Remembering Vinod Khanna, the Man Who Was Bound to Rock the Movies
Khalid Mohamed recollects his interaction with Vinod Khanna and why he was always destined to shake up Bollywood.
(This story was first published on 27 April 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Vinod Khanna’s birth anniversary.)
For those who’d bunk classes from St Xavier’s College, to hang out at 'Venice', one of the first of the part-discotheques-part-café-addas in Mumbai, he was a bonus attraction. Migawd, a star actor amidst our raggedy bunch, out there slow-dancing with his gorgeous date, model Geetanjali Taleyarkhan. And this at 11 o’clock on a weekday morning.
Vinod Khanna, the boy from Gowalia Tank, classically handsome and endowed with a deep cleft in the chin, in which you could roll a marble, was bound to rock the movies.
The St Xavier’s girls would drool over him, one of them describing him, “Isn’t he as perfectly chiselled as an astronaut?” The boys, poisonous green with envy, would go – “Yeah, yeah, he’s okay, but he’s just a villain, na?” Whatever our pro and anti whispers about him may have been, he barely noticed the eyes upon him and ‘Geetli’, Ms Taleyarkhan’s pet name. If he was ramrod tall, she was delicately petite.
“He’s just flirting around,” conjectured a St Xavierite. “These movie sorts are never serious. Poor Geetli.” How wrong we were. The two married in the flush of his career, somewhere close to his transition from the menacing meanie of Mann Ka Meet (Sunil Dutt introduced him), Rakhwala, Aan Milo Sajna, Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Khoon Pasina, on to the exclusive club class of heroes.
Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, whenever he sparred with them, he was more than an equal, stealing scenes right away from Bachchan, especially in Khoon Pasina.
In Amar Akbar Anthony, Bachchan received the thrashing of his life in public, in broad daylight. And the audience cheered for more.
Bids were on to anoint Vinod Khanna as the Superstar No. 1 in place of Bachchan. Didn’t happen. Khanna chose to quit, circa ’82, weary presumably of leading the dispiriting life of a Bollywood behemoth. He went the Rajneesh way, committing professional harakiri.
When the dreaded news came on this day last year– Vinod Khanna passed away at the age of 70 after warring with cancer - it’s not his enormous body of work (over 100 films) but the VK I knew who came back to me, right from those dancing days at the Venice.
He chose to live in an airy apartment in Malabar Hill, wide open rooms dotted with artworks by Anjolie Ela Menon. By the time I wore my reporter’s uniform, he had separated from Geetanjali and returned from Osholand. Sighting him with his knee-high sons, Akshaye and Rahul at the Film City, I asked him for an interview for The Times of India. Pulling a face straighter than a foot-ruler, he said, “No.”
On the eve of his comeback, as a conscience-sticken cop in Satyamev Jayate, a PR official requested a meeting with VK at a Juhu bungalow. My wish fulfilled, nearly. The actor’s eyes were red in the afternoon (the scene being shot required him to be at a boiling point). No questions on the prolonged Osho sabbatical, on Amitabh Bachchan or his mind-space, permitted.
He was still coming to terms, perhaps, to retakes, the harsh camera glare and intrusive journalists. He certainly wasn’t still at peace with himself. He wasn’t living in a home at that point, he had moved into a room at the WIAA Club. The PR person was embarrassed, apologising, “Aaj sahab mood mein nahin hai.”
Frankly, I was disappointed majorly. If he didn’t want to talk, why drag me across the city to tell me to scoot? It happens. The VK, Dimple Kapadia would rave about in the months to come, fortuitously, eased up. Finally, I could snag that longish interview I craved for with VK at the Bikaner location shoot of J P Dutta’s Kshatriya. Turned out to be a double delight. Dharmendra and he, spoke together. Scotch and soda were in the air.
VK told all, and that included comments on why I would go gaga over Mr Bachchan in my reviews. The ‘chatfest’ could run into pages and pages of Filmfare, I slept like a baby that night.
Next morning, Dharmendra with an endearingly sheepish look, said, “Please do me a favour. Don’t publish everything Vinod said. He’s too outspoken, it’ll only land him in trouble.” Ouch, Dharam saab was right. The VK chat, as transcribed, was sanitised.
“Thank you for the care,” VK sent over a bunch of flowers with a note when the interview appeared. “Drop by when you can. We are neighbours.”
That was uncharacteristic of him. I’d rarely seen the softer side of him. Followed informal conversations, off the record, at the end of which he’d criticise me, “You are conditioned. We all are by our environment and circumstances.” Right, I’d laugh in agreement. To contradict him would have been useless, he was a man of unarguable convictions.
When Himalayputra was in production, the launch pad for Akshaye, he called on the phone, early morning, “I’m having problems. Could you talk to the director (Pankuj Parashar) for me? You know him.” Pankuj, in his defence, said, “What! VK told you that? He must be joking.” I left it at that.
A month away from the Himalayaputra premiere, he wondered if we could do a Filmfare cover story on Akshaye. “Tough to sell,” I reasoned. “Unless both of you do a photo-session together.” The late camera maestro Gautam Rajadhyaksha was roped in. Seemingly VK and son were relaxed, but it took a week or more to agree on the best photograph of the day-long shoot. Akshaye didn’t quite approve of the final choice. Yet another round of selection, with VK saying, “He’s more of a fusspot than I am. Takes after me. Rahul is like his mother, chilled out.”
During those photo selection hours, VK was with his second wife, Kavita Daftary. No longer restless, no longer red-eyed, the actor seemed to be blissed out. That’s a simplistic remark, I know, but doubtlessly the actor had accepted the Bollywood syndrome. He couldn’t change it. Neither could he escape it.
I missed out on chatting with V.K. during his latter years. He had become an elected M.P. from Gurdaspur, he had promised to alter his constituency to such an extent that it would become “the Paris of India”. Any interview was open to argument.
Regrettably, there’s one fact which I could never share with Vinod Khanna. And that was, “Do you know, all of us girls and guys from St Xavier’s would watch you at the Venice? And many of us knew you were born to be a star, a superstar in your own right.”
(This story was first published on 27 April 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Vinod Khanna’s death anniversary.)
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