New Delhi: For a star who possibly never looked to awards functions to validate his popularity, the Dadasaheb Phalke recognition may have come as a surprise to Vinod Khanna, were he alive. The legendary actor, who died at the age of 70 this time last year, was conferred the highest film honour by the Directorate of Film Festivals for his outstanding contribution to Indian cinema, catapulting him into the league of personalities like Dilip Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Raj Kapoor and Satyajit Ray, recipients in the past.

Starting out as a villain in Sunil Dutt’s 1968 film Man Ka Meet, Khanna went on to play several supporting roles as the antagonist, the hits included Purab Aur Paschim, Sachaa Jhutha, Aan Milo Sajna and Mastana in 1970, and Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Elaan in 1971. His first break as the solo male lead came with Hum Tum Aur Woh (1971) after which he graduated to Gulzar’s directorial debut Mere Apne on youth unrest, an extremely offbeat choice for its time.

And yet, commercial success never remained too far behind—a string of hits in the 1970s and ’80s (Hera Pheri, Khoon Pasina, Amar Akbar Anthony, Zameer, Parvarish and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and Feroz Khan’s blockbuster action thriller Qurbani) earned him the dapper image he was ultimately known for. Coupling the swagger and good looks of the typical ’70s superstar with a classy charm almost alien to an action hero, Khanna was a far cry from his more romantic contemporaries. But still tough competition for the ‘angry young man’ of the ’70s, Amitabh Bachchan, with whom he starred in a number of films.

“Vinod Khanna was undoubtedly one of the most dashing heroes of his time. Unlike say a Rajesh Khanna or Rishi Kapoor who were known as lover boys or for feel-good entertainers, he was quite easily leading the macho brigade," said Saurabh Uboweja, international brand expert and chief executive officer of brand consultancy firm Brands Of Desire. “In that sense, his image was quite distinct."

Indeed when Khanna gave it all up to embrace spirituality and join guru Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh), he had already reached his peak.

When he did decide to end the sabbatical, Khanna not just bounced back with romantic outings like Chandni (1989) and Jurm (1990) but also emerged as one of the most successful actor politicians given his multiple Lok Sabha re-elections.

“There is so much money involved in a star’s brand today and such extreme efforts to constantly stay relevant. But then, you could actually think of retiring," Uboweja explained. “It’s quite feasible though, re-charting identities is often situational and a matter of a personal journey."

Khanna’s call to withdraw from the arc lights is reflected, to some extent, in the disparate paths other Indian celebrities have taken over the years. While former actor Twinkle Khanna chose to give up facing the camera after a couple of years in the industry, she found an entirely different calling and is today a best-selling author.

Priyanka Chopra, too has broken all norms associated with the Bollywood heroine and has dabbled in everything from international television to pop music.

“There are very few people like Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan who remain known for just that one thing and get away with it," Uboweja said.

Indeed, when he did decide to end the sabbatical, Khanna not just bounced back with romantic outings like Chandni (1989) and Jurm (1990) but also emerged as one of the most successful actor politicians given his multiple Lok Sabha re-elections.

As Uboweja said, “Actor, politician and spiritual follower—that’s three lives lived in one."

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