Rajesh Khanna, the first 'Bombay Superstar', mourned

As news spread yesterday of the death of Bollywood's first heart-throb, Rajesh Khanna, hundreds of fans gathered outside his residence.

Bollywood actor Rajesh Khanna, often referred to as Bollywood’s first superstar, died yesterday after months of being unwell.
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NEW DELHI //Women swooned over his photograph and wrote him letters in blood. Fans waited outside his home for days trying to catch a glimpse of him. A 1974 BBC documentary, Bombay Superstar, called him "the biggest star in the biggest film industry in the world".

As news spread yesterday morning of the death of Bollywood's first heart-throb, Rajesh Khanna, hundreds of fans gathered outside his residence, blocking traffic on Mumbai's busy Carter Road.

"For everyone out there, I would like to request you to say a little prayer," said Akshay Kumar to reporters outside his father-in-law's home/ "He [Khanna] has gone to a good place."

His wife, the actress Dimple Kapadia, and two daughters, Twinkle and Rinke, were at Khanna's bedside when he died at the age of 69 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Throughout the day, Bollywood stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Abhishek Bachchan, visited the home to pay their condolences. So did directors and actors who had worked with Khanna, including Shabana Azmi and Amitabh Bachchan.

Khanna's reign as Bollywood's top star lasted nearly three decades. He had 15 consecutive box-office hits in the 1970s - a record that still stands in Bollywood. He appeared in more than 160 films and won scores of awards, mostly for his roles as a romantic hero.

"Rajesh Khanna was called the first superstar as he was the first to have the public devotion and hysteria associated with his fan following," said Rachel Dwyer, a professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. "I think he was popular because he could seem very ordinary, the boy next door, and yet also be exceptional. For example, if you see him he is nice looking but when he smiles then his extraordinary charm becomes apparent,"

Khanna's enormous success was new to India. Screaming fans surrounded him whenever he appeared in public. Women waited outside film studios for hours and went hysterical when he appeared. They would kiss his car as he tried to drive away.

He was born Jatin Khanna on December 29, 1942, in the northern Indian town of Amritsar. He moved to Mumbai after winning a talent contest in 1965 and adopted the name Rajesh Khanna when he began his career in films. After his early success he became a favourite with directors wanting a sure box-office winner.

His dialogues and songs are some of the most quoted in Bollywood history.

"Rajesh Khanna gave us a crash course in romance. He introduced us to a special twinkle in the eye that made us feel good about ourselves," said the actor Anupam Kher on Twitter.

Khanna's popularity dimmed in the 1980s when action films became the rage and younger stars rose to the top.

As his career in films faded, Khanna moved to politics and joined India's Congress party. He was elected as a member of parliament in 1992 and served until 1996.

The Indain prime minister, Manmohan Singh, conveyed his condolences in a letter to Khanna's daughter Twinkle yesterday.

"In the passing away of the Shri Rajesh Khanna, the Indian film industry has lost one of its most successful and most charming heroes," said Mr Singh.

"His legacy will live on in the form of the numerous entertaining and acclaimed films that he leaves behind."

Pakistan's prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, in a statement described him as a "great actor whose contribution to the field of films and arts would be long remembered", and one who had a "large fan following across the borders and captivated audiences with his excellent acting skills".

Khanna will be cremated today in Mumbai.



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* With additional reporting by Associated Press