Friday, April 28, 2017

Vinod Khanna - Never Born, Never Died, Visited the Earth between 1946 - 2017.

I had known throughout my childhood that Vinod Khanna and my family were related. (Either my father and him were first cousins or Vinod Khanna and I were second cousins.) From what I caught from the snippets of conversation between my father and his younger brother, Brij Mohan Vohra, the families were close in Peshawar and arrived in Bombay around the same time during Partition, maybe even traveled together. In Bombay, they went to the same school, St. Xaviers, and Brij Chachaji and he were roughly the same age. Apparently, the families were close even in Bombay and visited each other's houses throughout the years the kids were in school.

My father moved to the U.S. early on and lost touch with that extended side of his family. Throughout, Vinod Khanna and Brij Chachaji remained in touch and were as good as best friends. In fact, Brij Chachaji who was an IAS officer and posted in Dalhousie at the time, helped Vinod Khanna immensely during the filming of his home production, 'Himalayaputra.' A major portion of the film was shot in the scenic hill station and Brij Chachaji even put up the entire unit in his bungalow, helping Vinod Khanna to significantly cut down on production costs.

In 1990, my father received a call from Vinod Khanna from out of the blue, inviting him for a close gathering at home (his sangeet) and wedding. I was present when my father took the call and from the conversation, I saw how excited they both were to hear each other's voices after donkey's years.

I was excited to meet Vinod Khanna, not only because he and my father somewhat grew up together but also because I was curious to see the man behind the star. Despite his openness during his interviews, this was one film star perpetually shrouded in mystery.

I went along with my father, younger sister, Brij Chachaji and his wife Kamal Chachiji (actor Karan Dewan's daughter) for the sangeet. The door to Vinod Khanna's Malabar Hill flat was opened by his brother Pramod Khanna, who in my mind looked almost identical to him. In fact, I remember someone in the family mentioning how "both the brothers were as good-looking as each other." Pramod Khanna welcomed us in and I entered a living room filled with my father's extended family who I had never met before. There was Vinod Khanna's sisters with their families, along with his other cousins. It was a close gathering of twenty people in all. Vinod Khanna hadn't arrived yet and while I took a seat at the dining table, my father sat chatting with his relatives.

A while later, Vinod Khanna walked in profusely apologizing for coming in late. There was a sudden change of atmosphere and it was not for the entry of a movie star, but for the arrival of the groom to be married the next day. Everyone was excited as was he, and before he settled in, he caught sight of my father. He gave my father the warmest smile and embraced him for what seemed like an entire minute. Then he was introduced to me. He shook my hand and looked at me intently for a few seconds. I guess meeting a close one's child for the first time makes you realize how much time you lost out with that person.

The sangeet commenced (it was basically all the family members singing to a dholak - the true Punjabi way) and the celebration continued till late at night. During that time, Vinod Khanna spoke to me several times and ensured that I was comfortable. In fact, when he saw me standing alone he introduced me to his nephew, model Gautam Kapur, and made sure I had company throughout. I remember Vinod Khanna insisting that I try a bowl of homemade paaya soup, a dish that he seemed to be immensely fond of.

He took to my younger sister and kept her by his side throughout that evening. He expressed several times how he "always wanted a daughter." In fact, he kept us till the very end so that he could spend more time with my sister. He was indeed a very loving person and my sister was thoroughly charmed by him.

The next day, we went to his wedding at Woodland Society in South Mumbai, the residence of the bride. A simple ceremony was organized on the lawns of the building with close family and friends in attendance. I remember meeting Sunil Dutt, Shammi Kapoor and a few other producers and directors. I was there for a short time so other film personalities may have arrived later on.

Even though he was the man of the hour, he paid special attention to all his guests. In fact, I remember him waving out to me a couple of times. Throughout the evening, he was was all smiles, seemingly truly in love and happy to get married.
In true Punjabi style, the pheras were to take place late at night so we couldn't hang on. But he took a few extra minutes to talk to my sister and once again mentioned how he "always wanted a daughter."

Later on, I was a part of the film industry but during my time there, he was probably the only star from his generation I never crossed paths with. My father did bump into him a couple of times after that and Brij Chachaji and he remained the best of friends, but those two days were the only two times I met Vinod Khanna and somehow I'm able to recall those two meetings very vividly. For some reason, I can't say the same about my interactions with other stars. Such was the charismatic appeal of Vinod Khanna.

Around eight years later, I went into deep depression due to some family problems. I needed answers and in my quest, happened to read up on Vinod Khanna's journey with Osho and his insights from the same. Trusting his journey, I started visiting the Osho Commune to meditate, sometimes staying there for days on end. I met some of the key members there and they fondly recalled memories with Vinod Khanna and the wonderful person he was.

Osho's tombstone says:-
Only Visited this
Planet Earth Between
I say the same for Vinod Khanna. Such was his spirit. 

Even though Vinod Khanna and I were related, I can't bring myself to refer to him as Uncle. For me, he will always be Vinod Khanna. The Star. Immortal.