In Tribute: Vinod Khanna (1946-2017)

This post may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my blog, and with its chronological area of interest: Vinod Khanna, after all, debuted in a film that released in 1969, and this blog focuses on cinema from before the 1970s. His was not even, unlike Rajesh Khanna, a meteoric rise that saw one blockbuster hit after the other. No; Vinod Khanna’s star ascended relatively slowly, and he came into his own only a few years down the line. Well into the 70s, in fact.

But how could I not pay tribute to the one actor who really defines the 70s for me? Even though I most like the cinema of the 50s and 60s, the 70s too had some fine films, some fine film makers. Chupke-Chupke, Sholay, Golmaal, Blackmail, Manchali. Inkaar, Gaddaar, Amar Akbar Anthony. The Burning Train, Lahu ke Do Rang… and there was Vinod Khanna, my favourite actor of that decade.

My first memory of a film that I kept thinking would have a catch to it is of Achanak. I watched that on Doordarshan when I was perhaps eleven or so, and I couldn’t get my head around it: a hero, actually killing his wife? Through much of the film, I remember thinking it would somehow turn out that he was not responsible, or that she had not died. That something had happened. Even when it was obvious that the hero was a murderer—and fugitive—I could not hate him. Because Vinod Khanna imbued that character with so much feeling that I was egging him on, to shake off the police, to somehow use his military training to escape…

My fascination with Vinod Khanna has not diminished in the years since.  If anything, as I’ve seen more of his films, it’s increased. Because this man was a bit of an anomaly. For a start, despite looking the way he did, he began, not as a hero (or even a supporting actor), but as a villain. (In the avoidable Man ka Meet, which also marked the debuts of Leena Chandavarkar as well as Som Dutt, brother of Sunil Dutt). Even though Sachcha Jhootha saw him playing a cop (one of many he was to play in the 70s) with a very pretty Naaz as his love interest, Vinod Khanna was soon back to playing villains—in Aan Milo Sajna, for instance, and as the most dashing dacoit of them all, Jabbar Singh, in the precursor to Sholay, Mera Gaon Mera Desh.

It was only later that he began to be cast as something other than the villain.

How many Hindi film heroes began their careers as villains? Some (Ajit, Pran, Premnath) began as heroes and turned to villains as their careers progressed. Some (Prem Chopra is a stellar example) were rarely seen in roles other than that of the villain. Vinod Khanna is the only actor I can think of to have started off as a villain in several films before eventually becoming a leading man.

He acted in all sorts of films, as all sorts of characters. Some were memorable, some were not. Some may have been outshone by other characters (most people tend to remember Amitabh Bachchan’s Anthony in Amar Akbar Anthony, but for me, the quietly dignified yet courageous Amar is the favourite).

Most were the ‘usual’ heroes, the men who could stand up against a den full of villains and still come out on top. The men who were devoted sons, loving brothers, faithful lovers. Patriots, often in uniform. Upright men, inherently honest men, even if they sometimes used dishonest means to earn their livelihood.

A few, even if heroes, were less conventional. Heroically and self-sacrificingly giving up love and life to another man (whom I never liked as much as Mr Khanna’s character) in films like Qurbani (or, as Anu points out in her comment, at the receiving end of a sacrifice, in Muqaddar ka Sikandar). Falling prey to a vicious little tramp out to ruin the reputation of a quiet professor in Imtihaan. A man on the run during World War II, falling in love with a Chinese woman and getting her pregnant, fully aware all the while that this is not right, because he has a wife back home…

A workaholic who neglects wife and child for his profession. A man who murders his wife. A police officer who allows the stern older brother of his beloved to put paid to their relationship.

He did the usual things Indian cinema expected its leading men to do: he romanced pretty women, he danced and sang and indulged in all the dhishoom-dhishoom we expected. The deeply nuanced roles that went to actors like Sanjeev Kumar may not have been Vinod Khanna’s, but the roles he played, he played well. He played them convincingly, and he played them with a flair that was very appealing.

He looked wonderful, he lit up the screen. Whether he was the sole hero of the film or one of an ensemble cast, he was—for me—invariably the one person for whom I wanted to watch the film.

Rest in peace, Vinod Khanna. Amar raho.

