Greatness can assume many different shapes and forms and it is a destination that can be arrived at through many different paths.
There are those who achieve greatness by devoting their entire lives to the single-minded pursuit of perfection in their field of work. And then there are those whose innate greatness refuses to be restricted to narrow brackets and, having mastered one talent, their restless spirit moves on to something else to conquer.
One such great of the latter kind, Vinod Khanna, left us on Thursday (April 27, 2017) and we, the Indian filmmaking community, are left much poorer from that loss. And it is not just our loss alone.
The versatility of talent, the refusal to be pigeon-holed into a slot and the spirit of exploration and experimentation that defines this multi-faceted great are visible in the superstar’s filmography that spans almost five decades.
From upright cop to suave criminal to sensitive teacher to mafia don to feudal aristocrat to feuding royal to condemned prisoner to struggling lawyer to glib con artiste and so many other diverse characters – he played them all with great finesse and aplomb. And, in doing so, he was aided no doubt by the physicality that he was blessed with – the striking good looks and persona that could exude a rugged machismo just as effectively as they could be used to portray a sensitive vulnerability.
The streak of adaptability and unpredictability that comes through his choice of roles is also apparent in his career graph. From starting off with secondary roles to establishing himself as a villain with films like Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Elaan, and then metamorphosing to a successful leading man with films like Achanak, Gaddaar, Aarop, Aap Ki Khatir, Parvarish, Inkaar, Main Tulsi Tere Angan Ki, Lahu Ke Do Rang, Taaqat, Qurbani, Dayavan and so many more; to finally assuming strong supporting roles in recent films like Dabangg and Dilwale – Vinod Khanna’s journey as an actor was one marked by constant movement, evolution and expansion.
It was also one that was characterised by a sense of camaraderie and
self-assuredness, as is evident from the dozens of multi-starrers, many of them iconic blockbusters, that he featured prominently in. Indeed, the roster of other leading men that he co-starred with over the years reads almost like the index page of a directory of Hindi film heroes: Rajesh Khanna, Manoj Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Dhamendra, Shammi Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Feroz Khan, Raaj Kumar, Jackie Shroff, Govinda, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgn, Sunny Deol, Suniel Shetty, Abhishek Bachchan, Bobby Deol, Saif Ali Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and more.
However, while his body of work in films may be phenomenal and by itself be a grand testimony to a life well lived, Vinod Khanna was even more than a bona fide film star.
Here was a man who, at the peak of his career, could leave it all behind to embark on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. And from that most intimate and personal of pursuits, he could then shift focus radically to the most public of arenas – politics. A four-time and sitting Member of Parliament, he also served at the top echelons of the country’s government in the Union ministries of Culture & Tourism and External Affairs.
Yet for all his many achievements across so many diverse and varied fields, he always remained someone who preferred to remain silently and unobtrusively on the sidelines rather than tom-tom his considerable feats in the glare of the public spotlight. In an era marked by unabashed self-promotion and constant social media broadcasts of the most trivial of events, this much-accomplished superstar maintained a low – almost invisible – profile.
With the passing of Vinod Khanna, the film-loving masses have lost one of their favourite on-screen heroes, the film fraternity one of its most respected colleagues and the nation a long-serving public servant. But what has also been lost is one of our last few connections with a kinder, gentler time when greatness whispered… unlike now, when even mediocrity screams.
Farewell, gentle superstar. Though we will miss your presence amongst us, your craft – whether as Major Ranjeet Khanna or dacoit Jabbar Singh or Professor Pramod Sharma or don Shakthi Velu or the multiple Amars you played – shall always continue to enthrall us; just as the grace, humility and dignity with which you carried yourself shall always continue to inspire us.