He did not have screaming fans, yet the frenzy was unparalleled. Is unparalleled. Rajesh Khanna was not the first superstar. He was the only real one Hindi cinema has produced. He was not a durbari or a durbar. He knew the value of keeping that little distance.
He had no muscles, no abs. He had a pimply skin. He was not tall. He did not have a great voice. Yet. It is that yet...that undefinable aura that made every strand of his hair worthy of emulation. His 'guru' shirts started a trend. Many actors have trends to their credit, so I'd say this was just an occupational bonus in his case.
To even suggest that Amitabh Bachchan and he were rivals is disingenuous. Bachchan's formula had method - from the angry man to the drunken scenes to the comedic moments. Khanna's acting, even though heavily stylised, did not seem to have any plan. Bachchan may be seen as a pitashri; Khanna was a combination of Arjuna and Duryodhana, and Krishna too. There was an element of narcissism. Which is why the women married his photograph, applied the dust his car passed over as sindoor in the parting of their hair. I have witnessed one kissing his car, her obeisance so complete. They were all Meera; he their unattainable lord, an image, an idol.
It is, therefore, interesting that he married the teenager who used to stand outside the gate of his bungalow Aashirwaad. Of course, Dimple Kapadia had shot to fame with her debut in 'Bobby', but she gave it all up for the idol. Like all such alliances, it was tumultuous. Rajesh Khanna could not be anything else but Rajesh Khanna. The famous chamchas surrounded him, people who fed his ego and led him to believe that his life was not his own.
Yet. It is that 'yet' that takes us to how the couple, though separated, continued to be together in many ways. Neither compromised or faked happiness.
The reason for this personal look is because his stardom cannot be parodied. It lacked affectation, and was intrinsic. The persona and the person became one.
There are too many roles, too many films to remember. I would not box him into the “romantic hero” category. What about the 'Patch Adams' like cook in 'Bawarchi'? Or the criminal in 'Raaz'? While in and as 'Anand' he made the life of a cancer-stricken patient live after death, for me his character in 'Amar Prem' epitomises true love. Here, he was so much like Devdas - trapped in an unhappy marriage, he finds solace and companionship with a courtesan. The sensuality is unspoken, despite her profession. They do not romance; they share. No dream sequences. Nothing.
It is a love that endures, and the physical distance means little as they meet again when the hair's turned grey and the gait has slowed down. He still hated tears.
Rajesh Khanna. Now in another world.
And the perennial questions of life that his character asks:
"yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua, kyon hua, jab hua, tab hua
O chhodo, yeh na socho..."
(Why did this happen, when, what, it had its time...think not about these now...)