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42 thoughts on “In Tribute: Vinod Khanna (1946-2017)

  1. A great actor. He is also one of my favourites.
    Thank you Vinod, for the beautiful filmi moments, you legacy will enrich our lives.

    Shatrughan Sinha also started as a villain and then graduated to hero roles.

    • I actually always remember Shatrughan Sinha as a very young and earnest cop in Saajan, so I keep forgetting that many of his early roles were villainous ones too. Thanks for pointing that out, Harvey!

  2. > Vinod Khanna is the only actor I can think of to have started off as a villain in several films before eventually becoming a leading man.

    Would Shatrughan qualify too?

    • Yes. As I replied in my comment to Harvey, “I actually always remember Shatrughan Sinha as a very young and earnest cop in Saajan, so I keep forgetting that many of his early roles were villainous ones too.

      Personally, though, I suppose I am a little biased. I think Vinod Khanna was a far bigger star than Shatrughan Sinha. ;-)

      • I feel happy that shatru ji , dany ji and rajesh khanna ji helped B.R Ishara in treatment. i remember seeing shatru ji in khilona as Bihari and in Aa galey lag jaa as a doctor. while watching second time i did not find his character negative. during shooting of Mere Apney vinod khanna felt he was treated like outsider. he was not from FTTI. but shatru and dany were. shatru ji said while shooting climax they start huffing in few minutes. he wondered that they both are in their prime but they are huffing. he realized the reason was
        that they both smoke. due to this he quit smoking in few years. i have seen people saying with confidence like its a fact that bacchan saheb cut vinod ji role in AAA and in Khoon Pasina and shatru ji role in Kala Pathar. people say ending was that mangal will save vijay. but end was changed. shatru ji himself said that he did not talk to amit ji duting shooting. he was in the film against his wishes. Parveen babi was saying that vinod khanna may went with Osho but when he saw osho saying he is god ,she felt that he was just another human being. i wonder that even hindi poet dinkar used to visit osho he was so learned and also elder to him. it was different to learn from osho about dinkar not as Maha kavi but as a human. finally on Vinod ji I remember comedy, satire and humour is said in Hindi as Haasy , vyang aur Vinod. from the moment listening to radio ” ek bahut dukhad khabhar aa rahi hain jaaney maaney abhineta vinod khanna humarey bich nahi rahey. ” me and my mother now have finally accepted his death and pray for his soul.

  3. Vinod K , So handsome and macho too!!…Had two innings at films, one before he went away to Oregon Ashram of Osho. Later after his return from Rajneesh ashram he did dad roles for SRK, Salman Khan too, if my memory serves me right…
    But his standout action cum comedy performance as a hero was in Mahesh Bhatt’s Lahu ke Do Rang with Shabana Azmi and Helen in a double role. RIP, VK!

    • Yes, I do like Lahu ke Do Rang a lot. And Gaddaar, Inkaar and even Aadha Din Aadhi Raat – all thoroughly entertaining films, and with Vinod Khanna in some fabulous roles.

  4. Abhik, I was just going to say, ‘Shatrughan’. :)

    Madhu, in Muqaddar ka Sikander, Vinod gets the heroine (an annoyingly whiny Raakhee) and Amitabh does the self-sacrificing bit.

    Thank you for this tribute. He, along with Amitabh and Rishi, defined the 70s for me.

    • As I mentioned to Harvey (who also mentioned Shatrughan Sinha in his comment), I always associate Sinha with that gangly and awkward cop in Saajan – though of course he did go on to play some pretty villainous characters in films like Blackmail and Khilona.

      Yes, Amitabh, Vinod Khanna and Rishi define the 70s for me, too. I think of them, and I think of that decade.

  5. This post warmed my heart so much because I think that Vinod Khanna always got the wrong end of the stick. And I agree, I loved Amar more than Anthony [though my first love in that film will always be Akbar]. He had a quiet presence and his cleft chin made him such a dashing hero! The most distinct memory I have of him is from the movie ‘Mere Apne’. Despite it being a soppy saga, I quite liked the movie. In the song ‘Hai sharmaon kis kis ko bataon..’ the line ‘wahan pipal ke niche, mele mein sabse pichhe- khada hai’ brings the memory of Vinod Khanna looking suitably scary, ferocious and angry.
    RIP Vinod Khanna.

    • I have to admit I have not yet got around to watching Mere Apne, even though I have the DVD. I should, soon.

