Rajesh Khanna would drop by at a well-known street food joint in Bandra to have paani-puris with a lady friend, till he was diagnosed with cancer last year.
The two would exchange pleasantries with Khanna’s middle-aged fans and leave as unobtrusively as they came.
Anita Advani, the niece of former Philippines President Ferdinand Emmanuel Marcos, had been the woman in the ageing superstar’s life at a time when the camera, spotlights and hangers-on had left him.
A 59-year-old Bandra-based businesswoman, Anita would visit Khanna almost every evening at his iconic bungalow, Aashirwad, on Carter Road for eight years till late last year when the superstar and his estranged wife, Dimple Kapadia, reconciled after his illness was diagnosed. Often, they would also be spotted together travelling to Delhi or elsewhere.
“I am in love with him. Who would not (be)?” Anita had told some reporters at a party held to pay tribute to Meena Kumari in May 2011.
Such candour has been displayed by most women who have shared a romantic relationship with Khanna at some time or the other, on or off the record.
The legend of superstar Rajesh Khanna — the eternal romantic hero for a generation of swooning female fans — was forged into a near-myth by his off-screen romances.
From his first public affair with Anju Mahendroo — the wild child of the 60s — to his wife — the 70s child bride, Dimple — to his middle-age dalliance in the 80s with Tina Munim, his women were strong individuals.
There were rumours of flings in between, one with his co-star of many movies, Mumtaz.
The two were neighbours and inseparable on film sets; their camaraderie and closeness on outdoor shoots fed gossip columns in film magazines.
They never acknowledged the relationship. But soon after Khanna’s wedding, Mumtaz left films, Mumbai and India to marry the London-based businessman, Mayur Madhavani.
Another much talked-about liaison — with 70s gossip columnist Devyani Chaubal — somewhat dented the superstar’s loveable, romantic image.
Chaubal was a much-feared “poison-spouting” columnist for a leading film magazine and Khanna had been at the receiving end of her pen.
“In his inimitable style, he cultivated her. I would not call them romantically involved. It was an uninhibited sharing between a superstar and a senior journalist,” said journalist and Bollywood chronicler Bhavna Somaiyya.
“The initial bitterness of the columns then gave way to warm accolades. Later when they started falling apart, the columns were back to being what they initially were. The columns varied depending on the climate of the relationship.”
The relationship gradually went bitter and fizzled out.
“But Rajesh Khanna never lost dignity, never badmouthed her. It was a unique quality — he never badmouthed or spoke ill of any of the women he had been with despite the bitterness with which each relationship ended,” Somaiyya said.
Although Khanna chose to take his wedding procession past Anju’s bungalow at the end of their seven-year relationship — she refused to marry him — she could not stop herself from checking out how well each of his films did at the box office.
Despite the bitter split, the two developed a lasting friendship over the decades. Each would tease the other and indulge in harmless banter. Anju visited him in Lilavati Hospital earlier this month.
A traditionalist at heart, Khanna was attracted to her bohemian view of love and her uber-modern lifestyle. But he seemed insecure about her style of dressing and carefree ways. Possibly, she was too candid for him.
Tina, who was never reticent about her relationship with Khanna, quietly went abroad to study after they broke up.
A strong believer in astrology, Khanna was once told by a famous Gujarati astrologer that his marriage would adversely affect his film career.
But despite the ups and downs of their marriage, Dimple never divorced him. She held his hand in his last days, keeping vigil by his side till his last breath.