Nearly three years after his death on July 18, 2012, Rajesh Khanna continues to pop up in lists ranking Bollywood's most-loved romantic heroes. Known for his dashing looks and signature dance moves, the actor rose to fame in the 1969 film Aradhana and went on to star in 14 consecutive hits thereafter. The films he did in the next three years cemented his status as India's first superstar, and he received the kind of adulation that is unfathomable without the support of social media. Khanna was also known for the diverse range of characters he portrayed. But he remains best-known for his lover-boy roles. From Mumtaz to Hema Malini, we look at his top leading ladies.
Khanna and Tagore first set the screen on fire with their sensual Roop Tera Mastana song sequence in Aradhana, a film that got Tagore her first – and only – Filmfare Award for Best Actress. A few more successful pairings in films such as Safar (1970), Amar Prem (1972) and Daag (1973) followed, making them India's favourite on-screen couple. In fact, Amar Prem, which boasts some of Khanna's best-known dialogue – including "Pushpa, I hate tears" – is considered to be the duo's most iconic film.
Mumtaz and Khanna came together in a number of dramas, including Do Raaste (1969), Bandhan (1969), Sachaa Jhutha (1970) and Aap Ki Kasam (1974), and were perhaps best known for dancing in the rain in most of their films – including for the song Gore Rang Pe Na Itna (Roti, 1974) and Prem Kahani Mein (Prem Kahani, 1975). Rumour has it that Mumtaz fell ill after each shoot in the rain and has often recounted in interviews how her co-star would gently tease her with the words: "Phir Mumtaz ko bheega diya, aa gaya na bukhar?" (Got Mumtaz wet again, of course she's sick).
Parekh worked with Khanna for the first time in Nasir Hussain's Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), which failed at the box office. It is believed that Parekh, who was among the A-listers of the era, did not mingle with her rookie co-star while shooting the film and remained stand-offish even after Khanna shot to fame and they were paired in the two 1970 hits Kati Patang and Aan Milo Sajna. But the couple's on-screen chemistry belied their cold relationship off-screen, especially in the songs Achha To Hum Chalte Hain and Yeh Shaam Mastani.
No other heroine could match Malini when it comes to the sheer number of films she did with Khanna. Mehbooba (1976), Dard (1981) and Kudrat (the 1981 release that was Khanna's first multi-starrer) are some of their fondly remembered films, though their first flick together was Andaz (1971) in which Khanna sang the vivacious Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana.
Azmi and Khanna worked together in several films, but are best known for their 1980 hit Thodisi Bewafaii. The roles were tailor-made for the actors, who went on to star in the blockbuster Avatar (1983). "There were stars, and then there were the boys next door. Rajesh Khanna was a mix of both. Unattainable, yet approachable," Azmi says of her co-star. Trivia alert: Amitabh Bachchan was first signed for the role but, was dropped when filmmaker Mohan Kumar made it clear he preferred Khanna.
Khanna and Aman shared plenty of on-screen success, and even filmed a song atop a train (much before Shah Rukh Khan in Chhaiyya Chhaiyya for 1998's Dil Se). Hum Dono Do Premi is a four-minute train sequence in the 1974 film Ajnabee, which saw Khanna paired for the first time with Aman. Other films include Chhailla Babu (1977), Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka (1977) and Jaanwar (1983), which has hummable melodies such as "Ik ajnabee hasina se yoon mulakat ho gayi" and "Yaar dildar tujhe kaisa chahiye".
When Khanna and Munim worked together for the first time in 1981's Fiffty Fiffty, little did they know that they were on the brink of one of Bollywood's most-reported off-screen love affairs: Khanna ended up leaving his wife, the actress Dimple Kapadia. Munim and Khanna also starred in Souten (1983) and Alag Alag (1985).