RIP Rajesh Khanna, Hindi film’s superstar of the 70’s and face to some of my most beloved songs

Rajesh Khanna was The Superstar of the 70’s in India, a bit ahead of my time. He’s most famous now for being star Akshay Kumar’s father-in-law (Twinkle Khanna is his elder daughter).  But films, like songs, are the soundtrack, the backdrop to our lives. And his movies remind me of my childhood, when Dad would bring home the classics and a weekend night or two was spent with some snack food, like bhajias, that my mom would make and we’d all camp out and watch on our black-and-white, and later on our 26″ inch color TV with VCR.  Whatever the medium, the songs and movies stayed with me (thanks Dad!).

Rajesh Khanna always admitted he wasn’t the best actor. Rather, he had good looks — back in the day when health and muscle wasn’t so in demand, he was a natural heartthrob (though let it go, as per culture back then; god, i miss those undemanding days).   More than that, he admits to having really good luck with the movies he was in and the songs that became hits he had the good fortune of picturizing, what they call lip-synching in the Hindi film industry. His humility came from his incredibly humble beginnings as a foster child — he’s referred to that in the Indian media but I believe what they mean is adopted rather than foster.  He had one set of parents that raised him his whole life; he didn’t go through any government foster system — there isn’t one — thus I believe what the media means is that he was adopted.

Whatever he was, it was the support of his family that caused his name change from Jatin to Rajesh, and who supported his acting career.  He was a part of some of my favorite movies – Anand, Aradhana, Amar Prem (I notice a pattern). Movies that made me want to go into the movies. Movies that had songs when lyrics mattered. Movies that really turn the whole notion of the horribly misnamed “Bollywood,” which refers to the most garish parts of the industry, on its head.  Yeah, his movies were musicals like most Hindi films are, but more like “Once”  as opposed to “Ghost: The Musical,” let’s say.

He was called “Kaka” by his fans, which means “Uncle,” though I have a feeling that came much later in life. At the time of his stardom, being an uncle was not on most female fans’ thoughts. Not when his looks, glint in the eye, mannerisms, unique lilt in his dialogue, and super romantic movies were all designed to make legions of fans swoon. Definitely he had style over substance at times, but it worked. It didn’t just work, it soared!

Sometimes the term Babumoshai is associated with him, which is a respectful address of “sir” in Bengali, a regional Indian language from the state of Bengal, West Bengal, and the country of Bangladesh.  That reference is not to him, but actually to another actor who became a superstar, and still is: Amitabh Bachchan.  The Big B’s big break was starring opposite Rajesh Khanna in “Anand,” a film in which Khanna’s character is dying of cancer. In the final death scene, he says to his friend, “Aye Babu Moshai, zindagi aur maut to upar wale ke haath me hai jahanpanah.”

Amitabh Bachchan went on to become a superstar in the 80’s and some say there was rivalry because after a rough road, the Big B revived his career for what may one of cinema’s most successful second acts.  He went from superstar to a has-been to legend. I have no clue but my two cents, I don’t think there was rivalry. Maybe in the 80’s but it’s been a long time since then — though Madonna is still on the charts.  I think former famous people either become addicted bitter pills or come to peace with the choices they’ve made and the hand they’ve been dealt (and it is often a hand rather than choices). Rajesh Khanna seemed to be the latter.  If anything maybe his failed marriage hit him harder since he became reclusive. We’ll never know and Indian culture is not famous for tell-all biographies or talk shows so mum will be the word from his daughters and his estranged wife, famous hottie, former Miss India, and 15 years his junior, Dimple Kapadia (they never divorced).

Here’s the famous death scene and a great ad from his later years. On the bottom is one of my favorite songs with his most famous romantic on-screen partner, actress Sharmila Tagore (one of my favorite Indian actresses who was Beautiful; his other famous on-screen partner was Mumtaz, another hottie whose carefree spirit I loved) at TSR: Bloggers from South India.

Here’s a good mashup featuring his most beloved songs — the end of the video has his earliest stuff and most famous:


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