Hindi filmdom's first superstar

It was one of those lazy Sunday afternoons. Usually, I would have preferred a siesta, but this Sunday I thought I’d watch an old Hindi film. Zee Classic has the staple ‘Old Melodies’ section after each feature film, the same songs keep appearing day after day. Great songs, most of them, but surely the Zee Classic library should have much more to offer viewers who love to watch old Hindi film songs. Coming up a series of songs that Sunday afternoon was the feature film of the early 1970s, ‘Andaz’. It was many, many years ago that I had seen the movie and here was an opportunity I did not wish to miss.

Andaz was released when I was a child. My childhood memories of Andaz are all about Kishore Kumar’s ‘Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana, Yahan Kal Kya Ho Kisne Jaana…’ and his famous yodeling. And, of course, Rajesh Khanna! Indeed for many years, I thought Andaz was all about Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini. I had no idea there was a certain Shammi Kapoor in it and that Kapoor was actually the hero. Rajesh Khanna’s role was a minor one, a guest appearance. Yet, many people remember Andaz because of him and that Kishore song.

The song itself is used as flashback. It signals the dramatic entry of Khanna, much like ‘Rote Hue Aate Hain Sab, Hasta Hua Jo Jayega…’ introduces Big B in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar years later. When Andaz was released in 1971, Khanna was a superstar, Hindi film’s first superstar. I wonder how many of today’ generation really know the kind of superstar that Khanna was. There has never quite been one like him, either before or after, Dilip Kumar and Big B included.

Rajesh Khanna joined the film industry in 1966 after winning an all-India talent contest. He first film, Aakhri Khat, went unnoticed. It was Aradhana (1969) that catapulted him into the limelight. Who can forget ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Ayege Tu…’ filmed against the backdrop of the Darjeeling hills, and Khanna, Sujit Kumar in tow, playing ‘footsie’ with the lovely Sharmila Tagore? When Rafi, Kishore and Lata sing to S.D. Burman’s music, you can only expect magic, and magic indeed it is that unfolds as Khanna (in two roles – father and son) and Tagore build up a sizzling chemistry leading up to ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ and beyond. Incidentally, Khanna found most success pairing with Tagore and Mumtaz (anybody remember her?)

After Aradhana, a string of hits followed. I don’t quite remember the order, but I do vividly remember listening to the songs on radio, of Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Anand, Sachcha Jhutha, Dushman, Daag, Namak Haraam, Bawarchi, Hathi Mere Sathi, Aap ki Kasam, Khamoshi and Safar. I hadn’t seen most of these films in the theatre; it was only years later when television arrived that I saw them, backed by childhood memories.

Coming back to Hindi Film’s first superstar who won three Filmfare Best Actor Awards and eventually a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award… Well, Rajesh Khanna was literally a phenomenon. I remember my elder sister (we were in Calcutta in those days; she is still there) talking about lipstick marks on Khanna’s cars and about teenage girls and women writing his name in blood! Without doubt, Khanna in the early 1970s had shaken Hindi filmdom like no one had ever before. And nobody since him has been able to generate that kind of hysteria. Neither Big B nor King Khan.

This is what I read about Khanna in a Web site called Upperstall.com: As hit followed hit and women all over the country swooned over him, Rajesh Khanna admitted feeling 'next to God'. The site adds that the BBC made a film on him called Bombay Superstar, and a textbook prescribed by the Bombay University contained an essay, 'The Charisma of Rajesh Khanna’!


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