Vinod Khanna: The ‘Number 2’ who was nothing short of numero uno of the 1970s

Many aver that if the Salieri to Bachchan’s Mozart hadn’t quit films the history of Hindi cinema and most certainly, Amitabh Bachchan’s own fate, would have turned out differently. (Photo: Express Archive)
In the 1970s, when Amitabh Bachchan – having replaced Rajesh Khanna, to become the undisputed king of box-office – was the ultimate crowd-pleaser, the kitschy multi-starrers and two-hero films also allowed stars like Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha to flourish and make a unique name for themselves. What we know, and can be cherished, is the memories Vinod Khanna has left behind. One wonders what made him think of Khanna, who in the coming years would amass a following among audiences as a sexy beast, as your average anti-hero? (Photo: Express Archive)
Male friendship and brotherhood were at the heart of their success. This man was as heroic and leading-man material as Amitabh Bachchan himself, equally larger than life and a linchpin of memorable 1970s masala hits. (Photo: Express Archive)
The friendship between Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan was rare and unique to have survived innumerable ups and downs, fame and failures. Dutt had cast the handsome Khanna as an antagonist in Man Ka Meet, a launchpad for his brother Som Dutt as a leading man. The future stars had met at Sunil Dutt’s Ajanta Arts in 1969. (Who would have thought?) Many critics have interpreted Khanna’s much-feared Jabbar Singh as a precursor to the terror-striking Gabbar Singh, Amjad Khan’s iconic turn as a sadistic spaghetti Western baddie in Sholay (1975). Save for Rishi Kapoor, all these stalwarts were epitomes of rugged masculinity. Last year, in a rare appearance with Rishi Kapoor to promote 102 Not Out, Bachchan recalled the madness of Manmohan Desai, his brain-twisting plots and his suspension of disbelief formula. Be it Hera Pheri, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Amar Akbar Anthony or Parvarish, Khanna and Bachchan were an invincible duo who, between them, share some of the 1970s’ finest cinematic moments. Seeing their interviews today, as they recollect the heyday, you get a feeling that beneath the healthy rivalry there was a layer of warm friendship that helped lit up their best-known hits. As the elder brother, Amar smashes Anthony black and blue, but Anthony, later in the lock-up, brags that he at least managed to land “two solid shots” on the more powerful Amar. Number 2 or Numero Uno? PS: As a parting shot, it must be pointed out that, way before anyone did, the legendary Gulzar had captured the poetic gloom, machismo, deep reserves of anger and shy love that Khanna was capable of. Two years and a slew of anti-heroic roles later, Khanna made his first big splash with Raj Khosla’s Mera Gaon Mera Desh. The great Sunil Dutt, who was known for spotting a star when he saw one, indeed picked the right face in Khanna for Man Ka Meet but not necessarily in the right role. This man of urbane charm had been cast as a dacoit. However, no one can deny that Khanna was well-loved by the masses and often put up a tough fight to Bachchan. But there’s a twist – this being a typical Manmohan Desai film, where leap-of-faith rules supreme. And this being a 1970s Hindi film and one directed by the inimitable Prakash Mehra to boot, cut to Sikandar, all grown-up in the very next scene, riding a motorcycle into the heart of Bombay. Latest Videos


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“In the closing song from Amar Akbar Anthony, the heroes are singing, loudly calling themselves ‘Amar’, ‘Akbar’ and ‘Anthony’ but the villain doesn’t yet know that they are ‘Amar’, ‘Akbar’ and ‘Anthony’,” Bachchan said bemusedly, amidst thunderous applause and laughter. The 1970s was a decade of Amitabh Bachchan but also a decade of Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha and Rishi Kapoor. 0
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Vinod Khanna played a dacoit in Mera Goan Mera Desh. Khanna was dubbed the ‘Number 2’, with the top slot belonging to Bachchan. The film was Mere Apne, Gulzar’s powerful directorial debut, whose political content remains strikingly relevant (more so in this election season). He has already sacrificed his childhood love (Rakhee) to the more respectable Vishal. A pure gold of the lost-and-found genre, the madcap Amar Akbar Anthony is easily a film that every Indian has seen multiple times and probably knows its characters, songs and dialogue by heart. Spirituality came calling and ever-the-seeker, Khanna couldn’t resist. By the 1970s, the tide had turned for Khanna. How differently, we will never know. One of the most memorable scenes from AAA is when Amar, the honest police officer, locks horns with popular local bootlegger Anthony. Despite his smouldering good looks and the only voice that could match Bachchan’s, fame did not come instantly to Khanna. While Big B stayed on and had to slug it out in the 1980s before his infamous downfall with ABCL, the restless Khanna packed his bags and quit films (and family, friends, fame and success, not necessarily in that order) to join Osho. Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978) opens with Kader Khan as a fakir dispensing aphorisms to a young Sikandar (Amitabh Bachchan) about death, grief and misery that the impressionable kid makes his own when he grows up. Along the way, he meets a lawyer, Vishal (Vinod Khanna) and they strike a lifelong bond, until the film’s fateful climax when Sikandar dies in the arms of his best friend. Although the film belongs to Bachchan’s antics this scene belongs to Vinod Khanna. The sombre Amar is Khanna, the goofy Akbar Rishi Kapoor and the loveable rogue Anthony Gonsalves is Bachchan. Friends first
Vinod Khanna in Amar Akbar Anthony. They are blood brothers separated at birth, who grow up to follow different religions but reunite in a Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not climax singing and dancing like one big happy family. Now, he has embraced death, the “mehbooba” (beloved) he has always fancied. The duo appear as brothers in another classic Manmohan Desai hit. Advertising

In the musical Parvarish (1977), Bachchan and Khanna show up as brothers. The old friends go back to a time when they were strugglers sharing lunch, midnight drives to Juhu beach and sneaking out to hip discos in the anonymity of their youth.