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Vinod Khanna - The Defiant One

24 Nov, 2021 | Archival Reproductions by Filmfare Magazine
Vinod Khanna. Image from the article.

This article was written by Sandhya Raja.

I was a very curious child who would keep asking question - on life, on religion. But the adults didn't have the answers. Our family was very religious-they would visit Hardwar and Rishikesh, meet gurus, who would come home.

Ours was a large family with uncles, cousins and all. Every evening when the men returned from work, a puja would be performed. And I would supervise the proceedings. I was about six then.

I was fascinated by astrologers and palmists. Every time I met one I would ask what the future had in store for me.

I was an outstanding student, always standing first or second in class. Maths and science were my favourite subjects. I was a sportsman too and I represented the school team for all the games. This helped me overcome my shyness; soon I had lots of friends. All my school friends are still my best friends.

The only problem I faced was from my orthodox family. The '60s brought in revolutionary changes but I was still not allowed to stay out late at nights. My friends used to goad me to act in the movies, but I couldn't quite identify with the Hindi film scene. I was not a regular Hindi filmgoer. My idols were Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Paul Newman, James Dean. It was much later that I discovered Shammi Kapoor and Dilip Kumar.
 
Vinod Khanna.  Image courtesy: Cinemaazi archives

While in college I also started modelling, of course against my family's wishes. My father objected very strongly to this because he was grooming me to take the family business.

Now I understand why. I'm trying to stop my eldest son Rahul from taking on the modelling offers he is being flooded with. I'm urging him to hold on, to finish his education first and then make his career decisions. History is repeating itself.
 
I did have the courage to defy my father and face the consequences. Did I say courage? Not really, I'd be petrified that my photograph would appear in the next day's Times of India and there would be fireworks at home. Then I got a film offer from Sunil Dutt, which I accepted without my father's knowledge. When he did get to know, he said, "You stick to your business now and I'll take care of mine." Of course,
I did have the courage to defy my father and face the consequences. Did I say courage? Not really, I'd be petrified that my photograph would appear in the next day's Times of India and there would be fireworks at home. Then I got a film offer from Sunil Dutt, which I accepted without my father's knowledge. When he did get to know, he said, "You stick to your business now and I'll take care of mine." Of course, I didn't do anything drastic like leaving home. In fact I enjoyed all the perks at home. Right from the moment I started working, I had my own car.

I started off as a villain since there was no other option. Even though the first offer I got was a hero's role, the script wasn't ready. So I did Duttsaab's Man Ka Meet. I consoled myself with the thought, villain today, maybe hero tomorrow.

The film scene was new to me. I didn't know Shakti Samanta or any of the other bigshots in the line. But I had a friend- Manmohan, Nitin Manmohan's father. He introduced me around and within six months, I was a hero. Since I had signed so many negative roles star status eluded me for three or four years. After one lead role the next release would feature me as a villain... Funnily enough, I became a star as a villain with Mera Gaon Mera Desh.
 

The ovation I got for the role was equal to or better than what the hero got. I was absorbed into the system. I was obsessed only with making it to the top. I worked 16-18 hours a day. I was like a mad man, I would do all the stunts myself, fall on rocks and gravel while shooting and come back home bruised.
 

But in spite of the success and the money, I was unhappy. I had everything- the best of cars, a nice wife and two smart sons. And my family meant a lot to me. I decided not to work on Sundays. Some producers respected my decision. If the set was waiting, and the shooting had to be completed, I'd make a compromise.

The questions I used to ask in my childhood were back. So began my second trip into religion, initially in small doses. Transcendental meditation was 'in' then, so I started doing that. A yoga teacher would come home to give me lessons. All this was contrary to the Vinod Khanna the world knew. I was a very aggressive person, I had a fierce temper. This would often land me in street fights, especially if anyone tried to get smart with me. All sorts of people try to needle you because you are an actor, and I never refused a fight. I was knifed a couple of times and I developed a nasty reputation. But at least I'm not as bad as some of the weak ones, who take it out on their wives or servants. I was boozing a lot then. Every day after pack-up, I had to relax with a drink.
I discovered Bhagwan Rajneesh. I'd reached a point where even meditation was of little help. It would help me to relax for 20 minutes or so, but my functional behaviour didn't change. I became a voracious reader. I was into philosophies of U.G. Krishnamurthy, probably under the influence of Mahesh Bhatt. When I first went to meet Guruji (Rajneesh) Mahesh was with him. That day I picked up a few books and cassettes. As I listened to his discourses I was totally floored. All the answers I required were there....
Then I discovered Bhagwan Rajneesh. I'd reached a point where even meditation was of little help. It would help me to relax for 20 minutes or so, but my functional behaviour didn't change. I became a voracious reader. I was into philosophies of U.G. Krishnamurthy, probably under the influence of Mahesh Bhatt. When I first went to meet Guruji (Rajneesh) Mahesh was with him. That day I picked up a few books and cassettes. As I listened to his discourses I was totally floored. All the answers I required were there - explained beautifully and simply. I knew then that I had to get initiated to sanyas.

I would seem a tough decision to make. I had to wear saffron robes and the mala. From the image of the tough, macho hero I was becoming a sanyasi. But I didn't think much about it at that time. However, my wife was very unhappy about it; it took her some time to accept the fact that I was leaving her, the children and a life of glamour.
 
