Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and the Dostana that almost was
For any actor, the roles that they choose are almost as important as the ones that they let go of. Like most actors of his time, the late Vinod Khanna, too, was a product of the roles that he portrayed and what separated him from the others was the manner in which the terms used to describe him such as rugged and sexy became synonymous with the characters that he would portray. His misguided college student in Gulzar’s Mere Apne was different from the way students were shown in Hindi cinema up until then and a big reason for this was Vinod Khanna’s own persona. Jean-Paul Sartre believed that we are our choices but in Vinod Khanna’s case, two of the choices that he made for various reasons were not really his in the first place and yet ended up defining him best. Of the two roles, the one that he would feature in would go on to become his calling card and the other, the one that could have added a new dimension to not only Vinod Khanna but also the second lead in popular Hindi cinema would, unfortunately, be snatched away from him for a strange reason.
By the mid-1970s with Amitabh Bachchan well on his way to becoming a colossus, there were only a couple of stars who could stand up to his towering box office influence. Amongst them, Vinod Khanna was considered the one to take Bachchan on but it didn’t appear as if Khanna was too keen on competing. Interestingly enough while Khanna, and for that matter even Rishi Kapoor and Dharmendra, the two other popular and successful male leads of the era regularly featured as solo leads, Bachchan, it seemed, preferred to concentrate on multi-starrers or two-hero projects. It was around this time that Feroz Khan was planning Qurbani (1980) and while today the film is unimaginable without Vinod Khanna it was originally not supposed to be his.
Feroz Khan had pitched Qurbani to Bachchan but the idea of the former playing the ‘lead’ might not have worked with the latter. Khan then offered it to Vinod Khanna and the film became one of the biggest hits of their careers. In most of the two-hero projects that Bachchan was a part of it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the conventional lead and for what it’s worth Vinod Khanna didn’t seem to have any trouble adjusting to this. Khanna had enjoyed a great onscreen partnership with Bachchan in films like Zameer (1975), Hera Pheri (1976), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), and Parvarish (1977). In spite of being the ‘second’ in some ways Vinod Khanna was never burdened by Bachchan but more than that Khanna underplaying his role also helped Bachchan’s character become the hero. Looking at Qurbani Vinod Khanna’s lonely widower who realizes that the woman he loves, Sheila (Zeenat Aman) is the love of his friend Rajesh’s (Feroz Khan) life was ideal casting because Vinod Khanna’s intense silent gaze that said it all. The absence of Qurbani from Vinod Khanna’s filmography would leave such a gaping void in his oeuvre that Khanna could end up being a different entity altogether.
If Qurbani cemented the legend of Vinod Khanna as the debonair Greek god, Dostana (1982), a film that he was originally supposed to be featured with Bachchan once again, could have added a new layer to his histrionics. Dostana went through two changes before the first shot was canned and the first of them was the one that sealed Khanna’s fate. The film was to be directed by Vijay Anand but when he was giving a bit of a chase producer Yash Johar approached Raj Khosla, who agreed instantly. Khosla read the script written by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar and said that Vinod Khanna, who was cast as the lawyer, had to go. Everyone was surprised at Khosla’s statement as the filmmaker and Vinod Khanna went back a long way and it was Khosla’s Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971) that truly announced the actor’s arrival. Khanna was so close to Khosla that he even emotionally blackmailed his mentor to cast him as the Pathan truck driver in Prem Kahani (1976) even when Feroz Khan had been finalized.
In Dostana, childhood friends — a cop (Amitabh Bachchan) and lawyer (Vinod Khanna) have a falling out and to save the cop from a death sentence the lawyer asks the cop’s ladylove (Zeenat Aman) to sleep with him. This indecent proposal pushes Zeenat Aman’s character in a conundrum and the entire final act of the film hinges around this dilemma, which Khosla felt was hardly a predicament if Vinod Khanna was cast. One of Khosla’s assistants on the film mentions that Khosla even went to the extent of saying forget Zeenat, I’d sleep with Vinod Khanna if he asked! In the end, Khosla felt that Shatrughan Sinha’s ne’er-do-well onscreen persona would work better for Dostana and replaced Khanna. If Qurbani found Vinod Khanna a lifelong friend in Feroz Khan (the two died on the same day a few years apart) Dostana besides being the only Salim-Javed script that would have featured Khanna with Bachchan could also have been the last film to feature the two superstars together, in addition to being an ode to their friendship.
Updated Date: May 04, 2017 21:44:21 IST