India mourns Rajesh Khanna, the original Bollywood superstar

Actor won the adoration of fans and dominated Hindi cinema

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The Independent Online

Fans of Indian cinema shared sadness and memories yesterday following the death of Rajesh Khanna, an actor considered Bollywood's first superstar.

India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, led the tributes to the 69-year-old who had starred in more than 160 films, conveying his condolences to "members of the bereaved family and countless fans and admirers".

At the height of his fame, women got married to Khanna's photograph and wrote wedding proposals to him etched in their own blood.

Khanna, born Jatin Khanna, got his break in 1965 when he won a national talent contest and made his debut in the film Aakhri Khat ('The Last Letter'), written and directed by Chetan Anand, the following year.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s he utterly dominated Hindi cinema, utilising his compelling looks to become the number one romantic lead actor. He won three Filmfare Best Actor Awards and was nominated for the title 14 times.

In the 1970s, he starred in five consecutive movies that set new sales records – a feat that India has never seen equalled. Khanna was as celebrated as much for the hysteria he created among his fans as much as he was for his acting. He was routinely mobbed by female fans, who planted kisses on his car when they could not get close to him, leaving the vehicle covered in lipstick marks.

"He was like The Beatles," said Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

The actor eventually saw his position wane as the popularity for romantic movies lost out to the demand for action films.

For four years in the mid-1990s he served as an MP for the Congress Party, declining to take on any new film roles while representing a constituency in Delhi.

Reports also suggest that in his later years, Khanna turned to alcohol. He had been in hospital several times in recent months. His death was announced to crowds of fans by his son-in-law, Akshay Kumar, himself a leading Bollywood actor. His funeral is due to take place today.

"He has gone to a very nice and heavenly place. We are very happy that he had gone there," Kumar told the media assembled outside Khanna's home in Mumbai.