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By TN Ashok

New Delhi, July 18 : Not since DevAnand , considered the handsomest star in Indian cinema, was there another star of the same romantic genre, who held sway with countless millions of fans who venerated him beyond imagination.

Rajesh Khanna, the romantic super star, was born with Aradhana, Shakti Samanta’s romantic hit of the seventies which propelled him to such meteoric heights, unimaginable during that time. He was a craze particularly with college going girls in Chennai where after witnessing his shooting, girls would smear the sands he walked on as bindhi on their foreheads. His appeal was so strong even in his debut making film, BaharonKeSapne, the films ending was changed from a tragedy in the first week of run to a survivor in the 2nd week. Because his instant chemistry with fans could not allow them to digest the storyline involving his death.

Aradhana with RD Burman’s unforgettable hummable songs and the chemistry between Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore virtually set the sets on fire and they became the hottest pair of the times parallel to Dharmendra and HemaMalini. He delivered hit after hit with Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Tyaag, Haathi Mere Saathi, Aaan Milo Sajna.

His hottest co star was another big star of his times, Sanjeev Kumar.  Rajesh Khanna introduced his trade mark mannerisms of closing his eyes to sport a winning smile, his gestures with his hands and his copyrighted hairstyle. Only three Bollywood stars had hairstyles that were copied by fans, DevAnand’s buff, RajeshKhanna’s centre front parting and Amitabh Bachchans hair locks over the ears.

What marked a Rajesh Khanna a film was good music, a good romantic plot, comedy or tragedy, essentially his light hearted style of acting to extreme swings in serious tragic roles put on display his repertoire of talent to essay any role with consummate ease. If Aradhana propelled him to romantic super star status, then Anand established him as a serious actor while launching another big star Amitabh Bhachchan.

Rajesh did many unforgettable and forgettable roles equally in his super star status – the only star who probably delivered eighteen or more silver jubilees to keep his producers, distributors and exhibitors immensely happy. The seventies and eighties were Rajesh Khannas times as Bollywood was eternally in search of newer romantic heroes as DevAnand, Raj Kapoor, and Dilip Kumar receded into the background with their own productions or being highly selective about their roles. They were also the most pricy stars of their times.

But Rajesh Khanna with his new found status became the highest paid actor of his times. So much so there is the apocryphycal story about a producer approaching a renowned director of his times in the early eighties to say : Kaka Ko sign karliyahain ( I have signed on kaka – Rajesh Khannas pet name in the industry) abekacchhasa story writer doond do, music director nikalo ( now get a good music director and good a story writer). Signing Rajesh Khanna was the biggest achievement of the times; rest of the ensemble for the film was easy meat.

Rajesh Khanna’s marriage to Dimple Kapadia , half his age, came as a surprise. There were also unsavoury rumours at the time in the Industry about why Raj Kapoor brokered the marriage as he was not for his son Rishi Kapoor marrying a gujarati girl while the Kapoor clan was tradition bound to entertain only a Punjabi Bahu. The rumours did not cut much ice because ShashiKapoor had married a British woman and Kapoor clan had adjusted to that.

Also, Rajesh Khanna’s marriage to Dimple came as a shocker as the industry was full of salacious gossip about his twin romances with Anju Mahendroo and Tina Munim at the time one after the other. His enigmatic personality resulted in two long term  relationships with three Bollywood actresses in their heydays.

Khanna was in a long-term relationship with AnjuMahendru in the early ’70s, and later went on to marry Dimple Kapadia, 15 years younger to him, in 1973.

The eighties romantic hero themes seemed to pass into oblivion which made Rajesh Khanna step aside and offer his super star status to the new angry young man, Amitabh Bachchan, who redefined the makings of a star – he was viftually an anti star with his tall guant and unconventional looks. A star didn’t have to be a Rajesh Khanna clone with soft good looks and be appealing to women fans only.

Zanjeer launched Amitabh Bachhan as the angry young man seeking revenge for the death of loved ones and a new formula was cooked for the subsequent genre of films , stories were written to build Amitabh bachchan into the movies. In such a scenario, Rajesh Khanna was a goner.

But the lovable and amiable star took the exit gate gracefully, became a member of parliament , courtesy the Congress. He held a LokSabha seat as a Congressman from 1992 to 1996.

His marriage with Dimple began to fail and the two separated, but kept meeting each other on important occasions including the marriage of his daughter Twinkle to Akki or Akshay Kumar, who is now a super star like his father in law. His two daughters – Twinkle and Rinke – followed into showbiz.

Rajesh Khanna delighted his die hard fans with strong portrayals as a character actor in several films. One of his memorable performances came in the AkshayKhannaAishwarya starrer shot in the USA.

Like many stars fail to come to grips with the traumatic post super stardom period , Rajesh Khanna too was said to have fallen into the trap and reportedly took to heavy drinking which caused complications in his health. His illness recently shocked his fans who prayed for his recovery. His last public appearance through the khaitan fan ad saying “ My Fans will never forget me:, was almost prophetic”.  He was unrecognisable in the ad and looked a very sick man indeed. Only his fans could have spotted their legend.

As in reel life , fans who went for their hankies to wipe their copious tears dry after seeing his momentous performance in Anand and Namak Haram, movies in which he dies almost hallway or towards the climax, fans will go for their hankies and wipe their tears in true saluation to one of the greatest romantic heroes Bollywood ever spawned.