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My earliest memory of Vinod is from the sets of Raj Khosla’s Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), where I was the third assistant, and he was making his debut as a villain – Jabbar Singh, not Gabbar Singh! At the very first shot of the film where Vinod dismounts a horse, kicks open a door, and draws his gun out, Raj Khosla said the prophetic words, “This guy will set this nation ablaze.” 

As an assistant who was entrusted to attend to actor’s needs, we became very close right from the beginning – even while he was a rising star, and I was a struggling nobody. When the opportunity came for me to direct a film, I knew who was going to be the lead actor in my film and it was a foregone conclusion in my head that Vinod would agree to star in it. 

After the death of his mother, he was devastated. Losing her just broke him. He wanted to know more about the mysteries of life. My film ‘MANZILEN AUR BHI HAIN’ was a total fl op then and no one was willing to give me any film. So we both were searching for solace in ‘Bhagwaan Rajneesh.’ Every weekend, Vinod and I would drive down to Osho’s ashram (in Pune) in his white Mercedes, meditate for hours, listen to the Godman’s discourse, read books on Sufism, Nanak, the Gita…

As an actor, Vinod immediately fit the demands of the times. He was extremely good-looking by the standards of the film industry. Women would swoon over his physique, charm, and charisma. Men would look up to him for the obvious machismo. He remained the only contender who could take on the might of Amitabh Bachchan, or perhaps even dethrone him in the ‘70s. This was the prevailing narrative. And this is why, if you notice, whenever Vinod did a film with Big B – Hera Pheri (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Khoon Pasina (1977), Parvarish (1977), Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978) – audiences instantly lapped it up. They were a delight to watch together. 

There was just something about him. Vinod was basically a man who celebrated life. His spiritual guru also encouraged sensual pursuits, and he thirsted for life’s answers. I’ll never forget the time he once called me over to meet him at Filmistaan Studio, Goregaon. I was no more Osho’s disciple – having figured that all I had received from the Godman were words; nothing had changed within me. Vinod was worried for me because the news of me flushing my Osho mala the commode had reached the Godman. He wanted to protect me from the wrath of ‘God’.

But soon he got done with all that and he said goodbye to that place for good. He did INSAAF which was a hit and then he did JURM with me. We were still friends then but not as close as we once were. Though he’d left the ashram for good, he still thought about what Rajneesh said to him all those years in the ashram. He later joined politics. His whole world had changed.

He called me, when he got sick. Told me that he’s okay. But I knew he wasn’t. He hadn’t quit drinking till the end. He would usually call me after drinking 2-3 pegs and we’d talk. But still we couldn’t be as good friends as we used to be. He was a superstar and action hero for the world, but for me he was an innocent, weak and fragile person.

Seeing the recent picture of him that came out sometime back shook me up. I figured, his days are numbered. Vinod, to me, is not the person I’ll remember from flickering images of the silver screen. He touched my life, and changed its course. People don’t cease to exist because they die. They continue to breathe within you. As Vinod will – until I die.

– As told by Mahesh Bhatt



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