Bollywood has bidden adieu to one of its most charismatic – and maverick – actors. Vinod Khanna passed away on the morning of the 27th April. He was said to have been suffering from bladder cancer, although this has not yet been substantiated by his family.
Born in Peshawar, Pakistan, his parents subsequently moved to India and he grew up between the cities of Mumbai and Delhi, along with his brother Pramod and three sisters.
Khanna had a meteoric rise to stardom. He started his film career as a villain, in Sunil Dutt’s ‘Man ka Meet’ (1968) and subsequently became a hero with ‘Hum Tum aur Woh’ (1971) He went on to become an extremely bankable star and did many films with Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Dharmendra and Jeetendra as co-stars. Women swooned over his tall physique, cleft chin and virile, Punjabi looks.
At the height of his success, he met and was influenced by Osho Rajneesh whom he accepted as his spiritual guru. Khanna then left the film industry to follow Rajneesh wherever, be it setting up the Osho ashram at Poona or to Oregon in America, leading the media to tag him as the ‘sexy sanyasi.’ While he was off finding his spirituality though, the physical world he left behind in the form of wife Geetanjali and sons Rahul and Akshaye started teetering under the pressure and the relationship ended in divorce. Much later, he married lawyer Kavita Daftary and had two children with her: son Sakshi and daughter Shraddha.
In 1987, Khanna suddenly became disillusioned with Osho and returned to Bombay, where Bollywood welcomed him with open arms and he was back in the saddle as hero. In 1997, he decided to join politics (BJP) and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Gurdaspur. In 2002, he became the Union Minister for Culture and Tourism and later moved to the Ministry of External Affairs as Minister of State.
Vinod Khanna’s sister’s daughter Namita was my junior in Chelsea, Simla. I remember once he came to school to meet his niece. (This was before the Osho phase, when Khanna was ruling the marquee.) Our school was a Catholic convent and we boarders were assiduously and zealously guarded by the nuns. However, on this occasion the nuns themselves were in a fair tizzy. Only the student concerned was allowed to go to the visitor’s room to meet with family, obviously, but many a time it was allowed that she take her best friend along. Suddenly, Namita found she had more “friends” than she knew! Girls were trying their best to hide behind strategically placed trees to catch a glimpse of the famous cleft chin. Team members who’d hitherto shirked basketball practice suddenly got enthusiastic about shooting a few baskets (the basketball field was below the visitors’ car park and sweeping driveway into the school, so one had to, of necessity, pass it.) Uff – the furore that was created! Many years later, I met him at the then Hilton (now Lalit) hotel in Delhi and found him to be a suave, well-spoken gentleman.
Vinod Khanna personified the quintessential Punjabi (read, north Indian) man. On screen, he symbolised the stuff rugged romance is made of…girls grew into women dreaming of just such a mate. His controversial alliance with Rajneesh only made him more desirable so far as the female population was concerned. Here was a real man who dared to do what he wanted, defying society’s fragile tenets.
Here rests one of the original, macho males. Go in peace, sir.