रुक जाना नहीं तू कहीं हार के
काँटों पे चल के मिलेंगे साये बहार के
ओ राही, ओ राही
– मजरूह सुल्तानपुरी, इम्तिहान (1974)
Imtihan (The Exam) was a movie early in his career and Vinod Khanna impressed as an idealistic young professor who genuinely wants to improve the lives of his students and guide them to success. It was a tribute to the English movie and novel , ‘To Sir, With Love’ and gave him good scope to perform within the well-written rules of commercial cinema. The song ‘Ruk Jaana Nahin Tu Kahin Haar Ke …’ was a signature number in the movie and is well identified with Vinod Khanna even now.
He modelled his career in the fashion of Dharmendra – many of his early roles had a rustic flavour, he was recognized as a young heart-throb who made the girls go weak in their knees and he performed macho-action roles while experimenting with ‘art-films’ as well. His sudden sabbatical from the industry for five years when he became an ardent follower of Osho changed the ‘star’ template for him. He returned to popular success with movies like ‘Satyamev Jayate’ and ‘Jurm’ but his era was over as the limelight switched to the next generation of leading men.
The movies I liked in particular would include –
It was Gulzar’s debut movie and Vinod Khanna got an opportunity to work with Meena Kumari who played the role of aged grandmother. It depicted the intense rivalry between two youth gangs led by Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha and its tragic culmination. The song, ‘Koi Hota Jisko Apna Keh Lete Yaaron …’ brings home the angst felt by Vinod Khanna in the lead role. The movie led to further collaboration for the duo in films like Parichay, Achanak, and Lekin.
Aruna Raje and Vinod Desai – the husband-wife duo – directed this thriller that actually had a meaningful storyline and a powerful cast. Vinod Khanna was paired with the relatively newbie Shabana Azmi and the veteran Utpal Dutt. At the centre of the thriller is the angst dominated marriage of Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi. The storyline was unique and unheralded in Hindi cinema. Utpal Dutt was a masterstroke in terms of casting – the veteran was so effective in sowing the seeds of discord that it would cheapen to call him a Hindi cinema villain. The wrap up is rather convenient and contrived as all the loose ends are tied up nicely but it is still a creditable show in those times when such genre didn’t exist in our films.
The movie was all about flair with Vinod Khanna holding his own against Feroz Khan and Zeenat Aman. All the songs were a hit in particular, ‘Aap Jaisa Koi Meri Zindagi Main Aaye, Toh Baat Ban Jaaye..’ was a rage. It was a commercial revenge drama but Vinod Khanna still got to show his acting chops as a widower parent who is drawn to Zeenat. Zeenat in turn is besotted about Feroz Khan. Amjad Khan gets do a rare cameo and shows us his comic bone. The movie became the biggest hit of the year and a landmark in Vinod Khanna’s career.
Vinod Khanna returned to hindi cinema after a 5 year hiatus and delivered a credible commercial hit. Playing a top cop who fights the system and tries to retain his sanity, Vinod Khanna showcased an emotional side rarely seen in commercial films – it reminded us Ardh Satya in shades. Of course the fun elements worked out great and the songs were popular. It announced a revival of his career as he followed it up with another cop drama, Jurm and did many films with his heroine, Meenakshi Seshadri.
Vinod Khanna pairs up with Gulzar again. He is a government employee who has been sent to the deserts of Rajasthan for a cumbersome task of taking inventory of a haveli that belonged to a Maharaja of the yore. He finds his old friend, Amjad Khan, to keep him company. He suddenly finds himself hallucinating about a beautiful lady Rewa (Dimple Kapadia) and the mystery is murky and layered in time. Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition of ‘Yaara Seeli Seeli …’ won her and Gulzar the National Award. It marked a change in kind of movies and roles that Vinod Khanna essayed during the remainder of his film career.