Vinod Khanna's Dadasaheb Phalke Award win is a nod to his acting talent: Mass popularity apart, he was also a great performer

Abhishek Srivastava

Apr,14 2018 11:05:01 IST

‘Vinod Khanna is the recipient of Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2018’ - might simply come as a shock to many.  Khanna has never been an actor equated with meaningful films and soul stirring performances. .

Vinod Khanna to many was a commercial star who churned blockbusters in quick succession and awards were the last thing that decked the shelf at his home. In a chequered career, he could boast of just a solitary Filmfare award when it came to open competition. Prakash Mehra’s Haath Ki Safai fetched him the Best Supporting Actor trophy in 1974 and the Best Actor trophy eluded him till the end. His detractors might also go to the extent of blaming his allegiance to his political party – BJP, that helped him win the award posthumously.

Vinod Khanna passed away aged 70, after a protracted battle with cancer

Vinod Khanna passed away aged 70, after a protracted battle with cancer

In all honesty the selection of Vinod Khanna for the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award is an apt one. Mass popularity and blockbusters apart, Vinod Khanna was also a great performer.

With every opportunity he got, Vinod Khanna did his best to satiate the actor’s appetite. The superstar was more synonymous with commercial blockbusters and the films he signed alongside Amitabh Bachchan, most of which created riots at the box office. Though he was first choice for dream merchants like Prakash Mehra, Raj Kholsa and Manmohan Desai, yet he had his own world where he preferred working under the baton of Gulzar, Aruna Raje and Mahesh Bhatt. The superstar worked for as many as four films for Gulzar and Mahesh Bhatt while the tally for Aruna Raje stands at two – pity to say that most have been ignored and hardly find any mention in his obituary.

Vinod Khanna’s name had become eponymous with commercial potboilers in the 70s and 80s but the search to go beyond the usual song routine, playing knight in the shining armour and beating goons to pulp, was a never ending one. It would be interesting to know that the superstar made his debut in the year 1969 and in 1971 was offered the opportunity to act in a Gulzar-directed film.  Gulzar was able to carve and chisel his histrionics by regularly repeating him in his films.

While Mere Apne sealed his image as an actor as opposed to a star, Achanak in 1973 helped Vinod Khanna reinforce this image further. Films like Meera and Lekin were more like vast open spaces which provided him opportunities to play without any inhibition and at a leisurely pace.

In the 70s when commercial films were the buzz word, Vinod dared to do something extremely radical when he signed to play second fiddle to Hema Malini in Gulzar’s Meera. It was a role that required him to don the attire of Rajput king. Another gamble he took for the film was the fact that the film’s release was slated after the mega success of Mukkadar Ka Sikandar. Any other actor would have used all his power and clout to postpone the release of the film but Vinod did none of it.

The films he signed for Mahesh Bhatt too were a deviation. Though Mahesh Bhatt tried his best to encash the ‘star’ persona of the actor in his films but so different was the treatment meted out to the films that ‘star’ Vinod Khanna was everytime edged out by ‘actor’ Vinod Khanna.

It’s a pity that the third and final collaboration between Mahesh Bhatt and Vinod Khanna failed to see the light of the day. Maarg, produced by Hema Malini, bypassed the theatrical route and went straight to home video. It remains a class act by the actor and is till today unseen by many. The film had Vinod in the role of a reformed criminal and dealt with the dynamics of power politics inside an ashram. It’s interesting to note that Maarg and Lekin came at a time when Vinod Khanna’s commercial films were falling like ninepins at the box office and was slowly losing his goodwill in the industry by delivering duds in succession.

Rihaee was another film in his career which could be dubbed as a milestone. It was the second film he had signed for director Aruna Raje and had previously worked with her in Shaque where he had excelled in the role of a suspected husband. Rihaee had Vinod Khanna in the role of a Rajasthani carpenter and the film dealt with the issue of infidelity and sexual desire in the world of male chauvinism. The film showed a determined Vinod Khanna sans all the trappings of a commercial star. It was an uninhibited performance which was completely overshadowed by the topic the film dealt with. Rihaee was one of the few films that Vinod Khanna had signed after he came back to India from his Oregon sojourn. When Aruna Raje was shy of Rs. 30000 to publish the first print of the film, it was Vinod Khanna who came to her rescue. The film was shot in Vadnagar, not far from Ahmedabad, and very much in tune with the low budget nature of the film. Vinod announced his decision of staying with the crew at the same house thus helping in his own way to cut corners for the film. When he was not required at the location, he preferred sleeping and resting on the cot that was there on the set.

Vinod Khanna was a superstar and much more. Yes, the superstar reached a crescendo with his power packed performances in films like Amar Akbar Anthony, Khoon Pasina, Kuchhe Dhaage and Qurbani but it was always the meaningful roles he craved for which only trickled. The community of people who could bring out his latent craving was small but thankfully they were around. It is for this reason this writer feels Khanna's Dadasaheb Phalke award is warranted. The jury members under the chairmanship of Shekhar Kapoor certainly deserve an applause.

Updated Date: Apr 15, 2018 16:06 PM