Vinod Khanna, Beena Banerjee and Dharmendra (R-L) in Farishtey (1991).  Image courtesy: Cinemaazi archives

I quit the film industry. There was so much happening in the ashram, I was going through so many experiences that the film world meant nothing to me. I announced my retirement, handed over the signing amounts for 20-30 films and went to Pune. All my friends were angry- Mahesh Bhatt, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra. They'd invested so much in me. The team of Amitabh Bachchan - Vinod Khanna was a goldmine and they'd planned more films for us.

Bhagwan Rajneesh had to move to America and I went with him. When I was through with my experiences there, I returned.

Fortunately for me my audience was still here. My guru had asked me to come to the ashram in Pune because he wanted me to run the place. I refused, though it was very difficult decision. But I chose right. Because now I know that he was testing me. I was getting too attached to him and he didn't want that.
I don't understand why sex is taboo or why drinking is a sin - it isn't when done moderately. I didn't go overboard, and it didn't affect my work.
There was nothing materialistic about my decision to come back. I'm more satisfied today because that search within me has stopped. After my comeback people started saying I had taken to drinking and womanising. I don't understand why sex is taboo or why drinking is a sin - it isn't when done moderately. I didn't go overboard, and it didn't affect my work. Producers cribbed about my late coming. But which actor arrives on time on the sets? At least I'm late because I had a late night and I was drinking. Yeh log peete bhi nahin, and still they're late!

Take this week. I've been at studios where there were two or three other shootings and even at 10.30 - 11.00 no other star had arrived! But nobody talks about them. That's because they retaliate, I don't. There is a section of the press and people in the industry who were out to prove that I'd gone overboard.
All along, it was thought that I was going mad. It happened when you go deeper and deeper into meditation. You can't differentiate between thought and action. It takes you to a point of no return. You think you're thinking but you are not. I couldn't try and explain all this to people around me, so I kept quiet. I didn't give interviews because I was sure people wouldn't understand.
All along, it was thought that I was going mad. It happened when you go deeper and deeper into meditation. You can't differentiate between thought and action. It takes you to a point of no return. You think you're thinking but you are not. I couldn't try and explain all this to people around me, so I kept quiet. I didn't give interviews because I was sure people wouldn't understand.

The media hounded me. Even if I made a few mistakes, I've learnt from them. There are people who don't attempt anything because they are afraid. I've attempted everything, everywhere, without thinking of the consequences. I trust myself. I'm still wild, but not reckless. I don't follow any social norms. Today I feel love for everyone. I can almost read their minds. I can see what's within them. So I don't reject anybody, I don't get angry. As far as Mukesh Bhatt is concerned, he was really asking for it. The man was defaming me; I had to put an end to that. I didn't hit him in a fit of anger, it was predetermined. I had decided that when I next met him I'd slap him. He needed to be taught a lesson to keep his mouth shut.
 
A poster from Insaaf  (1987).  Image courtesy: Cinemaazi archives

Those days I found myself in a space where I was having a great time-what people called womanising. I had previous experiences too. So it was nothing different. But I wanted to have a wild time. I needed to break out, let go, have a catharsis. Then I wanted to settle down again. I met Kavita and knew she was right for me. I wasn't scared of marrying again. This time I knew it would work. Being a father again is a wonderful feeling. I'm totally involved in my son's growing-up process. I was with Sacchi when he took his first steps, when he started teething, when he first called me dada. I spend all my free time with him. I'm not in a frenzied state, thinking of anything else-or worrying about the release of -. I've nowhere to go, nothing to achieve, no ambitions left. Now I know stardom had never meant anything to me. They say it's Kavita who has reformed me. But I never needed any reforming.

My two older sons are also very much a part of my life. I miss them. Akshay is in school in Ooty and   is in New York doing a course connected with films, television and acting. I'm contemplating direction now. I want to make a film for the international market. It won't be one of the usual Hindi films. I have a few ideas and I'll start working on the script soon. I'd like my children to help me. Anyway they have all the time to decide whether to join the media or not. Neither am I waiting for them to join me, I think I'll start before that.
Acting is still my first love. I'm still getting lead roles, even if I play a father occasionally. Flops don't affect me. They never did. I've always worked with everybody, and never bothered about the banner. There was a saying in the industry that Jiska Koi nahin uske Vinod Khanna hai. I was a star then too. But there were other stars who only worked with top banners.
But I'm not giving myself any deadlines. Acting is still my first love. I'm still getting lead roles, even if I play a father occasionally. Flops don't affect me. They never did. I've always worked with everybody, and never bothered about the banner. There was a saying in the industry that Jiska Koi nahin uske Vinod Khanna hai. I was a star then too. But there were other stars who only worked with top banners. I worked with the second rung guys, and the newcomers. That's how I discovered J.P. Dutta. He came to me one day saying, "I don't have a producer, but I have a script. Will you listen to it?" I said, sure. I liked it. I found him a producer.

After I came back I took on a lot of films. I did it because I needed the money. In the bargain, I signed a lot of bad films. I wanted money to buy myself a house again, a car. I wasn't a beggar but an apartment in Bombay costs a lot of money. I had given away everything I had to my first wife during the divorce. But there's no bitterness because I did it willingly. I wanted her and my sons to be comfortable
***
This article is a reproduction of the original that appeared in the Filmfare, February 1993 (pp. 56-58).

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