O Mere Dil Ke Chaen, Chaen Aaye Mere Dil Ko Dua Kijiye – as Rajesh Khanna sashayed in his sports car, scarf flowing from his neck, shades in place, crooning Kishore Kumar’s mellifluous melody in Mere Jeevan Saathi, lakhs of Indian women missed a heart beat.Yes, ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ or ‘Chingari Koi Badke’ also symbolised RK, but for me the abiding image of Rajesh Khanna will always remain ‘O Mere Dil Ke Chaen.’ It captured India’s first megastar in all his many-splendoured glory. Rajesh Khanna was a true blue superstar, a demigod who embodied the characteristics of two legends of the yesteryear – the romanticism, flair and chutzpah of Dev Anand and the tragi-histrionic abilities of Dilip Kumar.BlockbusterIn the five-year span which saw him emerge as B-Town’s first superstar, Rajesh Khanna, or Kaka as he was known in the industry, was all the rage, until he was supplanted by the Paul Muni-baritoned Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Haram. In fact, at the premiere of Namak Haram at Mumbai’s Liberty cinema, Khanna in his candour told director Hrishi-da – ‘My time is up, the new superstar has arrived,’ pointing to his co-star – Bachchan.Khanna was tutored in the art of acting by PD Shenoy, the principal of the Filmalaya School of Acting (Sadhana, Sanjeev Kumar and Asha Parekh also emerged from the same stable). Found in a talent hunt, but a prestigious one – the United Producers Filmfare Contest – Khanna’s initial spurt in Hindi cinema was well-served by this axis. Chetan Anand cast him in Aakhri Khat, but GP Sippy launched him first in Raaz. The United Producers, in many ways, laid the grand edifice of Rajesh Khanna’s undisputed suzerainty.advertisementHe did Ittefaq with BR Chopra; the film was directed by Yash Chopra, who would cast him again in Daag. He did the smash hit Aradhna with Shakti Samanta who used him again in Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Anuraag, Anurodh, Ajnabee and Mehbooba. GP Sippy cast him again in Aan Milo Sajna and Andaz. He did Khamoshi with Hemant Kumar, which was directed by Asit Sen, who later repeated him in Safar. He did Do Raaste with Raj Khosla, who then cast him in Prem Kahani, Aap Ki Kasam and Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka with J Om Prakash and Baharon Ke Sapne with Nasir Husain very early on. As many as 15 blockbuster hits simply rolled off the conveyor belt. With Hrishi-da, he made many memorable and acclaimed films – Anand, Bawarchi, Namak Haram. His ouevre being a combination of stylish romantic and the emotionally high-strung tragic heroes. Personally, he was egotistical, whimsical and completely paranoid about failure.ChangeTowards the mid-1970s, a new breed of filmmaking crept in quietly. It was symptomatic of the times. The air was all-pervasive with hoarding, black marketing and smuggling. In 1972, Khanna enacted one such role in Apna Desh, a remake of 1969 Tamil hit Nam Naadu, with one of his favourite heroines Mumtaz. It was the age of Emergency, which ushered in new acronyms – SITA, Cofeposa, FERA – all dreaded and dangerous. Yes, Amitabh Bachchan arrived as the first anti-hero, capturing the essence of the time and place, blazing away with hands and legs; Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay and innumerable more hits. This was a defining moment in Rajesh Khanna’s career. The presiding holy trinity of Hindi cinema – Rajesh Khanna, RD Burman and Kishore Kumar – saw a churn, the latter two stayed and Bachchan replaced Khanna.The King was dead, all hailed the new King. It is said that in RD Burman’s music room, Rajesh Khanna’s portrait was hung on the wall, such was the bond between the two. It began with ‘Roop Tera Mastana,’ a zingy and peppy new song in Aradhana though credited to an ailing SD Burman, but actually composed by RD Burman. This was a conjoined relationship, one that delivered hit after hit – RD’s music, Kishore’s playback and RK mouthing the lines in his inimitable style.UnforgettableIt is said that RK, or Kaka, was extremely conscious of his posterior, which used to protrude out. So Baldev Pathak, who used to run a boutique in Colaba called Shriman, designed what came to be known as the ‘Guru’ kurta for RK, a trademark which epitomised the star. As a child one saw everything that Khanna put on celluloid, from Haathi Mere Saathi, to his faceoff with Meena Kumari in Dushman, from his mush in Daag, to “I hate tears, Pushpa” in Amar Prem. He made you cry in Safar and Anand, even as you loved the rogue in Sacha Jhoota. There are so many memories of RK, the most obvious and the most indelible is of his voice playing back from tape in Anand – an unforgettable moment etched in our memories.advertisementWhen I worked in Plus Channel in the late 1990s, our office was in Ajanta Hotel in Juhu. The same hotel complex also housed Amitabh Bachchan’s ABCL where the other God used to come to work. RK was close to Amit Khanna and would land up in our office, as did many other stars and directors. Once I remember distinctly overhearing Khanna shout, “arre Amit teri bhi kya kismet hai, upar Lambuji hai aur main neeche baita hoon.” There were days when both superstars would be in the house, making you wonder – Oh, two kings in the house! Wowie. For any movie buff, it was a moment that will never be erased from the corridors of one’s mind.If one of the defining moments in Khanna’s career was the face-off with Bachchan in Namak Haram, where in a smouldering bravura high-voltage Beckettian performance, he screams: “Hai koi mai ka lal? Mujhe maro. Mere dost ko kya marte ho?” then equally significant was his ‘loss’ to LK Advani in a Lok Sabha election. Rajiv Gandhi propped up Khanna by pitting him against Advani. It was to send a message to Bachchan, who had fallen out with Rajiv after Bofors. Though Khanna lost narrowly, he won the re-election to the New Delhi seat by vanquishing Shatrughan Sinha in a gladiatorial contest.I end with his lines from Safar where he portrayed the tragic hero to the core – “Main marne se pehle marna nahin chahta” and “Yeh toh main hi jaanta hoon ki zindagi ke aakhri mod par kitna andhera hai.” A star has fallen.