Bollywood’s first superstar Rajesh Khanna was obsessed with actor Amitabh Bachchan for years, blaming the "angry young man" for ending his phenomenal streak of success and days of glory that he thought would last forever.
In a discussion titled 'The Phenomenon: Rajesh Khanna' at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday, authors Gautam Chintamani, Yasser Usman and Shobha De discussed such details from the life of the artiste who crashed and burned after generating the kind of hysteria that only iconic global rock stars like Elvis and Michael Jackson enjoyed.
"Female fans wrote him letters in blood, married his photographs, imprinted lipstick marks on his car and used the mud on his car tyres as sindoor," De recalled.
It is common knowledge that Khanna grew up a foster child, but Usman said the actor was in complete denial of his biological parents’ existence and even fabricated stories and provided fictitious names for his sisters. "His life before Aradhana has hardly been documented," the journalist said. "His Man Friday tells me there was not even a single photograph of the real parents in Aashirwad (the actor’s residence), or even a mention."
The panelists said the media that made Khanna a superstar was unfair to him in subsequent years. "He was arrogant, possessive and frequently late, but so were many other actors," said Usman.
Chintamani argued that the years between 1975 and 1980 witnessed Bachchan’s rise and Khanna’s downfall because the former was prepared to do multi-starrer films, while the latter only sought solo-hero projects. "He realised that his stardom was gone, but till his last days he believed he could get it back with that one elusive hit," the documentary filmmaker said. "The Havells fan ad was his way of asking his admirers, ‘Are you still out there?’"
Khanna died on July 18, 2012 following prolonged illness. He posthumously received the Padma Bhushan and the title 'The First Superstar of Indian cinema' at the Dadasaheb Phalke Awards. "He wanted control over every aspect of his life. He even left specific instructions for his own funeral," said De.