New Delhi: The 1970s in Bollywood was known for iconic fashion and many blockbusters. The era introduced some of the most prominent actors in the industry, all vying to play hero. But from this mass of heroes had emerged a star who took a detour from the norm.
Vinod Khanna, who dared to play the villain, carved a niche for himself not only in the Indian film industry but also, eventually, in politics. On his 73rd birth anniversary Sunday, ThePrint looks back at his life as an actor, a Rajneesh and a politician.
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Comfortable not playing hero
Born to a Punjabi Hindu family in Peshawar on 6 October 1946, Khanna and his family moved to India after Partition and shifted a few times between Mumbai and New Delhi. He graduated with a degree in commerce from Sydenham College in Mumbai.
Khanna got his big break when he was spotted at a party by Sunil Dutt who offered him a role in a movie that he was making to launch his brother Som Dutt. And so, Khanna started out as a villain in Man Ka Meet (1968).
He gave most actors a run for their money with his performances as the anti-hero in Aan Milo Sajna (1970), dacoit Jabbar Singh in Raj Khosla’s Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), Kuchhe Dhaage (1973) and Rajput (1982).
Even after transitioning to lead roles, Khanna wasn’t averse to multi-starrer films that were a rage at the time — think Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), The Burning Train (1980), Ek Aur Ek Gyarah (1981), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978) and more.
Khanna often played a second lead to Amitabh Bachchan who was at the peak of his career then. Despite reports of strife between the two actors, Khanna always maintained that Bachchan was a friend.
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The call of Osho
After a little over a decade in films, Khanna, in search of something deeper, quit it all to join his spiritual guru Rajneesh (Osho), and moved with him to Oregon in the US, despite his wife, model Gitanjali Taleyarkhan’s reservations. He returned five years later, but the strain of his time away was too much for the marriage, and they soon divorced; he married Kavitya Daftary in 1990.
Staying away from the industry did not come in the way of his career, though, and he delivered two hits — Insaaf and Satyamev Jayate — immediately after his return in 1987.
A successful politician
Khanna joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1997 and won the elections from Punjab’s Gurdaspur in 1998. He was re-elected in 1999 and went on to become the union minister of culture and tourism in 2002.
The actor was subsequently moved to the ministry of external affairs six months later where he took office as the MoS. He lost the 2009 elections, but was re-elected in 2014. No other Bollywood star has been able to win four terms till date.
Khanna died in 2017 after being hospitalised for severe dehydration. It was later revealed that he had bladder cancer.
A look back at his top 5 notable films:
Mere Apne (1971): Gulzar’s directorial debut saw Khanna as the leader of a gang of unemployed youngsters who become close to an elderly lady.
Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): Khanna’s dry sardonic swag was the perfect foil to Bachchan’s tomfoolery and Rishi Kapoor’s sweet loverboy turn in this madcap caper about three long-lost brothers.
Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978): Despite Bachchan in the lead role, Khanna managed to grab eyeballs with his role of a lawyer who saves Sikandar’s (Bachchan) life.
Parvarish (1977): Another Bachchan-Khanna starrer, the film had the two actors playing brothers. Khanna played the antagonist who believes that he is the adopted son and lives a secret life of crime.
Haath ki Safai (1975): The Prakash Jha film had Khanna and Randhir Kapoor playing brothers separated at birth. Khanna plays the leader of a crime syndicate in the film.
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