I met him at the very tender age of 19. He and my brother Mahesh (Bhatt) were very close friends. Bhatt Saab was an assistant to Raj Khosla and he was doing this film called Mera Gaon Mera Desh., That’s how Vinod Khanna and my brother connected, and it was through him that I met Vinod Khanna.
I worked with him for four and a half years. But he was not a boss to me; for us, he was like family. I used to call him my brother. We were like younger brother and elder brother. Our friendship goes back to 1975 and we were very close.
I started my career at a tender age and he was already a superstar. He was doing big films with big directors like Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai. I came into the limelight because I was his business manager and started interacting with the top banners of those days – BR Films, J Om Prakash, D Ramanaidu. I was in close proximity to all these big names in the business because of Vinod, and I created a personal rapport with them.
Professionally, it was a great learning experience for me, and that foundation helped me. I had always aspired to be a film producer; and wanted to have a company of my own. I never really want to be a business manager but working with Vinod was very formative for me. I created my own space and identity.
To be very honest, he let me bloom. For the first six months, he watched how I dealt with producers and, after that, he trusted me with everything. Also, he never let me feel that I was working under him. It was like working for an elder brother and I was working for my own family.
The distribution company we had formed… I had advised him to open a distribution concern and he was, like, ‘Okay, Mukesh, if that’s what you think, let’s do it.’ And we formed a company under his mother’s name Kamla Films and it paid off really well. We did the distribution for his film Qurbani and it was a huge hit.
Then I became a producer but our relationship continued. I had the privilege of having him act in my film Jurm. There is a famous song in the film call Jab koi baat bigad jaye. I made money with that film. Afterwards, even though we didn’t work on a project together, we kept abreast of each other.
When I was doing Aashiqui 2, we wanted to launch his son Sakshi but he had committed Sakshi’s dates to another filmmaker. Since we couldn’t wait, he couldn’t do the film. He regretted that and always said that Sakshi couldn’t do Aashiqui 2. Unfortunately, the other film didn’t take off and he felt very bad about it. I told him not to worry, that it wasn’t the end of the world and we would keep making films and we would stumble upon something.
If you ask me who Vinod Khanna was and what Vinod Khanna was all about, I would say he was a real-life hero; he was not just a film hero. He had a heart as big as Mount Everest. He could feel the pain of people, of anyone, from any strata of life, who approached him in need. Whether they had financial or emotional problems, he used to ensure that he helped them. If there was a financial problem, he would just look at me and I had to take care of whatever that man’s needs were. I don’t remember him saying ‘no’ to anyone. Where can you find people like him? I don’t think they exist. That’s why I would say he was a real-life hero. He made so many people’s careers. He was a yaaron ka yaar. He was prepared to give his life for his friends.
He had a very strong influence on the career of Mahesh Bhatt. JP Dutta became JP Dutta because of Vinod Khanna. He went beyond the call of duty for all his fans and well-wishers. His heart was an ocean. The reason he embarked on a spiritual path was because he couldn’t handle the manipulation, the crooked ways of society and the commercial world. It saddened me because this man had the heavens at his feet but he left it all behind.
It is not a joke to relinquish everything, leave superstardom and do gardening at such a young age. He was at the prime of his career. He was a unique man. He wanted to serve people, he had it in his heart and that’s why he joined politics. He wanted to serve people. There will never be another Vinod Khanna. Is mitti ke banewale band hochuke hai.
If there was anyone as close to him as his family was, it was me. And I am very proud of that. I am blessed that he touched my life and I could be a part of his life. I owe all that I have achieved to him. I have made 72 films and I am considered a veteran film producer. Do you know what he told me when I last visited him at his home for lunch? He told me, ‘You know, Mukesh, you make me really proud.’
Had he not given me his finger to hold, to start walking, I would never have reached this far. I told him this and he was embarrassed. Imagine such a tall, big built and handsome man blushing and feeling embarrassed by that compliment?
You know, some people don’t die. Vinod Khanna will never die, in my heart. Vinod Khanna will stay alive till my last breath. Some souls remain in your heart forever.