Mourners gathered in Mumbai under heavy monsoon rain to bid farewell and catch a final glimpse of Bollywood's first superstar, Rajesh Khanna, who was to be cremated on Thursday.

His body was driven from his residence on an open-back trailer with only his face showing from beneath a blanket of jasmine flowers. Onlookers, many under umbrellas, threw white petals as the funeral cortege passed.

Khanna, popularly known as the "first superstar" of Bollywood and the Hindi film industry's biggest heart-throb in his day, died on Wednesday after months of illness. He was 69.

He was to be cremated later Thursday according to Hindu tradition.

Indian newspapers and television channels led with the news of Khanna's death, with his face appearing on most front pages as tributes poured in from fellow actors, leading politicians and sports stars.

"King of Hearts," said the front page of the English-language tabloid Mail Today, while the serious-minded broadsheet The Hindu ran the headline, "Superstar who turned romance, and even death, into a high art."

Khanna, who had been sick since April with an undisclosed illness rumoured to be cancer, passed away at his family home in Mumbai after being discharged from hospital on Tuesday.

His film debut came in "Aakhri Khat" (The Last Letter) in 1966 but his star rose with runaway hit "Aaradhna" (Worship) three years later, followed by a string of successes, with Khanna typically as the romantic lead.

His prominent hits of the 1970s included "Kati Patang" (Broken Kite), "Amar Prem" (Everlasting Love) and "Anand" (Happiness), in which he played a man who eventually loses his battle with cancer.

In total, he sang, danced and acted in more than 150 films. His smile, twinkling eyes and soft, romantic demeanour charmed legions of besotted female fans.

Soon after his debut Khanna was getting letters written in blood by admirers and his car was said to be stained with lipstick wherever he went. There were even reports of some followers marrying his photographs.