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Chennai mourns the death of the superstar

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That charming face that floored young women, those immortal melodies from his films and the phenomenon called Aradhana — when Rajesh Khanna’s fans in Chennai recalled their hero, it was evident that he stole as many hearts here as he did in the Hindi-speaking belt.

“I was just out of school when Aradhana released and I remember watching it 15 times. With a bunch of friends, I would go to Little Anand theatre to catch just the songs,” says Raksha Patel, long-time resident of Chennai.

The film, a runaway hit, even had golden jubilees organised in the city. “I attended one such function at Ashoka Hotel (in Egmore). It was packed and I still remember the excitement of peeping and catching a glimpse of Rajesh Khanna. He looked as charming as he did on screen,” she recalled.

For young women who to college in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rajesh Khanna was a new-found heart throb.

Senior journalist Sushila Ravindranath said: “At that time, not too many Hindi movies were screened at Chennai’s theatres. We saw Aradhana and he was unlike any other actor we had seen. We knew all his songs by heart, even if we didn’t understand the lyrics. He became an instant heart throb.”

Ms. Ravindranath even found a way to meet the artiste who was once shooting in Chennai and get his autograph. “Amar Prem was considered a rather sophisticated film at that time, and the line ‘Pushpa, I hate tears’ became so popular,” she said.

The actor’s bond with Chennai goes much beyond that between an actor and his fans. A frequent visitor to Chennai, he would often stay at Mayfair hotel on Radhakrishna Salai, and later, in Chola Sheraton.

On several days, he would hop across the road and catch an early breakfast at New Woodlands.

According to M.K. Kumar, who has been working with the hotel since 1973, the actor loved the traditional south-Indian breakfast of idlis and vadas.

C.R. Rajasekar, who was the front-office supervisor when Rajesh Khanna stayed in Chola Sheraton, fondly recalled how the friendly superstar would never throw any tantrums. “He used to remember the staff by name. Room no 720, the presidential suite, was always given to Rajesh Khanna. The actor, he said, would sometime playfully come to the guest-relation table, and would attend calls and take down orders.

“The actor had great regard for producers and artistes in Chennai. He thought they were very professional and disciplined,” said Bipin Shah of Hansa Pictures, the main distributor of many of Rajesh Khanna’s films in Chennai, beginning with Aradhana, that ran to full houses for 106 weeks in Little Anand.

The company also introduced the actor to Chinnappa Devar, who made sure the actor gave dates for Haathi Mere Saathi, which was almost entirely shot in Chennai.

The actor also developed business ties in Chennai. “Producer-director of Aradhana Shakti Samanta, Rajesh Khanna and our uncle Narendra Shah were partners in a film distribution company called Shanti Raj films. It was only when he signed the agreement that we knew that Kaka’s original name was Jatin Khanna,” Mr. Shah recalled.

The artistes’ fraternity here, too, has very fond memories of the actor. Actor Khushboo, who remembers meeting him when she was a child artiste, said: “Sometimes, it is only in someone’s passing away that you realise they were such an integral part of your life. I was so upset today that I called my mother and asked her, ‘How could Rajesh Khanna die!’ She told me everybody was destined to die, but Rajesh Khanna is not everybody.”

Observing that there was great depth and dignity in the way Rajesh Khanna romanced his heroines on screen, Ms. Khushboo said: “It was every girl’s dream to be romanced that way. If you had to woo a woman, we felt that it had got to be like Rajesh Khanna.”