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The actor who renounced success

January 28, 2003 16:00 IST

Dinesh Raheja

Vinod Khanna is possibly the only male star in the Hindi film industry who forsook fame at the height of success. After a long string of hits in 1977-1978, Vinod was Amitabh Bachchan's direct competitor in the superstar sweepstakes. He shocked filmdom and the public by announcing his retirement. Nonchalantly, he determinedly embarked on a quest for spiritual fulfillment.Vinod Khanna

People should have learnt to expect the unexpected from Vinod Khanna. After all, a few years earlier, he had already worked the rare alchemy that let him manage the difficult crossover from 'villain' to 'hero.'

A student of Mumbai's elite Sydenham college, he found acting more exciting than his family business and signed on Sunil Dutt's home production Man Ka Meet (1968). Designed as a launch pad for Sunil's brother, Som Dutt, Man Ka Meet, ironically, made stars of its moon-faced heroine Leena Chandarvarkar and its tall and hunky anti-hero, Vinod Khanna.

As a villain whose handsome face hid ugly designs and deeds, Vinod was lapped up by the audience. But few producers had the confidence to let a major film ride on his brawny shoulders. He had to pair with starlets like Bindu (Nateeja) and Bharati (Hum Tum Aur Woh); or be the unwanted hypotenuse in many a triangular tango (Aan Milo Sajna, Ek Haseena Do Deewane) where all he was required to do was sneer and exude charisma.

As a blackguard, Vinod was most memorable playing the dacoit in Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971). Sporting a huge black tilak, a crumpled dhoti and bloodshot eyes, Vinod matched he-man Dharmendra shoulder to shoulder. A section of the audience was convinced that second leads Laxmi Chhaya and Vinod Khanna had stolen the thunder in this horses-and-bullets megahit.

Vinod Khanna's landmark films
 Year  Film  Costar
 1971  Mera Gaon Mera Desh  Yogeeta Bali
 1973  Achanak  Lily Chakravorthy
 1974  Imtihaan  Tanuja
 1976  Hera Pheri  Sulakshana Pandit
 1976  Shaque  Shabana Azmi
 1977  Amar Akbar Anthony  Shabana Azmi
 1977  Parvarish  Shabana Azmi
 1977  Inkaar  Vidya Sinha
 1978  Muqaddar Ka Sikandar  Raakhee
 1980  Qurbani  Zeenat Aman
 1987  Insaaf  Dimple Kapadia
 1988  Dayavan  Madhuri Dixit
 1989  Chandni  Sridevi

Not content with being a sought-after model of male nastiness, Vinod yearned for more. Debutant director Gulzar provided the much-needed breakthrough, giving Vinod the role of a soul-troubled street desperado in his Mere Apne (1971). The audience enjoyed the sparring between Vinod and Shatrughan Sinha as rival street gang leaders. Vinod capably blended toughness with sensitivity (his character was jilted by his girlfriend). He began his transition to hero roles in right earnest.

Gulzar's songless Achanak (1973) saw Vinod retain the audience's sympathy despite playing a man who murders his adulterous wife. Vinod was still the toughie in his films but the roles were increasingly lined with romantic hues, like 1974's Imtihaan (where he successfully reprised the role played by Sidney Poiter in To Sir With Love) and Haath Ki Safaai.

The mid-1970s was a heady phase for Vinod. He formed a thumping box-office team with Amitabh. The two heroes delivered five huge successes together -- Hera Pheri (1976), Khoon Pasina (1977), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) Parvarish (1977) and Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978). The larkiness inherent in these films ensured a high entertainment quotient.

Vinod was even pitched as Amitabh's contender for the top spot after he fuelled successes on his own steam like Raj Sippy's Inkaar (1977), a slick kidnap drama.

Thankfully, the actor also attempted risky, offbeat roles. Vinod won raves for his mature and complex performance as a murder suspect in Aruna Vikas' small budget sleeper success, Shaque (1976). His lovemaking scenes with Shabana Azmi were considered bold for the times and created a stir. In Gulzar's Meera (1979), Vinod brought alive the frustration of an essentially decent man unable to reconcile himself to his wife Meera's devotion to a force bigger than himself.

Vinod Khanna's famous songs
 Film  Song  Singer
 Koi hota ...
 jisko apna
 Mere Apne  Kishore Kumar
 Ruk jaana nahin
 tu kahin haar ke
 Intihaan  Kishore Kumar
 Waada karle
 Haath Ki Safai  Mohammed Rafi,
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Naino mein
 darpan hai
 Aarop  Kishore Kumar,
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Humko tumse ho  gaya hai pyar  Amar Akbar  Anthony  Mahendra Kapoor, Kishore  Kapoor, Mohammed Rafi,
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Chhodo yeh  nigaho  Inkar  Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle
 Pyar zindagi hai  Muqaddar Ka  Sikandar  Mahendra Kapoor, Lata  Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle
 Chahiye thoda
 Lahu Ke
 Do Rang
 Kishore Kumar
 Hum tumhe
 chahte hai aise
 Qurbani  Manhar Desai, Kanchan
 Lagi aaj sawan ki  Chandni  Suresh Wadkar,
 Anupama Deshpande

Even as Main Tulsi Tere Angan Ki and Muqaddar Ka Sikander light up the marquee, Vinod found himself questioning the gossamer nature of worldly glory. It shored his resolve to join his guru Rajneesh's ashram.

Neither the runaway success of his starrer Qurbani (1980) nor his early 1970s marriage to Geetanjali (which ended in a divorce) stopped Vinod from setting off on a spiritual odyssey.

In the early 1980s, Vinod followed Rajneesh to Oregon, where he busied himself with gardening. Till he decided it was wiser to let his spiritual self coexist with the material world.

Two people keen on a comeback -- Vinod Khanna and a separated-from-her-husband Dimple Kapadia -- came together in Insaaf (1987) and made it a winner. The philosophy contained in Insaaf's song, Rang lati hai henna patthar pe pis jaane ke baad proved prophetic.

Vinod was one of the hottest marquee names once again. Big banners like J P Dutta (Batwara, Kshatriya), Yash Chopra (Chandni, Parampara), Mukul Anand (Mahasangram, Khoon Ka Karz) flooded Vinod with films. But the failure of Dayavan (an ambitious remake of Kamal Haasan's Nayakan) and a mindless spree of actioners -- CID, Muqaddar Ka Badshah -- took the sheen off Vinod's star rating in the 1990s.

Aruna Raje's Rihaee (1990) where he played an emancipated man who accepts his wife's straying and Gulzar's underrated metaphysical melodrama, Lekin (1991) were the two bright spots in a by now speckled career.

Vinod went about rebuilding his life and married again. He launched his son Akshaye with Himalayaputra (1997), entered politics, became the minister of state for tourism and culture and proved himself willing to act in the occasional film like Leela, if it took his fancy.

Dinesh Raheja