Vinod Khanna was possibly the only male star in
the Hindi film industry that forsook fame at the height of
success, writes DINESH RAHEJA.
After a long string
of hits in 1977-1978, Vinod was Amitabh Bachchan’s direct
competitor in the superstar sweepstakes.
He shocked filmdom
and the public by announcing his retirement.
determinedly embarked on a quest for spiritual fulfillment.
After all, a few
years earlier, he had already worked the rare alchemy that let
him manage the difficult crossover from ‘villain’ to ‘hero.’
Vinod Khanna, who
has died aged 70, on 27th April, 2017, belonged to
the second wave of Punjabi heroes who ruled Bollywood - known as
His family hailed
from Peshawar in Pakistan and had moved to India in 1947 when
the country was divided.
The heroes on screen
then were all swashbuckling heroes known for their strapping
good looks, cultivated on screen mannerisms and individual
Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor. It may not have
the humour of Amitabh’s Anthony or the flamboyance of Rishi’s
Akbar, but the smooth machismo Vinod projects as super cop Amar
is what gives Manmohan Desai’s lost and found classic some
He embodied all that
but also brought all the panache of 1970s cinema to his acting.
A student of
Mumbai’s elite Sydenham College, he found acting more exciting
than his family business and signed on Sunil Dutt’s home
production Man Ka Meet (1968) as his debut.
Designed as a launch
pad for Sunil’s brother, Som Dutt, Man Ka Meet, ironically, made
stars of its moon-faced heroine Leena Chandarvarkar and its tall
and hunky anti-hero, Vinod Khanna.
Film writer Jai
Arjun Singh points out that “Khanna’s villainy was impressive as
it combined his dashing looks with an edgy dangerous menace that
made him impressive on screen. He was better at playing villain
parts than the conventional Bollywood hero”, says Singh.
If Dharmendra was
the original “beefcake of Bollywood” in the 1970s, the 1980s was
dominated by the figure of Amitabh Bachchan’s “angry young man”.
But Mr. Singh says
there was a time when Bollywood watchers “predicted that Khanna
was a threat to superstar Bachchan’s popularity”.
The two acted in a
number of films together.
As a villain whose
handsome face hid ugly designs and deeds, Vinod was lapped up by
But few producers
had the confidence to let a major film ride on his brawny
He had to pair with
starlets like Bindu (Nateeja) and Bharati (Hum Tum Aur Woh); or
be the unwanted hypotenuse in many a triangular tango (Aan Milo
Sajna, Ek Haseena Do Deewane) where all he was required to do
was sneer and exude charisma.
As a blackguard,
Vinod was most memorable playing the dacoit in Mera Gaon Mera
Sporting a huge
black tilak, a crumpled dhoti and bloodshot eyes, Vinod matched
he-man Dharmendra shoulder to shoulder.
A section of the
audience was convinced that second leads Laxmi Chhaya and Vinod
Khanna had stolen the thunder in this horses-and-bullets megahit.
Zeenat Aman and Vinod Khanna in Qurbani.
Not content with
being a sought-after model of male nastiness, Vinod yearned for
Gulzar provided the much-needed breakthrough, giving Vinod the
role of a soul-troubled street desperado in his Mere Apne
The audience enjoyed
the sparring between Vinod and Shatrughan Sinha as rival street
blended toughness with sensitivity (his character was jilted by
He began his
transition to hero roles in right earnest.
Achanak (1973) saw Vinod retain the audience’s sympathy despite
playing a man who murders his adulterous wife.
Vinod was still the
toughie in his films but the roles were increasingly lined with
romantic hues, like 1974’s Imtihaan (where he successfully
reprised the role played by Sidney Poiter in To Sir With Love)
and Haath Ki Safaai.
The mid-1970s was a
heady phase for Vinod.
He formed a thumping
box-office team with Amitabh.
The two heroes
delivered five huge successes together - Hera Pheri (1976),
Khoon Pasina (1977), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) Parvarish (1977)
and Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978).
Vinod Khanna with his guru in Rajneesh’s ashram during his
5-year spiritual break.
inherent in these films ensured a high entertainment quotient.
