Vinod Khanna: masculinity so adaptable

[I wanted to make this really well researched and carefully thought out, but each time I try, I just fall down a hole of youtube links and sadness. So it's going to be emotional and personal instead. Vinod Khanna is my first experience with the death of a film star death whose work I really care about. When Feroz Khan died, I had yet to learn how great he is, and Rajesh Khanna still has no particular pull for me.]

I don't know if Vinod Khanna was the first major star to move from hero to villain so quickly and easily, but I think that switching gave his persona a fluidity that meant he fit into a lot of different roles easily. Somewhere in each of them (or at least the ones I've seen), there is a core of rooted, concentrated, secure reliability. He seems so grounded to me, in a way that is confident without being bombastic. Sometimes that comes in a very physical form, which Khanna projects so easily, thanks to his height and build. Sometimes it is very emotional, stemming out of whatever big identity reveal or catharsis of love the masala formula had laid out. His strength is as believable in badge-backed khakis as it is in the plaid bell-bottoms of a gold smuggler or smeared with a black tilak and blood of the innocents. He is a protector, someone who fights for something, rather than a willy-nilly basher-up.

In the palette of fillum masculinity circa 1980 that ranges from petulant man-child to aggressive, absurd machismo to ideals-based philosophizing to starry-eyed lover, he tapped into points in between in different ways depending on the role and film, always believably. When he (or the director) chooses, he's as soulful as Amitabh Bachchan, as swaggering as Feroz Khan, as twinkly-eyed charming as Shashi Kapoor, and as come-hither as Dharmendra.

Esteemed friend Jai Arjun Singh says he thinks Vinod was a little bland in his positive roles, but I have to disagree. Like Shashi, he is a good actor who knows how and why to refrain from hogging. And also like Shashi, it's hugely unfortunate that his most famous role is a cop with little to work with beyond goody-goodyness (Deewaar and Amar Akbar Anthony, both films that I resent for their mis-use of my favorite people). But even in a role like stodgy, flat Amar, can you imagine anyone else blinding suspects with interrogation room lamps with a snap of his fingers or flipping Bachchan head over teakettle from a handshake? I can't.

I want to posit that, simply put, if you are attracted to men, Vinod Khanna will never be bland, because he is sex on two feet. It's not just that he's utterly tall, dark, and handsome with melty brown eyes and a beautiful smile—which he absolutely is—or the sort of believably strong-looking form that comes from doing actual work rather than spending hours at the gym for vanity, or that he can be very funny without a stitch of the ridiculous about him. He's all these things without being too much of any of them. I can't really explain it, but he inspires more * fans self * than any other star. If you, put your finger on it more articulately, please do so in the comments.

A hero (and villain) who rarely resorts to heroics. Very, very missed already.

My list* of essential Vinod Khanna films:
All of my Vinod Khanna-related posts are at this link (along with those on Rahul and Akshaye). And here is a Filmfare article on his decision to leave the film industry in 1978.

* Not yours, so please do not tell me what you think I forgot.


Unknown said…
Thanks. I feel the same. While I appreciated Jabberwock's views, to me, too, Khanna and Shashi can never, ever be bland. In fact, to me they are so much more watchable than Bachchan because the ongoing, 6 decade worship of Bachchan has gotten tiresome to the extent that it interferes with my viewing of his past and present work. I think he is great and competent but I do not think he was the only one from that era. In fact, Shashi, Vinod Khanna, Dharam were really just as great from that period and in those type of films. Vinod K's passing feels like a eprsonal loss to me too, may e because i also happen to love his two boys. Such charmers and so mercifully wary of being in the spotlight unlike other star kids and celebs. Thanks againg, and Mr. K, rest in peace now and forever.
MMG - Thank you!

Sev - Well said about the Bachchan worship. It's not (solely) his fault but it does get wearisome, and I absolutely agree that he has unfairly overshadowed many great actors of his same generation. I think part of this phenomenon is that it seems to me that Bachchan is the star that _men_ like most (probably in some sort of wish fulfillment of themselves as the angry and effective rebels), so his work has had more attention and he was more consistently sought after for decades.
Unknown said…
What a heart-felt piece. the last time I felt so emotional about an actor's passing away was when Premnath sahab breathed his last (and that was last century!) I have been on a watching-his-movies spree and can't get over his dashing personality and an almost-effortless style of acting (which I'd never call bland as (with all due regards) Jai Arjun saab has done.

Too much is made of Bachchan. He is good but I have never watched a movie only for his sake.
Unknown said…
Hi Beth,
I love reading your movie reviews. Since you are a fan of Vinod Khanna, I would like to recommend Lekin, one of my all time favorite VK movie. I would love to read your views on the movie.

Dimple Kapadia stars in the movie , playing the beautiful ghost who doesn't want to die but is too afraid to live and is lost in the realm between life and death. The movie is about people building walls of grief around them and are unable to move ahead while time goes ahead, leaving them stuck in the past. Vinod Khanna plays the man who saves her and helps her cross the dimension that she is trapped in.
A man with his unconditional love healing a woman of all her griefs of the past and helping her move ahead and live a full life??
I would love to hear how you read the movie.

This is a loose adaptation of a Rabindranath Tagore story directed by GUlzar.
The movie was released in the 90's and I can find very few in depth discussions or reviews on the movie in the net.
Please watch it if you haven't already and do a review.
The beautiful rajasthani deserts, melancholic songs composed by Hridaynath Mangeshkar all come together perfectly in the movie.
There is so much gloominess and wistfulness in the movie and is very haunting. As soon as I heard VK had passed away, this was the one movie I re-watched.
Prateek said…
Great Post... Loved it !!!! Keep it up :)
neer said…
"I wanted to make this really well researched and carefully thought out, but each time I try, I just fall down a hole of youtube links and sadness. So it's going to be emotional and personal instead."

I know exactly how you feel. Since his passing away, I too have been grappling with a sense of loss. Your tribute comes straight from the heart. I haven't seen half of the films you have mentioned in your list and so am keen to watch them.

Here's my list of my favourite VK movies, if you are interested:

neer said…
In my second post on Vinod, I've provided a link to this post of yours.If you'd rather not have it, let me know and I'll remove the link. Here's the link to my post:
Kartik said…
A wonderfully heartfelt post but I was disappointed to see some of the feedback becoming a rant about Bachchan. Each of these guys is a superstar and I think to compare among them is pointless. This post is homage to VK's magnificence - why bring in negativity by discussing the inferiority or otherwise of his contemporaries? They are great too.
Unknown said…
Kartik: I understand your point but have you seen some of the 'tributes' written for VK? Instead of talking about him, they are more like a homage to Bachchan and how Vinod never could stand in front of him! What you call a rant is nothing compared to that disrespect shown to a dead man. As Beth has pointed out, this Bachchan worship does get wearisome.

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