It is strange that I am creating this blog today, after so many years of dilly-dallying about it. I wanted a place to pen down my thoughts on the movies and music of the Indian Sub-Continent, had even thought of this name, but kept putting it off. And yet it has taken the death of Vinod Khanna which has finally given me the push. It all seems a little weird, actually. Being off newspapers and television, I got to know of his death a whole week after it occurred and since that time I have been trying to articulate the sense of grief that has filled me. Why, just why, does the loss seem so personal?
It wasn’t as if he was my celluloid crush. His heydays were already past when I became fascinated with Filmstars. And it has never been for him but rather for his son Akshaye – who I feel has inherited his father’s vulnerability if not exactly his masochism – that I have made trips to the theatres.
Making his debut in 1968, he belonged to a generation of Punjabis who dominated the film industry, post-partition; one of the last remaining people associated with the Hindi film industry who were born, prior to our gaining independence, in the area that is now part of Pakistan. How many actors are left who can claim that their birthplace is Lahore or Karachi or Quetta or Peshawar or Sargodha, places whose names still evoke a certain nostalgia? He was also one of those who were fluent in Urdu (something that he had learnt from his father) and was well-versed in Persian and Urdu poetry. So definitely, he was a link to an era on which the sun has already set.
The recollections by his colleagues and friends have further accentuated the fact that an age has certainly past with Mahesh Bhatt taking to twitter to share a photograph of the two of them in their young days
and Gulzar talking about VK’s darya-dili and adding that: “These kind of things have vanished somewhere. I long for them now. Now I have to weigh people: Tol ke baat karni pad rahi hai. His [Vinod] kind of people are missing. ” In fact his generosity has been mentioned by many a people who are now sharing about how he had helped them when they were going through a rough patch.
However all this still doesn’t explain why his death has evoked such a reaction. Looking back, Vinod Khanna, is so much a part of my summer holidays. Of the time when all of us cousins would meet at our jhaiji’s home in Delhi and generally have a blast. The VCR had made its appearance in India and we would spend those summer days lazing around, eating mangoes, puffing at Phantom cigarettes, getting into fights, gobbling the paronthas prepared so lovingly by jhaiji, playing games round the house, chatting late in the night while burrowing in our mattresses on the terrace, and burning the VCR with the cassettes borrowed from the neighbourhood video shop. And burn we would, the cassette being played repeatedly. Watching the same movie umpteen times in that one day so as to make full use of the twenty rupees that we had borrowed it for. The movie would be rewinded (is there such a word?) and forwarded, scenes would be watched again and again. Somebody would leave for an hour and then come back and demand that we play the movie from the point s/he had left it. We would happily oblige. I remember watching Vinod’s HeraPheri and Parvarish so many times in this very manner. And so perhaps it is for that lost age of carefree childhood that I mourn for today.
All these days, I have been thinking of (and in some cases rewatching) his movies and have finally decided to choose 11 which I really enjoy. [Why 11? Because it is the number of the letters of his name. – Yes, I know, it is not exactly Rocket Science]. Of course, it is very difficult to choose just a handful of movies starring a man whose career spanned more than four decades and so I decided to select from the ones which he did prior to leaving for the US along with Rajneesh. I am not saying these are his best and perhaps this list will change once I see more of his movies like Imtihaan, Shaque, or Mera Gaon Mera Desh or develop a liking for Mere Apne or rewatch Inkaar and Gaddaar. But for now, here’s a list of eleven:
1. Aan Milo Sajna (1970): “I want my mother dead,” he thunders initially at a shocked audience brought up on seeing men worship their mothers. “I hate the very word Ma,” he announces later to an expectant mother who asks for mercy. This 1970 film might be a romance between Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh but it is Vinod’s (playing the antagonist Anil) complex relationship with his mother (played by Nirupa Roy) that provides the much-needed tension.
2. Achanak (1973): Gulzar’s crime passionnel drama about an army officer on the run after having killed his wife and her lover shows that Vinod was experimenting with his roles even this early in his career.
3. Kuchhe Dhagge (1973): Raj Khosla’s dacoit drama has Vinod essaying the role of a man who has been brought up only to extract revenge. “This darkness that you see within me is of your own making,” he shouts at his mother (Nirupa Roy again) in what must be one of the most powerful mother-son scenes ever in Hindi cinema.
4. Haath Ki Safai (1975): The performance that won him a filmfare award has Vinod as a criminal king-pin who realizes how much he has strayed from the straight and narrow when his pregnant wife commits suicide.
5. Hera Pheri (1976): My absolute favourite of his movies as Vinod transforms from devoted friend to deadly foe. But it is his awkward act in front of girls that is absolutely adorable.
6. Parvarish (1977): Vinod steals the show as the prodigal son, in this Manmohan Desai’s film on sibling rivalry, who realises that he has built his entire life on a lie.
7. Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979): Vinod plays an INA officer who has an affair with a Chinese woman while having a wife back in India. It is left to his son (Vinod again) to bring the estranged families together.
8. Bombay 405 Miles (1980): Vinod is a forger who commits small thefts along with buddy Shatrughan Sinha while holding on to a million-dollar baby (and no, it is not Zeenat).
9. The Burning Train (1980): Vinod plays a workaholic whose family and friends fall apart as he makes his dream train. My favourite part of India’s first disaster movie is when Vinod as a Roadside Romeo teases Hema with stuff like: “Hello Flower! My name Bhanwara,” and later says – deadpan – that he had mouthed such impressive dialogues!
10. Garam Khoon (1980): Vinod has a whale of a time playing both the good and the bad twin, swapping places, romancing Sulakshana Pandit, being seduced by Bindu, and bashing-up bald baddies.
11. Qurbani (1980): Where would Vinod’s oeuvre be without this movie which rewrote box-office history in India ? As a single-parent who falls in love with bar-dancer Zeenat only to realize that she is in love with his best friend Feroz, Vinod brings alive the yearning that is doomed. And who can forget his bromance with Feroz???????
For the Polyster Prince who wore bell-bottoms like nobody ever could or ever would. Adieu Vinod ji and thanks for all the memories.