To young women watching him on screen today, it must be difficult to understand what all the fuss was about. But Rajesh Khanna, born Jatin Khanna in 1942, was India's first superstar, a heart-throb who had women trying to commit suicide when he tied the knot with Dimple Kapadia in 1973. Even the superstar who succeeded him - Amitabh Bachchan - and the newly minted Khans of the 1990s could not match the hysteria he whipped up during his heyday.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what made the Rajesh Khanna package. Perhaps it was a combination of factors. A boy-next-door personality, a lopsided smile, a distinct soft drawl when delivering such memorable lines as "Pushpa, I haaate tears" (from Amar Prem) and "Babumoshaaai" (from Anand). Maybe it was the sizzling chemistry with all his heroines or RD Burman's soul-stirring music that Kishore Kumar brought alive with his honeyed voice. Or was he just in the right place at the right time?
Khanna, who died on July 18, is the only Indian actor to have delivered 15 consecutive hits as a solo hero between 1969 and 1971. He almost always played a gentle romantic, leaving the angry young man image to others like Bachchan. That said, he did not shy away from different kinds of roles: psychotic murderer (Red Rose), jealous husband (Aap Ki Kasam) and a convict on the run (Ittefaq). He briefly dabbled in politics and film production but he is most known for his indubitable superstar status.
Looking back at some of the Rajesh Khanna magic:
The nation sat up and took notice of this unknown actor with a charming smile and a twinkle in his eye. A strong emotional angle along with a double role paved the path to superstardom, ably helped by the superb music composed by SD Burman.
Long before Yash Chopra established his distinct genre of soft romantic films, he cast Rajesh Khanna in an unusual role. He played an escaped convict who breaks into a house to evade the police chasing him. Set over the course of a single stormy night, the tight script and strong performances made this one a winner.
With haunting music scored by Hemant Kumar and lyrics and dialogue by Gulzar, Khamoshi is a masterpiece set in a mental hospital. It was shot in stark black and white, which enhanced the uneasy atmosphere that runs throughout the movie. Given that this was in the early years of his career, Khanna's decision to play a mental patient was risky, but one that paid off. The movie also has Waheeda Rehman in one of the best roles of her life.
Sachaa Jhutha (1970)
Perhaps not a great showcase of his acting skills, Sachaa Jhutha still figures on this list for Khanna's double role. In this movie directed by Manmohan Desai, known for his over-the-top plots and portrayal of characters, Khanna played a simple villager and a big city crook.
Kati Patang (1970)
After Aradhana's super success, Khanna once again worked with the director Shakti Samanta in this movie. With its complicated but engrossing storyline, Kati Patang went on to become one of the top grossers of the year.
It is said that Khanna was a rare actor who died in several of his hit films. Anand tops that list. He made full use of his strong director-backed role, pushing his co-star Amitabh Bachchan's brooding presence into the background. A great entertainer with a heart-wrenching end - how could such a story not work?
Amar Prem (1972)
In yet another tragic pairing with possibly his best co-star, Sharmila Tagore, Khanna plays a disillusioned rich businessman seeking solace from a prostitute. This tale of unrequited love is strongly supported by the music score and lyrics that convey the pain of the lead pair.
By the time Bawarchi was released, Khanna had got his cheery screen persona down pat. In the movie, he played a know-all cook with his heart in the right place, helping a household in chaos to find order and peace.
Namak Haraam (1973)
Legend has it that Khanna told the director Hrishikesh Mukherjee during the premiere of Namak Haraam that he knew his star was on the wane (despite the fact that here too he gets to win audience sympathy by dying in the end). The reason? His co-star Amitabh Bachchan was punching and kicking his way into the viewers' hearts.
Aap Ki Kasam (1974)
Khanna plays a jealous husband in this film, not a role that would endear him to one and all. He played it convincingly, overshadowing Sanjeev Kumar, an undoubtedly better actor. The film is also remembered for its foot-tapping number Jai jai shiv shankar with his co-star Mumtaz where, high on bhang (a drink made with cannabis), they prance on a hill.