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Aradhana, the movie that made Rajesh Khanna a phenomenon
She is sitting by the train window. He is in an open jeep on the road parallel to the rail track, being driven by his friend. She looks out of the window. He grins, tilts his head and breaks into a song, Mere sapno ki rani kab aayegi tu. With this Kishore Kumar song was born the Bollywood phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna. It's a well-known industry fact that Rajesh Khanna's popularity still remains unparalleled. Sharmila Tagore, his Aradhana co-star, says, "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."
And to think that Rajesh Khanna was only incidental to this breakthrough role. Director Shakti Samanta, who had a successful partnership with Shammi Kapoor in the early '60s, had planned Aradhana as a quickie as he was waiting for busy star Kapoor's dates for Pagla Kahin Ka. The newbie Khanna, who was already signed on by Samanta's company, after he had won a talent hunt organised by United Producers, was called in to star in this film opposite Tagore.
Aradhana, apart from being a huge epic romance and a musical blockbuster, was essentially a woman's story. It was Vandana's (Tagore) tale of selfless love, a story of a young unwed mother who takes on society to give birth to her love child and the trials and tribulations she undergoes to ensure he has a safe future. It was a role that Tagore fought for, since Hema Malini was Samanta's first choice. "I wanted this role from the moment writer Sachin Bhowmick narrated it to me. Shakti had reservations since he felt the audience perceived me as a stylish modern girl, especially after An Evening in Paris. He was keen to have Hema Malini, who was just coming in then and had the 'dream girl' image going for her. But I persisted and Bhowmick backed me," says Tagore.