Remembering Vinod Khanna: The quintessential toughie, angry cop, and romantic lead
Like Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra, you could have put Vinod Khanna in any role
If there were to be one defining image for the word handsome, it had to be that of Vinod Khanna, the actor who passed away on Thursday, 27 April 2017.
Every time Khanna appeared on the screen, it became almost impossible to not admire him or envy him for his chiselled face, flowing hair, thick, long sideburns, physique that appeared carved by sculptors from some rare piece of rock. And, ah, that smile — part-mocking, part-mystifying and yet warm like the first ray of sun. Perhaps, he was the only actor who looked both rugged, scruffy and yet gentle.
Like Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra, you could have put Vinod Khanna in any role. He would looked dashing — and menacing if required — in each one of them. He was the quintessential toughie, angry cop, romantic lead and the perfect choice for the character that made tailor made for him — that of a dacoit killing with both his eyes and the gun. So, it isn't a surprise that in his career spanning almost five decades, Vinod Khanna portrayed every possible role, starting out as a sidekick, graduating to the main baddie and then becoming a star whose name sold many films.
As news of his death sinks in, several images come to mind. It goes back to one morning in the early '80s, where people are queuing up outside a single-screen theatre in a mofussil town at 6 am — first day had eight shows — for tickets of his blockbuster Qurbani. And then, as he appears on the screen a good half an hour later, the audience goes berserk, whistling, clapping and waiting for him to throw his first punches and romance Zeenat Aman.
It goes back to Mere Apne, where he is sitting at a tea-stall, wearing shades and slippers, resting on the handle of a bicycle, reflecting the angst of the youth of his time. To that raw intensity of Jabbar Singh, where he is glaring viciously at Lakshmi as she seductively asks, 'Maar Diya Jaye Ki Chhod Diya Jaye?'
And then finally to the euphoria of the 80s, when after a spiritual-sex break, he is returning to the screen with Satyamev Jayate and Insaaf and all of India is asking just one question: Is Amitabh Bachchan's numero uno position in the film industry now safe?
A part of Vinod Khanna's legend was the aura of mystique around him and the recklessness with which he treated fame, money and his own life. At the peak of his career, traumatised by the prospect of death, he left the film industry to become Osho's (spiritual guru Rajneesh) gardener, earning in the process the oxymoronic sobriquet of 'Sexy Sanyasi.'
Many thought he was lured by the bohemian lifestyle of free sex and nirvana that Osho's ashram promised. But, his friends later revealed Khanna was rattled by two deaths in his family and everything that he had earned in his life — fame, money, applause, adulation, creative satisfaction — looked ephemeral and pointless in front of death.
But, it is an ode to his eternal star power that when he returned, disillusioned by Osho, the audiences ensured that his films were back-to-back blockbusters, making the likes of Shakti Kapoor say that the film industry now has two gods — Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. But, when asked about his rivalry with Bachchan, Vinod Khanna would humbly reply, in the philosophical style of someone who had seen and renounced it all, that he didn't want to be number one at all. His desire was to live day to day and do his best.
A few days ago, when images of a frail Vinod Khanna appeared in the media, it was heart-breaking to see a man who looked like a Greek god ravaged by age and illness. The actor himself was once in awe of death, its power to take away in one moment everything that a man has achieved.
Perhaps he was right. If age and illness can fell someone who was the very definition of masculinity, virility and handsome, there must be something really invincible about them.
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