Remembering 'Kaka': 5 reasons he was Bollywood's original superstar

Navneet Mundhra

In 1969, 'Aradhna' and 'Do Raaste' released within 3 months of each other. Both went on to be blockbusters and were the two biggest grossers of the year. The connecting link between the two was Rajesh Khanna, the leading man. And thus dawned the age of the first superstar of Bollywood, one who made women swoon and men ape his style and mannerisms.

Rajesh Khanna
Rajesh Khanna

On the occasion of his 7th death anniversary, here are 5 points that made 'Kaka' a massive celebrity, much before the advent of even Amitabh Bachchan in his ‘angry young man’ avatar:

1) Box Office wizard: Between 1969 to 1972, Rajesh Khanna reeled off 16 hits on the trot, a record which still stands unbroken. Even some of his mediocre films minted money at the turnstiles, thanks to his boyish charm and magnetic personality.

2) A rage among women: No Bollywood star — not even Big B or Shah Rukh Khan — has generated the kind of fandom and frenzy that Rajesh Khanna did in his pomp. Millions of girls used to reportedly write him letters in their blood. The cars he used to drive around in and even the roads he trod were kissed passionately by hordes of animated women besotted with his persona. Such was RK’s attraction that the police had to be summoned to wherever he went to control the situation. There was also a perennial queue of fans — mostly women — outside his house waiting for a glimpse of him.

3) Astute choice of roles: Be it commercial potboilers or simple slice-of-life films, RK was smart in the roles he undertook. This not only cemented his reputation as a superstar, but also as a genuinely versatile actor. He had the mettle to pull off an 'Anand' as well as a ‘Saccha Jhootha’, an 'Amar Prem' as well as the still-iconic 'Haathi Mere Saathi'. It is testament to his acting finesse and stardom that he gave blockbusters across diametrically opposite genres.

4) An eye for talent, an ear for music: Not only did 'Aradhna' gave birth to a superstar, it also resurrected the floundering career of Kishore Kumar as a playback singer. Kishore Kumar had been completely eclipsed by Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh throughout the 1960s, but 'Aradhna' catapulted him once again to the top of the table. Similarly, RD Burman, an upcoming music composer back then, worked in 'Aradhna' because of the illness of his legendary father SD Burman. Khanna readily acknowledged both their contributions. Later, the trio formed a formidable team, and dished out many memorable songs and movies together in the next decade.

5) Distinct style: That imperious twinkle in his eyes, the memorable gesticulating of his right hand during songs, the sprightly gait and that ebullient smile — Rajesh Khanna was a weapon of female mass destruction. All this lent him a unique aura and identity. His trademark hairstyle and clothing also became massively popular, so much so that there were rumours of Rajesh Khanna being banned from wearing black shirts due to the effect that that had on his female following. Here was an actor who was unlike any of his contemporaries or the ones who had preceded him.