Thousands of Indians braved monsoon rains this week to mourn Bollywood legend Rajesh Khanna, a superstar so idolized that female fans once reportedly wrote him letters in their own blood.
Khanna shot to fame as a heartthrob in romantic Indian films of the 1960s and '70s. Fans still loved Khanna so fervently that when a plastic sheet covering the glass case containing his body flew off his funeral vehicle in Mumbai, a fan reportedly grabbed it as a keepsake.
“I will always cherish it as a memento of the superstar,” fan Mohammad Rafique told the Hindu newspaper, hugging the sheet.
For Indian teens in the '70s, "Rajesh Khanna epitomized romance," said Anjalia Gera Roy, a humanities professor at the Indian Institute of Technology. Gossip magazines followed him breathlessly through his fairytale courtship and whirlwind wedding to teen actress Dimple Kapadia. Lipstick kisses coated his car.
"He was the first true superstar of Bollywood," said Shreedhar Kothari, who sits on the board of directors of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. "Women were crazy about his charisma. He had this charm -- almost like you see in interviews with Bill Clinton. The head tilted, the smile on his face."
Khanna later separated from Kapadia. Bollywood eventually turned away from the cinematic romances that had made him a star. The actor later had a political turn in Parliament and then faded from public view, living a somewhat reclusive life as he aged.
Yet "suddenly when he died, you could feel the love and emotion and hysteria," Kothari said. "It's unbelievable." Khanna died Wednesday at age 69 after a reportedly prolonged illness.
The Times turned to Bollywood fans in Los Angeles to find out their favorite Khanna scenes. One of his most beloved films is the classic" Amar Prem," in which Khanna starred as a businessman who falls in love with a courtesan disdained by society. This scene shows him comforting her with a song:
The next video comes from "Haathi Mere Saathi," a movie beloved by children that depicts Khanna as a man who creates his own private zoo. When he falls in love, his devotion to his animals is challenged. Here Khanna sings with female costar Tanuja:
In the hit movie" Bawachi," Khanna played a cook who heals a broken and squabbling family:
The 1969 romance "Aradhana" was one of his earliest films, starring opposite Sharmila Tagore, who later acted with him in "Amar Prem" and other movies. Khanna plays a pilot who falls in love:
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A fan of Bollywood veteran actor Rajesh Khanna holds a portrait of him as they march during a funeral procession Thursday in Mumbai. Credit: Divyakant Solanki / European Pressphoto Agency