Rajesh Khanna: The Original Superstar of Indian Cinema

OV Digital Desk

Rajesh Khanna (29 December 1942 – 18 July 2012) was an Indian actor, film producer, and politician. He was known as the “First Superstar” of Bollywood. Between 1969 and 1971, he had a record 15 successful films. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he was the highest-paid actor in Hindi cinema.

Life and Career

Rajesh Khanna was born on 29 December 1942, in Amritsar, Punjab. His first name was Jatin Khanna. He was born to Lala Hiranand Khanna and Chandrani Khanna. Lala was the headmaster of MC High School in Burewala. Chunnilal Khanna and Leelawati Khanna, relatives of his biological parents, adopted and raised him. His adoptive parents were railway contractors who moved to Bombay from Lahore in 1935.

He went to St. Sebastian’s Goan High School with his friend Ravi Kapoor, who became Jeetendra later. Throughout his school and college days, Khanna did a lot of stage and theatre plays, and he won a lot of prizes in inter-college drama contests. Khanna did his first two years of Bachelor of Arts at Nowrosjee Wadia College in Pune from 1959 to 1961. Khanna later studied in K. C. College, Mumbai and Jeetendra studied at Siddharth Jain College. Jeetendra was tutored by Khanna for his first film audition. Khanna’s uncle KK Talwar changed Khanna’s first name to Rajesh when he decided to venture into films. His friends and wife called him Kaka (baby-faced boy in Punjabi)

Khanna started out playing mute soldiers in plays. In 1962, Khanna played a role of wounded soldier in Andha Yug. He impressed the chief guest, who suggested that he get into films soon. In 1966, he made his film debut in Aakhri Khat, directed by Chetan Anand, followed by Raaz, directed by Ravindra Dave. Later, he worked with G.P. Sippy and Nasir Hussain.

He starred in Haathi Mere Saathi in 1971, which became the highest-grossing movie of that year and till then the biggest grosser of all time. Between 1969 and 1971, Rajesh Khanna had 15 consecutive hits. These were AradhanaDoliBandhanIttefaqDo RaasteKhamoshiSafarThe TrainKati PatangSachaa JhuthaAan Milo SajnaMehboob Ki MehendiChoti BahuAnand and Haathi Mere Saathi.

Khanna idolized Guru Dutt, Meena Kumari, and Geeta Bali. Khanna said in an interview:

My inspirations are Dilip Kumar’s dedication and intensity, Raj Kapoor’s spontaneity, Dev Anand’s style, and Shammi Kapoor’s rhythm.

In 1984, it was Rajiv Gandhi who requested him to start campaigning for Congress. In the 1991 Lok Sabha election for the New Delhi seat, Khanna lost to L.K. Advani by a narrow margin of 1589 votes. Khanna stood at the counting station afterward, insisting he had been cheated. After L.K. Advani resigned in 1992, a by-election was called. Khanna ran for the seat again, winning by 25,000 votes over Shatrughan Sinha. He held his seat until 1996, after which he stopped being a politician. He campaigned for the INC until the 2012 Punjab elections.

It was reported in June 2012 that Rajesh Khanna’s health had been deteriorating. He was admitted to Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai on 23 June due to health complications. He was discharged on 8 July from the hospital and was reportedly fine. Khanna was readmitted to Lilavati Hospital on 14 July but was discharged on 16 July. On 18 July 2012, he died at his Mumbai bungalow, Aashirwad. His health had been deteriorating since he was diagnosed with cancer in July 2011.

Awards and Recognitions

BBC made a documentary on him called Bombay Superstar in 1973 as part of their Man Alive series. He’s won four BFJA Awards and five Filmfare Awards. He was posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honour.

Khanna won seven All-India Critics Association (AICA) Best Actor Awards and got 10 nominations. In the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association Awards, he won four Best Actor awards. A Filmfare Special Award was given to him in 1991, after 25 years in Hindi film. He won three Filmfare Best Actor Awards, one Filmfare Special Guest Actor Award in 1973. In 2005, he won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, he won the IIFA Lifetime Achievement Award.