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The rise and fall of Rajesh Khanna

Last updated on: November 4, 2009 11:06 IST

Image: Rajesh Khanna poses with his Lifetime Achievement award at the 10th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Macau, China
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters

He came. He saw. He conquered. He fell. And how.

Rajesh Khanna's rise and fall of fortunes is stuff sigh-inspiring stories are made of. From evoking mass-hysteria, the once upon a time superstar is slipping into an invisible existence only to re-surface in projects that degrade him and everything he stood for.

There are rumours that the actor will be a wild card entry into Bigg Boss, a television reality show known for its many controversies.

But Rajesh Khanna was quite a story. Like most strugglers with big dreams, Rajesh, born Jatin, Khanna, strived to be a force to reckon with in Hindi cinema. Only this adopted son of a rather affluent family preferred to drive in his own car while approaching filmmakers for work.

Winning a talent show came in handy and he bagged Chetan Anand's Aakhri Khat followed by films like Raaz, Baharon Ke Sapne, Khamoshi and Aurat. But lady luck wasn't in a generous mood. Not just yet.

Favourite heartthrob

Image: A poster of Aradhana

Around the same time, he was signed up to play a double role in Shakti Samanta's Aradhana opposite the dainty Sharmila Tagore. Despite its heroine-centric theme, Khanna hold his own effortlessly with suave and charming persona essaying both father and son.

The film's golden-jubilee success, followed by another super-hit with Mumtaz, Do Raaste, ensured the actor was here for the long haul.

Such was the impact of his characteristic head-shake, playful gestures and undeniable charisma that fans were willing to go any extent to catch a glimpse of their favourite heartthrob.

Especially those of the fairer sex, from writing letters in blood to smothering his four-wheeler with kisses to screaming his name in passion to marrying his photograph, you name it, they did it.

The golden phase

Image: A scene from Kati Patang

A seemingly-invincible Kaka, as he was fondly addressed by the industrywallahs, reciprocated with terrific hits like Sachaa Jhutha, Aan Milo Sajna, Mehboob Ki Mehndi, Haathi Mere Saathi, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Kati Patang, Daag and Dushman.

The late 1960s and early 1970s was a golden phase of Khanna's career marking some of his definitive performances proving there's more to him than a romantic hero. 

Be it as a dying patient's undying zest for life in Anand, a philosophical yet sympathetic do-gooder in Amar Prem, a melancholic painter diagnosed with a fatal disease in Safar or a furious killer on the run in Ittefaq.

Though he enjoyed a solid position and a narcissistic image as a leading man, Khanna was happy to play the ethical, supporting pillar in quite a few woman-oriented movies like Khamoshi, Kati Patang, Daag: A Poem of Love, Amar Prem and Aaina.

Awesome twosome

Image: A scene from Anand

In Bollywood, everything's transient. Even superstardom. 

Enter Amitabh Bachchan's rising popularity as the 'angry young man' on the prowl changed the dynamics of filmmaking. Viewers related to Big B's fury much more than Khanna's flirtatious overtures.

Babumoshai, as Khanna had affectionately nick-named him in Anand was not just another competition as everyone later discovered. The two heavy-weights worked again on Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Namak Haraam.

The critically-lauded drama fetched AB a Filmfare trophy for Best Supporting Actor while Khanna went back to romancing Mumtaz and Hema Malini in musical money-spinners like Aap Ki Kasam and Prem Nagar

The decline

Image: A scene from Mehbooba

Unlike today's stars who make an extra effort to stay in perfect shape, Khanna indulged himself and piled on oodles of weight. A plump romantic hero doesn't sound good, does it?

Not to mention his much-talked about marriage and break up to/with Dimple Kapadia with whom he has two daughters -- Twinkle and Rinkie.

Known to be famously moody and eccentric off-screen, Khanna's puffed up ego, courtesy a never-ending shadow of sycophants, had a hard time enduring the blows after biggies like Mehbooba and Aashiq Hoon Bahaaron Ka fizzled at the box-office.

Sizzling pair

Image: A scene from Alag Alag

The jaded star now appeared silly doing the same antics he was once hailed for around pretty young things like Poonam Dhillon, Tina Munim and Padmini Kolhapure.

Though down and out, Khanna hadn't quite lost his winning touch. It might be recalled his off-screen liaison with Munim was a hot subject for gossip-friendly glossies. 

Finally, the early 1980s provided some relief with runaway hits like Souten, Agar Tum Na Hote and a hard-hitting turn in and as Avataar

On the wane

Image: A poster of Swarg

Instead of taking a bow while the going's good, Khanna preferred to embarrass himself in titillating fare like Masterji or obnoxious horror like Woh Phir Aayegi

Eventually relegated to supporting roles in David Dhawan's Swarg and Rishi Kapoor's directorial debut, Aa Ab Laut Chalein, Khanna preferred to dabble with politics.

The star made an indifferent presence as Member of Parliament from the New Delhi constituency (1991-96). His stint for television with Aapne Parai and Ittefaq, too, didn't find any takers.

Fall from grace

Image: A scene from Wafaa

Just when you thought Khanna had slipped into respectable oblivion; he made news for his crass love-making scenes in a B-grade flick, Wafaa.

Mostly unapologetic, Khanna may make an entry in Bigg Boss 3. Will the former legend redeem himself or fall from grace? Time will tell.