‘A DEAR FRIEND HAS GONE’Little did I realize when met Vinod Khanna at the shooting for my friend producer-director Gul Bahar Singh’s film Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi Thi a few months ago at Madh Island where he shot with Hema Malini that it would have been my last meeting with the suave ever smiling handsome actor. All that I can say is that I have lost a dear friend who was always humble and very honest to the core and passionate about his work, whether as an actor, producer, parliamentarian or a Minister. Even when he sacrificed worldly life and opted to be a disciple of Bhagwan Rajneesh Osho for five years, he maintained a life full of discipline. Vinod Khanna was suffering from bladder carcinoma at a city hospital for several days before he passed away. He was full of life. I remember in those days when he was ruling the industry neck top neck with Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod used to be cool like a cucumber and not bothered to be a part of the rat race. Unlike Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna never cultivated cutlery around him and used to deal with everyone, whether a producer, director or for that matter a journalist on a one to one basis. Till date, I have never seen Vinod Khanna losing his temper at a journalist, though the media used to link him with every pretty girl from Sonu Walia to Smita Patil. Not many are aware of the fact that Vinod was also wise enough to continue to retain his distribution concern Kamala Movies Distributors even after he quit acting because, “I do not want to leave my staff in the lurch.” Main Tulsi Teri Aangan Ki distributed by him in Bombay turned out to be a gold mine for him. Vinod, like Rajesh Khanna was fond of the bubbly spirits and always used to insist on being served with only genuine scotch whenever he attended a party. I particularly remember Vinod asking me to return back my glass of scotch to the waiter at the Hotel Taj when he realized after a sip that it was not scotch but a spurious Indian whiskey. He sent his errand boy to his car parked downstairs to fetch for him his bottle of Black Label and every time Vinod or I refilled our glass of scotch, Vinod used to tell his errand boy who was on duty. The gentleman that he is, Vinod Khanna did not want to embarrass the producer of his film Garajna which had Sridevi as his leading lady, by expressing his displeasure over the choice of drinks that he had organized for the completion party of his film. Vinod as an ardent devotee of Bhagwan Rajneesh Acharya, always used to carry in his hey days along with him his stereophonic cassette recorder with one dozen tapes consisting of Rajneesh’s discourses. Whenever he was not needed on the sets he used to beat a hasty retreat to his makeup room and switch on the cassettes to listen to the Acharya’s teachings in the air conditioned comfort of his makeup room. When he had embraced Rajneesh Acharya Osho in the late 70’s , at every party, Vinod could be seen in his by now patented saffron colored robes with the rudraksh dangling around his neck with the Bhagwan Rajneesh pendant. With a cigarette in one hand, a glass of whisky on the other and his charismatic smile, Vinod always used to be the life of every party that he chose to attend. Once I remember Vinod Khanna had a difference of opinion with Aruna Raje when he was shooting for her film Rihaee at Famous Studios way back in 1988 when I had landed on the sets to interview Vinod Khanna. In those good old days, we journalists used to walk in and out of the sets whenever we wanted to interview any star and one did not have to fix the appointment in advance or wriggle one’s way through to the star via secretaries and PR guys and ahem even bodyguards. I was aghast when I met Vinod at his makeup room sitting with a glass of scotch. It was only 6 pm and the shooting had halted, because Vinod did not want to shoot for Aruna if he was not convinced of the scene. Aruna Raje pleaded with me to convince Vinod Khanna to resume the shooting since a lot of money was at stake on the film. Vinod agreed to shoot provided I joined him for drinks after the pack up. I agreed and Vinod competed the shooting for the day intact and we resumed the drinks in his makeup room till midnight. The last time I had a drink with Vinod Khanna was to celebrate his having been bestowed with the coveted award for Lifetime Achievement at the prestigious Pune International Film festival by Dr Jabbar Patel the director of the festival. Vinod Khanna who had come to receive the award along with his wife Kavita went in posing for photos with all his fans as well as admirers at the after party where Vinod and I preferred to sit in a corner and while Vinod had a glass of wine, I opted to sip beer. The gentle side of Vinod Khanna was evident to me when he confessed to me that on the sets of Feroz Khan’s Dayawaan , he could not say No to Feroz when he asked him to plant his lip on newcomer Madhuri Dixit’s stealthily when the shot was taken without her knowledge to infuse a sense of realistic touch to the scene, as Vinod was meeting her in a brothel. Though he did apologize to the bewildered Madhuri profusely again and again, Vinod could not forgive himself for his ‘daredevilry’ though it was part of his duty as an actor. Vinod Khanna may not be alive today but while we pray for his soul to rest in peace up above there, we cannot forget his splendid performances in films like Mere Apne, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Qurbani, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Inkaar, Amar Akbar Athony, Khoon Paseena, Chandni etc. Had I known that I would not be able to meet Vindo Khanna after the last time when I met him on the sets of Ek Thi Rani Aisii Bhi where I had gone to act as Sardar Vallabh Patel’s secretary (sadly the scene was cut out of the film as it had turned out to be inordinately long), I would have chased him whenever he used to retire to his makeup room and spent some time with him, as I had absolutely no idea at all that he was battling with the deadly cancer then.