Bollywood's original superstar Rajesh Khanna, who charmed his way into the hearts of millions of swooning women in the 1960s and 70s, died in Mumbai on Wednesday.
69-year-old Khanna, who shot to superstardom with the 1969 hit Aradhana opposite Sharmila Tagore, passed away at his home, a day after being discharged from Lilawati hospital. He had been ailing since April.
Expressing shock at the the demise of Rajesh Khanna, veteran actor Hema Malini said she always hoped that he would recover.
"We always thought he would come back (from the hospital). We are in shock right now," Hema told a TV news channel.
Though a romantic hero, Khanna essayed a variety of roles with ease in his illustrious career spanning four decades. His portrayal as a cancer patient in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-film Anand (1971) in which he got the better of Amitabh Bachchan left many teary eyed.
Nicknamed "Kaka" by his adoring fans, he is survived by estranged actress wife Dimple Kapadia and daughters Twinkle and Rinkie, all of whom were by his side when his end came.
Khanna's family as also Lilawati Hospital authorities were tightlipped about the nature of the actor's illness.
"We cannot tell you about the nature of Khanna's illness....Please get in touch with his family," a spokesman for Lilawati who identified himself only as Dr Trivedi told PTI.
According to sources close to the family, the cremation will take place on Thursday at 11am.
Vijay, a close friend of Khanna who had been interacting with the media since his illness, said, "Kaka's food intake had gone down over the last few days making him very weak."
The news of Khanna's death this afternoon spread like wildfire and hundreds of teary-eyed fans descended at his bungalow 'Ashirwad' in Bandra.
"My father-in-law is no more. He has gone to a nice and heavenly place. I am happy that he has gone there and hope that everyone will pray for him," his actor son-in-law Akshay Kumar told waiting reporters and fans outside 'Ashirwad'.
Several Bollywood celebrities including actors Rishi Kapoor, Prem Chopra and film maker Sajid Khan visited Khanna's home to pay homage to the actor.
The political fraternity including prime Minister Manmohan Singh too condoled his demise.
"I convey my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved family and countless fans and admirers of Shri Rajesh Khanna," he said in his condolence message.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi too expressed deep sorrow and grief at the demise of Rajesh Khanna.
"Rajesh Khanna was always a symbol of romance. His smiling face and the ability to connect with people at ease had made him popular. We lost a big pole star in the film world today," West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.
Expressing profound grief, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said, "his (Khanna's) death has caused irreparable loss to Hindi cinema."
The veteran actor, who lived a secluded life of late, recently appeared for a film advertisment of a well known brand of fan, his faces and eyes sunken. His real fans were shocked to see him a pale shadow of his former self.
During his illustrious career Khanna gave 15 consecutive solo superhits between 1969 and 1972 including Aradhana, Haathi Mere Saathi, Anand and Amar Prem.
Debuting with Akhri Khat which he bagged after winning a talent contest in 1965, Khanna went on to star in over 180 films.
He carved a niche for himself in Bollywood dominated in those days by the troika of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor and the likes of Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar.
However, it was Aradhana in 1969 opposite Sharmila that catapulted him to superstardom overnight.
His disarming smile and twinkling eyes made him the darling of millions. Female fans lined the streets he took, covered his car with kisses leaving lipstick marks, married his photographs and wrote love letters to him in blood while young men would sport his hairstyle.
Born as Jatin Khanna on December 29, 1942, he was adopted and raised by foster parents. He began taking interest in acting while in school and performed in a number of plays. It was his uncle who changed Khanna's first name to Rajesh when he decided to join films.
In 1965, he won an all India talent contest organised by United Producers and Filmfare and as a result made his debut the next year in Aakhri Khat, directed by Chetan Anand. His second film Raaz was also a part of his predetermined prize for winning the competition.
He found success with films like Baharon Ke Sapne, Aurat, Doli and Ittefaq, but it was the 1969 film Aradhana opposite Sharmila Tagore that catapulted Khanna to superstardom.
The film also saw the resurgence of Kishore Kumar, who eventually became the official playback voice of Khanna and the actor-singer duo delivered a number of hit songs subsequently, memorable among them being Mere sapno ki raani, Roop tera mastana, Kuch to log kahenge and Jai jai shiv shankar.
After Aradhana, Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) became the biggest hit and also the biggest grosser ever till then. Khanna appeared in 163 feature films of which 106 had him as the solo lead hero and 22 were two hero projects. He had 15 consecutive solo superhits between 1969 and 1972, which is still an unbroken record in Indian film history.
He won three Filmfare Best Actor Awards and was nominated for the same fourteen times. He was awarded the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
Despite his heartthrob status, Khanna played a variety of roles - the terminally ill Anand, a chef in Bawarchi, a lonely husband in Amar Prem, and a psychiatric patient in Khamoshi.
He worked with the best of the talents of his time, be it directors, actresses and composers. Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz became his leading ladies in many films including Amar Prem and Aap Ki Kasam.
Directors like Shakti Samanta, Yash Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Ramesh Sippy worked with Khanna. His films' music made them more memorable, with the trio of composer RD Burman, Kishore and he himself working together in more than 30 films.
The commercial success of his films declined during 1976–78. After 1978, Khanna starred in critically acclaimed films such as Amado, Phir Wohi Raat, Dard, Dhanwan, Avtaar and Agar Tum Na Hote.
If Khanna's rise to fame was meteoric, so was his fall from stardom. By the late 80s his charm at the box office had waned but it did not affect his personal charisma. He held a Lok Sabha seat as a Congressman from 1992 to 1996.
His enigmatic personality not only charmed his fans but also led to him into relationships with three Bollywood actresses in their heydays. Khanna was in a long-term relationship with Anju Mahendru in the early '70s, and later went on to marry Dimple Kapadia, 15 years younger to him, in 1973. They have two daughters - Twinkle and Rinke - who followed their parents into showbiz.
Dimple split from the actor in 1984. Though they lived separately, the couple never completed divorce formalities. Khanna was also romantically involved with his Souten co-star Tina Munim (now Ambani). The pair starred together in films like Fiffty Fiffty, Bewafai, Suraag, Insaaf Main Karoonga and Adhikar.
(With PTI inputs)