bobby” in a quick wedding weeks before “Bobby” released.
• 1974: He had even alienated Salim-Javed and they quit two of his films. The commercially strong duo insisted on Shashi Kapoor in “Deewaar” when Yash Chopra wanted Khanna.
Reports of his unprofessional conduct spread and not all filmmakers tolerated his tantrums. Even Hrishikesh Mukherjee moved away.
• 1976-1980: The multi-star trend saw heroes, who perceived him as manipulative, gang up to make films with each other. Then flopping of major films like “Prem Kahani,” “Mehbooba” and many more saw Khanna lose his commercial hold and even loyalists filmmakers shift to other stars. The action trend grew and Khanna was a misfit in it.
At home, trouble was brewing though Khanna had sired two daughters by the end of the ‘70s. Dimple Kapadia decided to separate from him at the turn of the ‘80s, and signed her comeback film “Saagar.”
• 1981-1989: The flops continued, laced with an occasional success in “Thodisi Bewafaii,” “Dard” and “Dhanwaan.” Mohan Kumar cast him again in “Avtaar” as an old man and this was seen as the comeback of Khanna after it proved a Golden Jubilee. In the same year, he had a hit in “Souten” and a success in “Agar Tum Na Hote.” In early ’84, there was also “Maqsad” with Jeetendra.
Khanna got into a relationship with Tina Munim but it did not work. They had no hit after “Souten” and they drifted apart.
Khanna mended many bridges, reconnecting with old successful associations like Shakti Samanta (“Awaaz” and Khanna’s co-production “Alag Alag”), Yash Chopra (“Vijay”), Arabind Sen and composers Kalyanji-Anandji (“Nasihat”) and J. Om Prakash (“Aakhir Kyon?”) but the fire was missing and all films flopped.
Many successful heroes turned kinder towards him. Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor (who agreed to do an older role in Khanna’s “Alag Alag”), Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor did films with Khanna. But no film worked. By the late ‘80s he shifted to old roles but failed to have success even there.
• 1990-2012: In the ‘90s and millennium he had trysts with politics (somewhat successful) and television (disastrous), and had reportedly landed into many debts and tax issues. Sadly, Khanna ended his career with insignificant B-grade films like “Jaana-Let’s Fall In Love,” “Kaash…Mere Hote,” “Wafaa” (a skin flick with the controversial Laila Khan, now deceased) and “Do Dilon Ke Khel Mein.”
The Consummate Actor
Khanna, either by design or default, kick-started the peaks of the careers of Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Shakti Samanta, Manmohan Desai, Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman, and helped launched the banner of Yash Raj Films with “Daag.”
Contrary to popular conception, he always tried his hand at something completely out-of-the-box for him. He played the role essayed by Ashok Kumar in the original “Meherban” in David Dhawan’s “Swarg,” was a psychopath in “Red Rose,“ a politician in “Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avtar“ and appeared as a qawwal in a cameo in “Suraag.“ A psychiatric patient in “Khamoshi,” a cook who was a mysterious figure in “Bawarchi,” an escaped convict in “Roti,” and a wounded soldier in “Aakraman” were all in the day’s work for him.
Khanna had a great understanding of the script and characters, even if post-superstardom he did suffuse his characters with his classic Khanna-isms and become his own parody. On screen, he had the acumen to know exactly where Khanna the star ended and the character began, which explained the brilliance of his turns in “Anand,” “Dushmun,” Daag,” “Anuraag“ and “Aap Ki Kasam.”