Rajesh Khanna was one of eight finalists in the 1965 All India Talent Contest organised by United Producers and Filmfare from more than ten thousand contestants.Subsequently Khanna won the contest .He made his film debut in the 1966 film Aakhri Khat directed by Chetan Anand, followed by Raaz directed by Ravindra Dave both of which were a part of his predetermined prize for winning the All-India United Producers’ Talent Competition. G.P. Sippy and Nasir Hussain were the first to sign Rajesh Khanna after he won the contest. Khanna in an interview to Hindu newspaper said,”Though “Aakhri Khat” is my first film, I received my first break as a leading actor in Ravindra Dave’s, “Raaz” in 1967. My heroine was Babita, already a popular actress then. Though I had lots of confidence, I was shy in facing the camera initially. In my first three shots, I had to perform with stress on my body language and dialogue delivery. Though I was right with my dialogues, my movements were not up to the mark. Ravindra Dave explained me my scenes and movements very clearly correcting my way of walking” Being under contract with United Producers, he got projects like Aurat, Doli and Ittefaq. He was then noticed for his performances in films like Baharon Ke Sapne, Aurat (1967), Doli, Aradhana and Ittefaq. Later Waheeda Rehman suggested Asit Sen to take Khanna for the lead role in Khamoshi. Through Aradhana he rose to “instant national fame” and film critics referred to him as the first superstar of India. In that film, Rajesh Khanna was cast in a double role (father and son) opposite Sharmila Tagore and Farida Jalal. The film also saw the resurgence of Kishore Kumar, who eventually became the official playback voice of Rajesh Khanna. The Kishore Kumar-Rajesh Khanna combination worked miracles and it was almost impossible to see them as separate identities. They became a singer-actor duo and together they gave many songs till 1991.Then in year 1971, Haathi Mere Saathi became the biggest hit and also became the biggest grosser ever till then.Khanna is also credited with giving Salim Akhtar and Javed Akhtar their first chance to become screenplay writers by offering them work in Haathi Mere Saathi.Javed Akhthar accpeted in an interview “One day, he went to Salimsaab and said that Mr. Devar had given him a huge signing amount with which he could complete the payment for his bungalow Aashirwad. But the film’s script was far from being satisfactory. He told us that if we could set right the script, he would make sure we got both money and credit.”
He formed popular on screen pairs with actresses Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh, Mumtaz, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Tina Munim, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Poonam Dhillon.
In films like “Anand”, “Namak Haram”, “Bawarchi” and “Naukri” directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Khanna always had author-backed roles and for this reason Khanna charged only half of his market rate while doing these films. Indiatimes ranked Anand amongst the Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films.
Rajesh acted alongside Mumtaz in eight successful films. They were neighbours and got along very well, and as a result they shared a great on-screen chemistry. After Khanna married, Mumtaz decided to marry millionaire Mayur Madhwani in 1974. At the time, she was doing three films Aap ki Kasam, Roti and Prem Kahani with Khanna. She decided to quit movies only after completing these films. When she left films Khanna felt very lost. In one of her interviews, Mumtaz was quoted saying “I would pull his leg and tease him about his fan following. Whenever Rajesh entered a hotel in Madras, there was a queue of 600 girls waiting to see him at midnight. As a result, even I would get some importance, as people would ask for my autograph as well. He was very generous with his associates, and would party a lot.”
During the peak of his career he would be mobbed during public appearances. Fans kissed his car, which would be covered with lipstick marks, and lined the road, cheering and chanting his name. Female fans sent him letters written in their blood. There used to be a line of cars of his producers and hysterical fans outside his bungalow every day. Actor Mehmood parodied him in Bombay to Goa where the driver and conductor of the bus were called ‘Rajesh’ and ‘Khanna’. Even today, he remains the favourite of mimicry artists, who copy his trademark style and dialogue delivery. During the filming of Amar Prem there was a scene that needed to be filmed at Howrah Bridge with a boat carrying Khanna with Sharmila moving under the bridge. The authorities ruled this scene out as they realized that if the public found out that the hero of the film would be there, it may create problems on the bridge itself, and that it might collapse due to the amount of people trying to get a glimpse of their favourite actor. Film critic Monojit Lahiri remembers “Girls married themselves to photographs of Rajesh Khanna, cutting their fingers and applying the blood as sindoor. Rajesh was God, there has never been such hysteria.
Several songs sung by Kishore Kumar in the 1970s were based on Rajesh Khanna. During the filming of the song ‘Mere Sapnon Ki Rani’ in Aradhana, Sharmila Tagore was shooting for a Satyajit Ray film and director Shakti Samanta had to shoot their scenes separately and then join the scenes together.
The BBC made a film on him, titled Bombay Superstar, in 1974, the shooting for which began the same time when he got married and his film Daag premiered. In the video it can be noticed that Khanna was shooting for Aap Ki Kasam. A textbook prescribed by the Bombay University contained an essay, ‘The Charisma of Rajesh Khanna!
Sharmila Tagore said in interview to India Express, “Women came out in droves to see Kaka (Khanna). They would stand in queues outside the studios to catch a glimpse, they would marry his photographs, they would pull at his clothes. Delhi girls were crazier for him than Mumbai girls. He needed police protection when he was in public. I have never seen anything like this before and since.
Music remained one of the biggest attractions of all Rajesh Khanna films throughout his career. Many of the musical scores for Khanna’s films were composed by Sachin Dev Burman, R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. The trio of Rajesh Khanna, Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman went on to make a number of popular films, including Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Apna Desh, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Aap Ki Kasam, Ajnabee, Namak Haraam, Maha Chor, Karm, Phir Wohi Raat, Aanchal, Kudrat, Agar Tum Na Hote, Awaaz, Hum Dono and Alag Alag.
Rajesh Khanna had 15 consecutive hits between 1969 to 1972, which is still an unbroken record in Indian film history. The commercial success of his films declined during 1976–78.
Khanna considered Guru Dutt, Meena Kumari and Geeta Bali as his idols.Khanna dislosed in an interview,” My inspirations include, Dilip Kumar’s dedication and intensity, Raj Kapoor’s spontaneity, Dev Anand’s style and Shammi Kapoor’s rhythm.”
Between 1976 and 1978, Khanna acted in nine films that were not commercially successful. Seven of these were rated highly by critics upon their release and have achieved strong cult status over the years among the viewers and these films included Mehbooba, Bundal Baaz, Tyaag, Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein, Naukri, Chakravyuha and Janata Havaldar which were directed by Shakti Samanta, Shammi Kapoor, Din Dayal Sharma, Meeraj, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and Mehmood Ali, respectively. Khanna persuaded Samanta to cast his sister-in-law Simple Kapadia opposite him in Anurodh. Films starring Rajesh Khanna and directed by Shakti Samanta tended to be commercially successful, but Mehbooba was an exception. K. Balachander then remade his film Arangetram in Hindi as Aaina with Mumtaz in the lead and Khanna in a cameo appearance in 1977. This film was also unsuccessful. The change from romantic and social movies to action oriented multi-starrers caused the decline of Khanna’s career in terms of box office ratings to some extent. The declaration of emergency in India had angered the masses and this helped films having the lead character revolting against corruption becoming success.Actor Joy Mukherjee made Chhailla Babu, a suspense thriller in 1977, which became the only successful film of his as a director and the unexpected success of the Chhailla Babu gave a boost to the career of Khanna. However, Khanna continued basically in solo hero social sober household meaningful films during this era and played a variety of characters in films of various genres. During this phase too he had box office hits like Maha Chor,Chhailla Babu, Anurodh and Karm