How Rajesh Khanna became the First Superstar of Bollywood

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Rajesh Khanna – The First Superstar of Indian Cinema and Hindi Film Industry

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In the pantheon of Bollywood superstars, Rajesh Khanna is Zeus. The king of them all. He was the first actor to inspire mass hysteria among fans in India. His fans are legendary for knowing no bounds when it came to showering their love on their idol. For them he was a god, for him they were his strength.

Jatin Khanna was born in Amritsar in the state of Punjab on 29 December 1942. Not many people know this but Rajesh Khanna’s real name is Jatin and that he was raised by foster parents in Bombay. Khanna displayed an avid interest in theatre throughout his schooling years. He went on to win many prizes in inter college dramas. The story goes that at one such college play, Khanna gave an excellent portrayal of a wounded soldier in a play titled ‘Andha Yug’. Impressed with his histrionics on stage the chief guest asked him to try acting in films. Thus began Khanna’s pursuit of happiness. He signed his first film after winning the 1965 All India Talent Contest organised by United Producers and Filmfare magazine. He won after beating around 10,000 contestants! The film was called ‘Aakhri Khat’ and it was directed by Chetan Anand. It released in 1966. It was followed by a few films that did okay however those films were only stepping stones in some form for the then budding superstar. The film that would change his destiny arrived a few years later in 1969. It was called ‘Aradhna’ and starred Sharmila Tagore as the love interest of one of his characters. The film was an adaptation of 1946 Hollywood film, ‘To Each His Own’. ‘Aradhna’ was the highest grosser of 1969 in Bollywood and critics started using the phrase ‘first Indian Superstar’ for Rajesh Khanna. The film was a comeback vehicle for Kishore Kumar who then went on to become the official playback voice of Rajesh Khanna. Rajesh Khanna went on to have a string of 35 hit films which were called Golden Jubilees back then (films that ran for more than 50 weeks in theatres all over India). This happened in the years 1967-1975. He went on to have a resurgence of sorts in the eighties and nineties and repeated the same feat of having 35 Golden Jubilee hits in the years 1979-1991! Throughout his career Rajesh Khanna also had 22 Silver Jubilee hits (films that ran for 25 weeks in theatres). Rajesh Khanna was the highest paid actor in Bollywood from 1970-1987. Among his other achievements, Kaka as he is fondly called by his friends and fans; is also responsible for giving Salim- Javed their first screenplay writing break for the film ‘Haathi mere saathi’ which released in 1971 and was the highest grosser of that year in Bollywood.

Rajesh Khanna was truly India’s first superstar because no other Indian actor had a ton of girls swooning over them like he did. People used to mob him when he appeared in public, they would kiss his car and send him love odysseys written in their own blood! At the peak of his career there would be a line of cars of his producers and a swarm of his female fans everyday outside his bungalow. A film critic of yore Monojit Lahiri summed it up best, “Girls married themselves to photographs of Rajesh Khanna, cutting their fingers and applying the blood as sindoor. Rajesh was God, there has never been such hysteria.”