      “He had a quiet presence and his cleft chin made him such a dashing hero!

      I think the quiet presence was really attractive (yes, his looks too, but that quiet strength was what generally made his characters so appealing for me). RIP.

  6. In the movies with Amitabh-Vinod combination, the character played by Vinod is far more deep, mature & intense than that of Amitabh.

    I must mention “Khoon Pasina” in support of my statement above.(Although Asrani’s character in this one is one of my favourites.)

    Whenever Vinod collaborated with some other hero he played the character like an elder brother who has a better perception of life and world than that of the other.

    Thank you for this tribute for one of the most handsome and reserved hero of hindi cinema.

    • Thank you for that insightful comment. I agree; Vinod Khanna’s character – especially when matched with another hero – was invariably one of the more mature, intense man, and he always managed to pull it off very well. I don’t remember having watched Khoon Pasina – I must add it to my list and see it as soon as I possibly can.

  7. Great Man and a nice tribute. He had a unique Signature – combining looks, swagger, performance and that something which is difficult to describe. My children born after 2000, like him based on the 70s movies they have seen. That about sums up Vinod Khanna. He is like Gautam Gambhir of the Indian Cricket team in 2000s. In a team of legends who cornered all the glory, he was the tough cookie. Time to watch his movies again.

    • “Time to watch his movies again.

      Absolutely. I finished watching (rather, rewatching) one yesterday, and I plan to watch more – mostly for the first time – in the next few days.

  8. I love you all the more for posting this and bending your “Pre-1970s only” rule for VK. Everyone says Dharmendra was the most handsome HIndi film hero of his era. I beg to differ; I feel he can’t hold a candle to the divine looks of VK.
    One of his later movies, Satyamev Jayate, impressed me a lot. His character was so layered: you hate his roughness, yet sympathize with his harsh past.
    Thank you!

    • You know, I was first a little conflicted when I saw your comment (I saw this yesterday). “Dharmendra? Not as handsome as VK?” – because I do think of Dharmendra as very handsome (and VK as very handsome too). Then, I spent a couple of hours yesterday watching Mera Gaon Mera Desh again, and in the few scenes where Dharmendra and VK were together, I found myself looking only at VK.

      So yes, I got my own answer. ;-) He was certainly the most gorgeous of them all.

      I have never seen – as far as I remember – Satyamev Jayate. Will add that to my watchlist. Thank you for the recommendation!

    • Yes….I also like “Satyamev jayate”.
      This is one of such rare movies in 80’s where each character was given equal importance.

  9. I haven’t seen many of his films so I cannot say I am a fan of him. He wasn’t a naturally great actor but good directors like Raj Khosla, Gulzar and Manmohan Desai managed to get some great performances out of him.

    He got the short end of the stick in AAA. In fact, Hinduism itself was sidetracked in favour of minority religions. We get to see cultural signs such as qawwali and Easter but never anything related to Hinduism. Amar is rather one-dimensionally written and not colourful like the other two, hence inconsequential and forgettable.

    I like to think that Vinod stuck through such ignominious treatment only because he was content in the knowledge that he had a far meatier role in the other MMD film that was being made simultaneously – PARVARISH. In a reversal of fortunes, Amitabh has a dour role in that film while Vinod gets to hog more footage as the prodigal son.

    I have only seen bits of Aan Milo Sajna which was too stereotypical and regressive for my taste, so I doubt if I will ever watch it all. But Vinod was definitely having a ball, hamming it to the hilt as the stereotypical arrogant rich man.

    INKAAR made a big impression on me when I saw it at a young age. It was very different from the usual stuff for me. I did not know that it was a copy of Kurosawa’s High and Low.

    I remember being super psyched to watch HIMALAY PUTRA back in 1997 which Vinod made to launch Akshaye. I don’t why I got so excited over such a stupid film. I guess I was prone to odd bouts of weirdness as a kid :) Because of Vinod there were a number of prominent product placement spots for CINTHOL. I guess Akshaye was supposed to take over the mantle had he been successful, which wasn’t to be.

    • Aan Milo Sajna, like Man ka Meet, was I think pretty forgettable. It had some hummable songs but the plot wasn’t great, and it certainly didn’t call for a memorable villain. Inkaar and Gaddaar are probably my favourite VK films when it comes to the thriller-suspense genres: both had good stories, and he fitted right into his role.

