Unlike Shammi’s macho posturing, & lithe animal lope, Rajesh Khanna fashioned the old-fashioned courteous romance.

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Career: 1966–2014
Debut: Aakhri Khat (1966)
Forever enshrined as: ‘The First Superstar
Memorable roles: Amar Prem, Aradhana, Kati Patang, Ittefaq, Khamoshi
My favourite role: Dilip Roy in Ittefaq

The winner of the All-India Talent Contest, Rajesh Khanna would go on to become the first superstar of the Indian screen, knocking back 15 blockbusters in a row. At the heights of his superstardom, his popularity was unprecedented, and anything he touched turned into gold. Like other successful romantic actors before him, Rajesh Khanna knew the value of a good song, and soon formed an unbeatable combination with Kishore and RD Burman. Romance there had been before Rajesh; certainly, Shammi Kapoor had personified romance to a generation of young women. But unlike Shammi’s macho posturing, and lithe animal lope, Rajesh Khanna fashioned the old-fashioned courteous romance. Not for him the aggressive wooing; Kaka lifted an eyebrow, tilted his head, crinkled his eyes, and smiled — and women swooned. Funnily enough, while the stereotype of a romantic hero endured, he was probably one of the first ‘heroes’ to take backstage to his heroines: most of his films had a very strong woman protagonist, sharing equal screen space and importance. He also acted in a wide variety of roles within the constraints of mainstream cinema. Kaka’s films were famed for their music, and you could easily watch one, knowing that everything would come alright in the end. There was almost always a ‘happily ever after’. (Namak Haram and Anand were probably the only exceptions.)

Why I like Dilip Roy: He’s a man accused of one murder (his wife’s), who pretends to be insane and then escapes from the mental asylum, only to be framed for another murder. Based on Signpost to Murder, Rajesh Khanna did a fine job as an escaped convict who seems to have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

The song: Like the heroes before him, Rajesh Khanna had such lovely songs picturised on him that it’s so difficult to pick just one. But if I were forced to, it would be Chingari koi bhadke from Amar Prem. The story of three misfits who find solace in each other’s company, Rajesh Khanna’s Anand Babu, romantic and cynical at the same time, has no illusions about the society he lives in; he narrates his take on love and relationships to Pushpa (Sharmila Tagore) as they sit by the river one evening.

Courtesy: Anuradha Warrier

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Celebrating Cinema

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