Vinod Khanna, you the ultimate symbol of manhood for the millions of Bollywood fans, how could you just cheat us with your death?
You know what Mr. Khanna, I am not writing this piece, I am mourning.
When Vinod Khanna shot dead his wife
My earliest memory of you goes back to the spine-chilling thriller, Achanak. You had shot dead your wife and her lover and were on the run. I can still remember, frame by frame, the ice cold look on your face while you were escaping from the police dogs. You, Iftekhar, Om Shiv Puri and Asrani made a great team. Not very many know that this was perhaps one of the very few movies that Gulzar made with you.
While I was too young to appreciate the cinematic values of this movie, I have just now discovered that it fetched Gulzar his first Filmfare Award.
Let me confide in you Mr. Khanna, I was shattered beyond my dreams when the military court had sentenced you to death for your ‘crime’.
Your tango with Meena Kumari
I was 3 when you set the screen ablaze with your mortal combats with Shotgun Sinha, aka Chhenu in Mere Apne. Until a few years back, I did not know that this 1971 movie also starred the Queen of Tragedy, Meena Kumari. Did you forget your lines when you looked into her eyes, Mr. Khanna? How would I ever know how you felt while working with one of the best actors that Hindi cinema has seen? One day, I hope Mr. Sinha comes out with his version of Mere Apne.
The Solva Saal effect
Is it true, Mr. Vinod Khanna, that the epic, Solva Saal, defined you as an actor? This flick, which starred Dev Anand and Wahida Rehman, had a lovely song, Hai Apna Dil To Awara.. sung effortlessly by Hemant da. Critics also say that K Asif’s magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam, also played an important role in making you an actor.
Partnership with Sunil Dutt
Not many people know that you got your first break after Sunil Dutt offered you a role in his Man ka Meet. You played a villain in this 1968 movie and it seemed that Bollywood had got its first handsome badmash. Did you get good advice before playing the villain so early in your career? But, Sir, let me admit Sir that these roles were eminently forgettable in Purab Aur Paschim, Sacha Jhutha, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Elan, Aan Milo Sajna, and Mastana.
You almost risked your career with this career move to the glee of Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Jitendra and many others. Any other actor in your place would have crashed out of the industry after such a move. Not you. You were a survivor.
Sona Le Ja Re…
I remember going to a famous cinema hall in Jaipur and watching Mera Gaon Mera Desh. Though I was very young to understand that movie, its numbers still haunt me. And who can forget your role of Jabbar, the local bandit? Your on-screen rivalry with Dharmendra in this 1970s cult movie is the stuff the legends are made of. Watch this melodious song composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
Hum Tum Aur Woh
One of the best songs picturised on you was Priye Praneshwari sung so soulfully by the evergreen Kishore Kumar. We had a black and white television set at our home and I remember you sporting a white kurta and dhoti in that song. This Kalyanji Anandji composition was one of the best songs of the year in which this movie was released.
Ah, the 1970s
Vinod Sir, you were perhaps one of the very few actors who did films with all the leading ladies of Hindi cinema. You wooed Rekha, Shabana Azmi, Parveen Babi, Rakhi and Zeenat Aman and made your audience jealous. The Vinod Khanna of Mere Apne had finally made his mark among the top stars of the era.
Clearly, your days as the villain were over and you were one of the highest paid actors in Bollywood. The only ones who were paid more were Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, and Shashi Kapoor.
And then Amar Akbar Anthony happened
I think you eclipsed your two brothers, Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in this Manmohan Desai drama. Your role was well scripted which you played out very well. It had the right balance of toughness and romance and nobody nut you, could have played the role of Inspector Amar. Watching this film, I was sure that you were the next big sensation of Bollywood.
Watch this faceoff between Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan
I think that for the most part of the late 70’s and early 80’s, the filmmakers were in two minds about you. Amitabh Bachchan had just burst inside the Bollywood ring and was churning out super hits like Deewar and Zanjeer. You had your own animal magnetism that was too difficult to ignore. The producers of that time took the middle course. So, in many movies like Parwarish, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Zameer, Her Pheri and Khoon Paseena, the audience savored both you and Bachchan. Everyone was waiting for the day when you would win the sweepstakes…
Osho robbed us of you…
Honestly, when I heard that you had left for the United States to be an Osho follower, I was devastated. How could you leave your millions of fans just like that when fame was beckoning you? It was the tipping point for you and all of us were waiting with bated breath for your success.
In the five years that you were away Mr. Vinod Khanna, the balance of power had irrevocably changed in favor of Bachchan. Bollywood had finally got its superstar. Rajesh Khanna was on his decline Dharmendra was downhill and there were no other serious contenders for the throne. It was an easy battle for Amitabh while you were away.
Back in action
You came back to Bollywood in the late 1980’s but the landscape had changed beyond recognition. There were new players like Govinda, Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol who were younger than you and looked fresher. It was a lost battle for you. Yes, you did some good movies like Satyameva Jayate and Chandni but they were just like a flickering flame.
Ah, the song from Chandni that inspired a million romances!
I wish you had not left for the charms of Osho and America but, such is life. It was your wish to pursue a spiritual path and we respect your decision.