      Thank goodness I never watched Himalayputra! Akshaye, however, despite his fairly unimpressive career, act in several films which I’ve liked (and, like his father, he doesn’t seem to have shied away from offbeat roles).

  10. Although Vinod K wasn’t a favorite of mine, I too can’t imagine Hindi cinema in the 70s without thinking of him. Your thoughtful tribute has set me thinking about the varied roles Vinod played and unusual his career was for a “hero.” Perhaps I should give him a second look.

    • “Perhaps I should give him a second look.

      Do, please! Inkaar, Gaddaar, Parvarish. Not Imtihaan, not Yuvraaj (unless you want to see a sort-of Hindi Tarzan). He acted in a fairly eclectic lot of films.

  11. A lovely tribute for Vinod Khanna. I’m the usually silent stalker of your blog but had to ask for the following:
    A man on the run during World War II, falling in love with a Chinese woman and getting her pregnant, fully aware all the while that this is not right, because he has a wife back home…

    I have seen most of Vinod Khanna films, but the above doesn’t seem to ring any bells. Help please? Thank you!

    • That’s Lahu ke Do Rang, Lalitha (and thank you for commenting!) Granted, this was only a small part – his other role in the film, as the son, was the major role of the film – but still, I thought it was an unusual role for a leading man to take on.

  12. Another great movie of Vinod Khanna was “Shaque”. It was a well made thriller and I loved it. Now it seems everyone has forgot that such a movie was even made. It also had Shabana Azmi as VK’s wife and Utpal Dutt.

    • Somebody recommended Shaque to me some months back. I was too busy to watch it then, but I’d found it on Youtube and bookmarked it. Sadly, that video got taken down the next time I checked. I shall look for it again. Thanks for recommending it!

  13. One of my memories of Vinod Khanna (apart from some of the above) and that too in a small role (guest?) is in Parichay. I have always believed that he outshone Jeetendra – in that brief appearance – with his looks, charisma and dialogue delivery.

    • Thank you for sharing that! Very well put. It had me nodding in agreement through all of the piece. And it reminded me of some Khanna movies I need to watch or rewatch.

  14. My tribute for vinod khanna saheb will be this ” Uskey aagey phiki laagey sabki jwaaniya”. i don’t where to start. my first films of his were parichay , sacha jhuta, ,. when i watched him singing koi hota jisko apna and wada kar le sajna. i liked his histrionics. but it was mera gao mera desh which made me his fan. on other forums people were saying that he easily dominated Bacchan saheb and dharam ji. when i watched him in Purab Paschim. i felt he was wasted there. but he cherished the role. later i got to know from his interviews. to share trivia that he he was not confident to wear specs in Imtihaan. but Bindu ji and other said aap pay acha lag raha hai. its suiting your character. so he decided to wear specs. when he acted in Meera he was just about to leave the industry but as his role was short. he agreed to shoot for one day. he developed differences with Prakash Mehra while shooting Muqadar ka Sikandar. i always feel that may be praveen babi made pairs with amit ji , shashi saheb but vinod khanna complimented her best. Moushmi chaterjee is his family friend and she always had praise for him. he yelled at her husband that why you bring such innocent girl in big bad world of films. when mukesh khanna was debuting in films. he wanted to work with him. That two khannas will be together. but mukesh ji said unki pehli picture unke home production ki hogi. during Mahabharat he met mukesh ji and said that you have got cream of Mahabharat. i will always remember him that he was the most handsome daku of Indian Cinema. he was sheer eye candy. my favorite song of him will be Hai sharmau kis kis ko btaau .

  15. “quietly dignified” is perhaps a great way to address Vinod Khanna. I have always wondered why I found his presence on the screen so comforting! I could never put my finger on the exact reason, because I am not sure if it’s his looks, his acting or his demeanor that made me feel the way he did. Perhaps your “quietly dignified” term answers that question for me. Thank you for your beautiful review and going beyond your preferred era!

    • Thank you, Ashish! Yes, I thought Vinod Khanna merited a departure from my rule. Especially since he did begin in the 60s, and because there is something about him – a combination of that quiet dignity, his looks (of course!), and pretty good acting – that makes him a favourite of mine.

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