“Maine jab se hosh sambhala hai … khilono ki jagah maut se khelta aaya hoon.”
This dialogue from the film Qurbani sums up the life of a man who started as a villain in Hindi cinema and ended up as one of the most charismatic heroes of all time.
Vinod Khanna was an icon. Those who grew up in the 70s and 80s will always have a soft corner for him. It was very difficult for actors to break the mould once they get typecast as the bad guy.
But Vinod Khanna was different. He had what an actor needs in cinema – presence.
Well-built and of good height, he strode on to the screen and filled it up with style and panache. This man was different to so many others. He was an intellect who used the cinema to experiment and grow.
Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Kucche Daage and Mere Apne were runaway hits and Vinod Khanna stood up to the likes of Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha and made a big impact.
He was a dacoit in Kucche Daage who spewed venom but still had a heart. The impact he created was such that it has stood the test of time. Mere Apne was all about reformed criminals where the late Meena Kumari was a catalyst for bringing out the good. The movie has gone on to achieve cult status.
Koi Hota Jisko … rendered skilfully by Kishore Kumar and pictured on Vinod Khanna on a bicycle riding doubles with Yogeeta Bali is still etched in the memory of the oldies even now. Vinod Khanna was now achieving star status. The good guy roles came along, usually a second lead, with stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Dutt, Jeetendra and others.
In between, he acted in Achanak, the story of a man on the run, condemned to death and hoping to get away. He lands up in hospital after being injured but the end seems eventual. This was a new avatar for Vinod Khanna. No Bollywood glamour, no nothing. A serious film with no frills. And he quietly stole the show.
He took up many challenges and wanted to be different. He took on a role which actor Kamal Hassan had made his own in Nayakan. This was the tale of a poor boy living in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai who turns into a criminal out of need. He becomes a Godfather, a don with a kind heart.
Kamal Hassan was just brilliant. And obviously, people compared both actors. Critics agree that Vinod Khanna was as brilliant as Kamal Hassan in Dayavan.
He won plaudits for Qurbani, Muqqadar ka Sikander and Imtihan where he was at his best. He experimented with life too. His search for truth landed him in Pune at the Rajneesh Ashram. He was a staunch follower of Osho and spent time there.
There are so many memories about Vinod Khanna that it would run into thousands of words.He was a star with ambition and determination in his mind. He made it to the top despite fierce competition. He left films during his spiritual quest and later came back with success.
For us oldies he was iconic. Rest in peace. We will not forget you.