Posted by Fenil Seta
Meena Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; April 28, 2017)
Vinod Khanna: October 6, 1946 - April 27, 2017
Sometime in the late 1970s, I was at Tina Munim’s home in Khar. Vinod Khanna, her co-star in Lekh Tandon’s Khuda Kasam, was also there. Khanna, who was by then deep into Osho, was wearing an orange kaftan and a shiny chain with a Bhagwan Rajneesh locket. It was not the most stylish of outfits but this writer, then a trainee film journalist, thought Khanna looked dashing. That was the thing about the man — he could look sexy even if he were bubble-wrapped.
Dharmendra was possibly handsomer, but he did not possess Khanna’s urbane sophistication, or his languid sexuality, or his swag, or that cleft on his chin. I always thought he was, in a way, India’s Steve McQueen. But what made Khanna such a draw was that at the height of his stardom, he simply walked away from it all. “In the film industry, I had money, glamour, fame but wondered ‘now what?,” he once told a newspaper. In that sense, he was, as far as Bollywood stars, famed for their insecurities, go, a singular man.
I first heard about his failing health about five years ago, and proceeded to write about it. The next day Khanna, who passed away yesterday after a long, courageous battle with bladder cancer, called me up to register his protest against my writing the piece. He told me that his illness was his business, and my concern for his health, however deep, was not enough reason to intrude into his privacy.
Khanna was a deeply private man, but he could also be pleasantly candid. By the time I found my footing in film journalism, he had flown to Oregon. He was a part of Osho’s inner coterie, tending to the godman’s gardens and performing routine chores, which, he said, gave him “more mental peace than his superstardom”. When he returned after five years in the late 1980s, producers clamoured for him, as did the media. And whenever one met him, he spoke about his stint at Osho’s ashram in the US without hesitation.
The first film he did after he returned in the 1980s was Mukul Anand’s Insaaf. During the film, he got along like a house on fire with Dimple Kapadia-Khanna, who would often joke, “If VK and I were to get together, I wouldn’t even have to change my surname.’’ But it was not Dimple but Amrita Singh with who Khanna was in a relationship at that point. Their relationship didn’t lead to marriage, because Khanna wasn’t ready for commitment. Mahesh Bhatt, who was Khanna and Amrita’s close confidante, kept their relationship a closely guarded secret.
The woman he first lost his heart to, though, was Gitanjali Taleyarkhan. Khanna, who studied in Bombay, met Talyarkhan in college and wanted to marry her just a few months into their relationship. Randhir Kapoor, who was one of Khanna’s close buddies even before the two of them entered Bollywood, once told me how they would double-date back in the day. “I was seeing Babita and Vinod was seeing Gitanjali.’’ Their sons Rahul and Akshaye were very young when he donned his saffron robes, and his spiritual tryst and the distance it necessitated from his family ultimately led to their divorce. Khanna found love again in the late 1980s and married Kavita Daftary.
Khanna’s most striking performances were in movies with Gulzar (Mere Apne, Achanak); Mahesh Bhatt (Jurm) and with his great friend J P Dutta. He may have signed 15 films at one go after his debut in Man ka Meet (1969) and snapped hard at Amitabh Bachchan’s heels, but he found things a lot tougher in his second stint. He was already in his 40s and though still achingly handsome, he had to contend with a flock of fitter, hungrier actors such as Jackie Shroff and Sunny Deol. But that didn’t stop Khanna from creating a flutter, and he made a strong comeback with Insaaf and Satyamev Jayate. It was as if the hiatus in Oregon never happened, and such was the craze for Khanna that he ended up doing three shifts a day.
Screenwriter Faiz Qureshi’s son, Parvez, says that when his father needed money for his mother’s hospitalisation, Khanna took him home, opened a cupboard crammed with money and told him to “take however much money you need to fund your wife’s treatment”. According to an industry source, an actor, who moved to Mumbai in the late 1990s and has made it fairly big, still hasn’t moved out of an apartment in Juhu that Khanna owns.
When it came to politics, Khanna, who joined the BJP in 1997, went the way of most Bollywood stars and exhibited a lackadaisical attitude towards his constituency — Gurdaspur — and was never really able, despite being a MoS for External Affairs, to give politics his undivided attention. Khanna, who lost his seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, wrested it back in 2014, riding on the back of the Narendra Modi wave. But by then, like it was back in the 1970s, he was probably beyond triumph and defeats, and dealing with the ultimate question of death. And, it is said he dealt with it well and courageously. A relative of Khanna told me that he had categorically refused chemotherapy. According to Khanna, his tryst with spirituality had prepared him to own his pain and live with it right until the final blackness.
Rishi Kapoor: ‘We’ve lost two great Khannas’
I’ve worked with Vinod on many films and knew him closely. It’s a sad day for me. I had visited him only three weeks ago when he was in the hospital. I was told by his wife Kavita that he was reading my autobiography, I’m glad he got to read it. He always brought a smile on everyone’s face. We have lost two great Khannas in the recent past — Rajesh and now Vinod. I have cancelled all my meetings for the day, including a rehearsal. I’m not in the frame of mind for it.
Jackie Shroff: ‘He supported me on the day I could have died’
For a scene in Patthar Ke Insaan, Vinod had to fire six bullets at my chest. The shoot was in the evening and the team was in a rush. The bullets were supposed to be connected to a power battery without a power source, but in his hurry, the fight master forgot to switch the current off. The shocks felled me; I could have died that day. When Vinod found out about the goof-up, he fired the fight master even though he was his favourite. I was breathless and he supported me during that time.
Mahesh Bhatt: ‘I took him to Rajneesh’s ashram’
Vinod was Raj Khosla’s Jabbar Singh, a dreaded dacoit, in Mera Gaon Mera Desh. After the first shot, Raj prophesised that he’d become a star. Vinod was a generous man who never let go of those he loved till he’d seen them out of the woods. I took him to Rajneesh’s ashram to help him overcome the loss of his mother. He found solace in Pune. I walked away from Osho after two-and-a-half years, he aborted his successful career and went with Osho to Oregon to work as a gardener in his quest for peace.