‘Vinod Khanna was a restless sort of a spirit’

We caught the filmmaker-writer-lyricist, Gulzar who brought out the best in Vinod Khanna, minutes before he left to attend the actor’s cremation

I have done a lot of work with him, right from the start. I cast him in Mere Apne, a little after Man Ka Meet. It was his first film as a hero. We became good friends. He even did a very small role in Parichay just so that we could be together on the sets. We met a while after shooting Mere Apne and he asked me what I was doing. “Hum kab shooting kar rahe hain?” he said. I told him there wasn’t even a guest role that I had, just a nominal appearance as Jeetu’s [Jeetendra] friend. “I will come,” he said, “Just tell me the dates.” I adjusted the dates to suit him. Thereafter we regularly worked together. I did Achanak, Lekin, Meera with him. It became a long association.

It was [during] the Achanak shoot that we started calling each other MD. MD became a common name between [producer] Romu Sippy, Vinod, myself and even Shatru (Shatrughan Sinha). People used to wonder what MD was. We never disclosed that to anyone. It became a nice mystery. Farida [Jalal] used to get quite upset: “Ye MD kya hota hai?” I told her “My dear you will have to find out.” MD was actually My Dear. Even now when we would meet we used to address each other as MD. We met a number of times at the airports. When I heard a call from behind—“MD”—I would know it’s him.

The most interesting phase was while doing Meera with him. That was time he was passing through an emotional turmoil. He wanted to leave the industry and go away with Osho. I remember him explaining it to me once: “I can’t but I wish I could play Meera because I can identify with her.” He was in that spiritual phase. He said he was in love with his God, “I just want to be his gardener and nothing more.” It was exactly the same devotion that Meera had for Krishna.

He had requested everybody to finish the work within a month. There was one Mr Balraj Tah and his film called Jallianwala Bagh, which was originally called Udham Singh. He had gone through a lot of problems. Balraj Sahni was supposed to play a role in his film, he expired. He then took Om Shivpuri. Parikshit [Sahni] left the film, the role for which he requested Vinod Khanna. Shabana [Azmi] left the film. Deepti Naval came in. He somehow collected Rs 80,000 and came to Vinod saying that he had nothing more, he only wanted the shoot to get over. With a smile Vinod put the money back in his hands and asked him to use it for finishing the shoot. I have seen him giving this daan (charity), I have seen the spiritual side of him. He used to tell me how people asked him “you are number one why are you leaving”. And he said number one for what? These calculations looked meaningless to him. And I could see the glow on his face when he said this. The Osho in him. A producer asked him if he was sure he wasn’t coming back. He said so what if he would, he wouldn’t ask him for work. He felt it was all marketing going on [in the industry] and he was right.

He came back and I was getting ready with a film called Lekin. He asked me if there was a role for him. I told that only the main role was left. We—Vinod, producer Hridaynath Mangeshkar and I—met here in this house, upstairs in the bedroom. He said he wasn’t quoting any price, just asked Hridaynath to tell him what he had, when he would pay and give him the schedule. He was doing the film. These kind of things have vanished somewhere. I long for them now. Now I have to weigh people: “Tol ke baat karni pad rahi hai.” His [Vinod] kind of people are missing.

It was the human being in him that was so great and he was accepted back [in the industry] because of that. Look at the variety of roles he did. What all didn’t he do? It doesn’t come from any practice. It was all about becoming different human beings and you can play different kinds of human beings only with having experienced life. If you know life it will give you many variations of living. He knew life so well, so intimately. I don’t see him as a poster or a picture. I see the human being in him.

He then slowly got into politics. Par us se bhi oob gaya tha wo. He was a restless sort of a spirit. However, amongst all the actors who have gone into politics, I find two people who have been devoted. One was Sunil Dutt and other was Vinod Khanna. Both were committed to their parties but I never heard them about the parties. They always talked about the people, what they were doing for the people. They spoke about the problems and the issues—these were more important for both of them.

He was very sweet, a real sweetheart. He was really my dear one. My MD is gone. I am feeling very upset.

As told to Namrata Joshi