Recently a photograph of an emaciated and ill looking Vinod Khanna in hospital gown surfaced in the social media. A lot of people then had thought it was a fake photograph. There were rumors that Khanna was suffering from cancer. Later, his relatives said it was indeed Khanna’s photograph, but that he was only in hospital for treatment for dehydration. On Thursday morning, the old rumors proved to be true, as the news came that Khanna died of cancer in a hospital in Mumbai. With his passing, India loses one of the most charismatic stars and an equally unconventional personality.
Khanna was easily one of the handsomest heroes to grace Bollywood. In the mid-seventies he, along with Amitabh Bachchan, blitzed through the screen in movies after successful movies into the eighties.
The most memorable of these included Amar Akbar Antony ( 1977), Qurbani (1980), and Dayavan (1988). Together, Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan delivered one of the most enduring super star teams, delivering hits after hits like Parvarish (1977), Khoon Pasina (1977), Hera Pheri (1976), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978).
Khanna had a dash about him that very few stars could match. And you could watch Khanna on the screen with such assurance and relief because there was nothing he could not do and come out on top. His face wore an expression that he could handle it all-even if it was a fiery Amitabh Bachchan ranging close and free as a loose cannon.
Khanna nearly eclipsed Bachchan in those years.
And just as he was doing so well, he stopped acting. Just like that. Khanna became a disciple of Osho, was available for shooting only through the week, vanished on weekends, turning up in Osho’s Pune ashram in a maroon gown.
Producers were not happy, but Khanna was a superstar by then, and he had never, in any case, worried about what others thought of him. Then, sometime in 1980, he dropped out of sight altogether, having left with Osho Rajneesh to Oregon, US.
For some 5 years Khanna was underground. In Oregon, he watered plants and sang to them. Meditated. Did whatever else the communards did. He was not interested in the world outside.
Then he was back. Again. He had divorced his first wife Geetanjali, and his beard had turned white. But he was as handsome, as unapologetic as ever about himself. “I am back where I belong,” he said.
Where he belonged was Bollywood. He knew it. So did the movies. Khanna’s come back film was the Mukul Anand-directed Insaaf, starring Dimple Kapadia. This was followed by Feroze Khan’s Dayavan. Outside the sets, he ran by the sea beside a horse almost as good looking as himself and endorsed Cinthol soap. He was back, all right.
That regenerative, re-inventive quality about Khanna was what actually marked him out from the rest. He kept shedding old skin and found new forms. Perhaps, as part of the process, he married a much younger woman, Kavita.
By mid-90’s Khanna realized age-wise may be he was over the top. He set about reinventing himself again; as a politician, this time. Khanna joined the BJP in 1997, and won the parliamentary election from Gurdaspur in Punjab. In 1999, he contested again from the same constituency and won again. He was Vinod Khanna, remember? In between, he continued to act in character roles because, he said, he enjoyed doing movies. In short, he lived exactly as he pleased.
Khanna lost the 2009 Lok Sabha (Parliament) polls. This is not the end, he said. And so it was not. With the 2014 general elections, he was back as a member of parliament.
When cancer got him, a couple of years ago, he stayed out of lime light. Because it was Khanna, no one raised a brow: no Indian star disappeared so many times through the wings and then was back centre stage. Which was one reason why when an ailing Khanna’s picture hit the social media, viewers thought it might be a fake. If only. Because this time it really was The End.