In Amar Akbar
Anthony, one of Bollywood’s biggest hits ever, a scene has
Khanna beating Bachchan to a pulp and carting him over his
It left many fans of
the superstar dumbfounded.
inconceivable for me to imagine my hero getting beaten. Even by
his elder brother in the film,” writes Diptakirti Chaudhuri, in
a book on Bollywood.
Vinod was even
pitched as Amitabh’s contender for the top spot after he fuelled
successes on his own steam like Raj Sippy’s Inkaar (1977), a
slick kidnap drama.
actor also attempted risky, offbeat roles.
Vinod won raves for
his mature and complex performance as a murder suspect in Aruna
Vikas’ small budget sleeper success, Shaque (1976).
scenes with Shabana Azmi were considered bold for the times and
created a stir.
In Gulzar’s Meera
(1979), Vinod brought alive the frustration of an essentially
decent man unable to reconcile himself to his wife Meera’s
devotion to a force bigger than himself.
Khanna was a hunk
with dreamy eyes and the combination of his muscularity and good
looks helped him race to the top.
He did action,
thrillers, and romances and, for a while, ruled the marquee in
Even as Main Tulsi
Tere Angan Ki and Muqaddar Ka Sikander light up the marquee,
Vinod found himself questioning the gossamer nature of worldly
It shored his
resolve to join his guru Rajneesh’s ashram.
Neither the runaway
success of his starrer Qurbani (1980) nor his early 1970s
marriage to Geetanjali (which ended in a divorce) stopped Vinod
from setting off on a spiritual odyssey.
In the early 1980s,
Vinod followed Rajneesh to Oregon, where he busied himself with
The tabloids called
him “Sexy Sanyasi”, referring to an ascetic follower of
Sridevi and Vinod Khanna in Chandni. At a time when Vinod
Khanna’s macho appeal was his biggest draw, he valiantly
shows up in Chandni’s second half to poignantly describe how
it feels to get your heart broken not once but twice.
“I am, I guess, a
human being who does what feels right to him at the time, does
what he really wants to do,” he once told a journalist who asked
him whether he was a star or a sanyasi.
“Sure, it is easy to
latch onto one thing, to be and do that all your life - but
within you is a voice saying there must be something more to
life. I look for that something more.”
After his return
from the ashram, his marriage ended and he went missing from
Till he decided it
was wiser to let his spiritual self coexist with the material
Two people keen on a
comeback - Vinod Khanna and a separated-from-her-husband Dimple
Kapadia - came together in Insaaf (1987) and made it a winner.
contained in Insaaf’s song, Rang lati hai henna patthar pe pis
jaane ke baad proved prophetic.
Vinod was one of the
hottest marquee names once again.
Big banners like J P
Dutta (Batwara, Kshatriya), Yash Chopra (Chandni, Parampara),
Mukul Anand (Mahasangram, Khoon Ka Karz) flooded Vinod with
But the failure of
Dayavan (an ambitious remake of Kamal Haasan’s Nayakan) and a
mindless spree of action movies - CID, Muqaddar Ka Badshah -
took the sheen off Vinod’s star rating in the 1990s.
Aruna Raje’s Rihaee
(1990) where he played an emancipated man who accepts his wife’s
straying and Gulzar’s underrated metaphysical melodrama, Lekin
(1991) were the two bright spots in a by now speckled career.
Vinod went about
rebuilding his life and married again.
He launched his son
Akshaye with Himalayaputra (1997), entered politics, became the
minister of state for tourism and culture and proved himself
willing to act in the occasional film like Leela, Wanted,
Dabangg and Dilwale (which was his last), if it took his fancy.
Salman Khan and Vinod Khanna in Dabangg. He doesn’t get much
screen time but the veteran works up a stern face and
daunting daddy air to validate a peeved Salman Khan’s
He will be forever
remembered as an actor who wrote his own jagged script.
combination of robust star power and self-possession, Vinod
Khanna’s illustrious filmography is imprinted on every Hindi
film buff’s soul.