There is a whirlwind in the social media cup right now of a viral picture of Vinod Khanna in hospital. Sometimes you look at a picture and it tags another picture you may have of the same person. The picture that I pulled up was of a charismatic easy going people’s star who I met almost 10 years ago on a similar warm summers afternoon in a restaurant in Delhi.
The year was 2009, I was at a hotel in central Delhi and just sitting down to satiate hunger and thirst when I spotted a handsome man, pepper and salt hair, in a white kurta and pajama surrounded by what looked like family and a host of support staff from the hotel. The selfie was not in then so there were no mobile camera totting aunties looking to click pictures. On zooming in, so to speak I recognized the man at the center of the attention, it was Vinod Khanna.
Being the big Bollywood buff that I am, I just couldn’t take my eyes off him as I dug into my club sandwich. At one point I remember ceasing the sandwich chomping to watch Vinod Khanna regal the ladies and there must have been at least 5 of them at a table, with a joke. Smiling gently one second laughing out loud the next in pure Punjabi outburst, he was the star of the moment. I soon realized it was not me alone who was watching but pretty much a complete restaurant, all silently raising a toast to one of Bollywood’s handsomest effervescent actors ever.
Memories of me watching his films flooded back and as they played out in slow Mo. Scenes from movies like Qurbani and Burning Train and CID etched in my mind played out. But the one that I personally liked the most was a film I had watched at least ten times on VCD (the order of the day back then) where Vinod Khanna played menacing ‘daku’ in Mera Gaon Mera Desh. For all of you from that era especially the ladies, the black kurta’d gun totting Vinod Sahib with an amulet around his neck was the ultimate bad boy hunk in Bollywood. This was a character that I loved for a long time after watching the film and one I had emulated as well, black kurta big tilak on the forehead and air gun to boot in front of the mirror. Such fun those times were.
Lost in my thoughts 2pm slipped on to about past 3 and the crowd thinned. I was meanwhile making up my mind to just go and say hi. Many of the lovely ladies, young and old at the Khanna table had dwindled and the star was almost alone now. Making my entry as it were I slid up to him and we exchanged smiles. My first words were, “Sir just wanted to shake hands with you.” Simple and straight forward as I could get. The big man rose and with a firm hand shook mine and then he asked, “Are you a Bollywood fan?” I wouldn’t have asked for a better entrée.
He sat back I stood and told him of how I loved him in Mera Gaon Mera Desh and how I used to imitate his Daku style. He joked and said, “Hope you don’t do it for real,” and then in humour added gesticulating with his hand outstretched, “there are already quite a few around.” Though I didn’t understand what he meant at the time I did kind of connect later.
We chatted, he asked me what I did, I told him I was a journalist and at that point he almost stopped speaking with me. I had to assure him I was not there for the interview. It was then that he asked me to pull a chair and sit down. I told him how my mother was distraught when she heard the news that he was quitting the films a bit after Qurbani it was in the 80’s he smiled a knowing smile, I quickly added, “Sir but we were happy when you returned. At that point I remember we were interrupted by the restaurant manager when had brought along a portly lady in her 50’s dripping diamonds who wanted an autograph. I remember him shifting his chair standing up and giving her a hug. She had this, ‘meri toh zindigi poori ho gayi’, I can book my ‘char dham yatra’ right now look on her face. She told him she was from Punjab and then the next five minutes were spent discussing food and films. He seemed quite a foodie who loved his Punjabi tadka and yes he was a ladies man a charmer still, I thought to myself. Finally she left us alone and we got back to talking films and it was then that I brought up Mera Gaon mer desh again with that iconic dialogue, “Jabbar Singh (Khanna’s name in the film) ne sirf do hi baatein seekhi hai ... ek mauke ka fayda uthana ... aur apne dushman ka naam aur nishaan mita dena!” he laughed, part I think at hearing my version of his dialogue and part a the nostalgia it evoked. This time I stood up and showed him just how I copied him down to the air gun. He laughed out loud, a hearty laugh that reverberated through the now almost empty restaurant.
Then as if robbed of his smile the very next moment he said, “Woh zamana alag tha ab…” he cut himself short. There was this long pause and then he shrugged his wide shoulders and said, “ I still can’t believe that Bajwa has won.” Just to fill you in Vinod Khanna lost the 2009 elections to Congress candidate and former minister Pratap Singh Bajwa. He then added that Bajwa had trailed him for most part of the day before winning. Politics certainly taking its toll there I said to myself. And then as if on que he added, “everything is a manifestation of God and his power.” Resignation to the power of the all-powerful, you cannot take God out of a God fearing man, can you now.
Finally I got up to leave and shaking hands with me Vinod Khanna said, “I have a film, Wanted coming out this winter you must watch it.” It was time for a wide eyed smile to cross my face as I reminded him I was a journalist, I added, “Super hit hogi sir.” Even though I wasn’t a soothsayer I knew it would be a blockbuster. A wide happy smile crossed Vinod Khanna’s face the wrinkles parting as the large countenance lit up with the joy. It is that image of Vinod Khanna I would like to preserve in my memory forever.