He was a villain to begin with but ended up as a hero with a legion of fans swooning over his good looks. Yet, Vinod Khanna, who once abandoned fame for a set of saffron robes, perhaps never got his due.
For almost five decades, Vinod Khanna ruled the Hindi film world with his lush sideburns and dimpled chin, despite an active career in politics that began in 1997. As his death at 70 from bladder cancer was announced in a Mumbai hospital today, friends and fans stressed that it had brought an era to an end.
He was a hero who was overshadowed by a bigger star. In several films, Khanna acted with Amitabh Bachchan, and while the pair was a great success, the angry young man that Bachchan became synonymous with often stole the show.
Khanna and Bachchan, despite the competition, starred in blockbusters such as “Amar Akbar Anthony”, “Parvarish”, “Reshma Aur Shera”, “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, “Zameer”, “Hera Pheri” and “Khoon Paseena”. But Bachchan was the undisputed hero; Khanna, always the second man.
His debut in Hindi cinema, too, was in the form of a supporting role. It was another would-be MP, also from Punjab, who gave Khanna his first break. Sunil Dutt, it is said, was struck by Khanna’s good looks and signed him up as a villain in his production “Mann Ka Meet” in 1968.
He continued to play villainous and supportive roles in his initial years with films such as “Purab Aur Paschim”, “Aan Milo Sajna”, “Sachaa Jhutha” and “Mera Gaon Mera Desh”. Khanna, however, first made a mark as Shyam in Gulzar’s 1971 film “Mere Apne”, where he stood out as a disillusioned young man.
He got his first break as a hero in “Hum Tum Aur Woh” (1971). A great many films followed including hits such as “Elaan” and “Mera Gaon Mera Desh”.
But Khanna shocked his fans when, at the height of his career, he left Bollywood to follow his spiritual guru, Osho Rajneesh, to Oregon in the United States in 1982.
Although married with two children, Akshaye and Rahul (both of whom are actors) he left his wife, Geetanjali, and the sons, to be with Rajneesh. The marriage ended in divorce in 1985.
The actor returned to cinema five years later, and it did not take him long to reclaim his position in the industry. A string of hits followed including “Insaaf” and “Dayavan”. In 1990, he married again to Kavita, with whom, he had a son, Sakshi, and a daughter, Shraddha.
The actor, who was born in a Punjabi family of textile merchants in Peshawar in 1946, chose Punjab to make his political debut in 1997 when he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
He fought and won from Gurdaspur in Punjab a seat that he lost only once in 2009 but won again in the 2014 general elections.
In 2002, Atal Bihari Vajpayee made him his Culture and Tourism minister. He was later given the External Affairs portfolio.
Till the very end, Khanna was active in Bollywood. His last few memorable screen outings were in Salman Khan’s “Dabangg” series and Shah Rukh Khan’s “Dilwale” in 2015.