Comparisons are odious and, owing to the lack of impartial objectivity it brings in its wake, often impractical and inadequate. Imagine the countless hours we, argumentative and opinionated Indians that we are, have wasted in Tendulkar-vs.-Dravid, Tendulkar-vs.-Lara, Uttam Kumar-vs.-Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay-vs.-Manna Dey, East Bengal-vs.-Mohun Bagan, Kishore Kumar-vs.-Md. Rafi, Messi-vs.-Ronaldo, RD Burman-vs.-SD Burman-vs.-Salil Chowdhury, and Amitabh Bachchan-vs.-Rajesh Khanna debates, which more often than not have escalated into heated debates, raging arguments, and even fisticuffs, leading to ruptured bones and friendships.
Yet comparisons are often useful—they help to highlight the contributions of a person to his sphere of work and his immediate environment, helping the inhabitants and patrons of that universe to understand his importance and influence by juxtaposing his body of work against other, equal or greater influencers of the era.
And in Vinod Khanna’s case, no discussion on him can be complete without putting across the table the man who many felt could have had a tougher time at the stardom sweepstakes if it had not been for VK’s sudden sabbatical from films: Amitabh Bachchan.
VK is the one star-actor who has constantly and consistently been compared with Amitabh Bachchan. Of course, Bachchan being a far better actor was always destined to leave everyone behind and move light years ahead of all competition, but the parallels have refused to be erased and the comparisons have persisted: “What if VK had not taken that sabbatical?”
But for a change, we won’t be looking at a comparative study of the two star-actors in this article, but at some interesting ‘connections’ from the POV of trivia-loving admirers instead. So, read on.
The Sunil Dutt Connection on Debut
VK and Bachchan did several films together in the 1970s, from RESHMA AUR SHERA in 1971 to MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR in 1978, the latter being the second-biggest hit of the 70s after SHOLAY (1975). But did you know that the debut films of both actors have a strong Sunil Dutt connection?
Yes, that’s correct. Directly (for VK) and indirectly (for AB), Sunil Dutt had a hand to play behind the debuts of both VK and AB. VK's debut film Man Ka Meet (1968) was produced by Dutt, while Bachchan landed His first film SAAT HINDUSTANI (1969) on the strength of, among other things, a letter of recommendation written by Dutt's wife Nargis Dutt.
When his rugged good looks cost VK a Salim-Javed film...
When Dev Anand's assistant Yash Johar decided to move out of Navketan Films and launch his own production house, he did so with DOSTANA circa 1977-78. Armed with a Salim-Javed script, Johar signed S-J's blue-eyed boy Amitabh Bachchan, along with Zeenat Aman and VK for the triangular love story, an unusual topic for S-J. To direct the film, Johar got on board Raj Khosla, director of blockbusters like Do Raaste (1969) and Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971). One of the biggest hits of its time, MGMD had featured VK in a career-defining role—as Daku Jabbar Singh—and had also served as one of the prime influences behind SHOLAY.
During the shooting of MGMD, VK and Khosla had struck up a friendship that led to the duo collaborating on four more films over the next few years—Kuchhe Dhaage (1973), Prem Kahani (1975), Nehle Pe Dehlaa (1976), and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978)—so VK was eagerly looking forward to Khosla helming DOSTANA.
The moment Khosla heard the film’s story, he said: “Vinod can't do this film. He will have to go out.” Everyone was stunned! Khosla, one of VK's good friends and favourite directors was talking about chucking VK out of the film! Yash Johar and Salim-Javed tried to explain to Khosla that the actor had already been locked in for the film and had even started prepping for it. The AB-VK combo was a casting coup that had proved astronomically successful in the past few years and financiers and audiences were willing to shell out moonh-maangi keemat for a film starring the two actors, but Khosla was adamant.
Finally, after a lot of arguments, Khosla revealed why he didn't want his good friend in the film: “What is the story of the film? Sheetal (Aman) leaves Ravi (to be played by VK) and goes to Vijay (Bachchan), right? Do you think any woman in her right mind would be able to refuse a man as good-looking as VK? When I, a man, cannot take my eyes off him, how can a woman resist him?”
Johar and S-J gave in to this very valid reasoning and VK was replaced by Shatrughan Sinha. A better choice, many believe: thanks to the scorching AB-Shotgun chemistry, fuelled largely by the real-life friction of egos affecting the former friends, DOSTANA went on to become one of the biggest hits of 1980, with Sinha as Ravi delivering a towering performance that matched The Mighty Bachchan step for step.
Unfortunately for VK, he lost out on the opportunity to work with S-J after the 1974 hit Haath Ki Safai (Sauda, another film released in the same year, was based on a story by S-J, but the writer duo had their names officially removed from the credits when the makers of the film made unauthorized changes to the script).
Incidentally, 1980 saw the release of another mammoth hit. Like DOSTANA, this one too was a triangular love story, featuring two macho hunks as friends and the divinely delicious Zeenat Aman as the woman caught between them. VK played the sacrificing friend with aplomb and earned himself a Best Actor nod at Filmfare. But interestingly, this role had been offered to Bachchan first. The film? The humongously successful cult classic: Qurbani.
Rajput and the Rajesh Khanna Effect
Director Vijay Anand had signed AB and Dharmendra for two multi-starrers, which were to be shot simultaneously: RAM BALRAM (1980) and Rajput (1982). In Rajput, AB was supposed to play Manu’s (Dharmendra) younger brother Bhanu; the role of Bhanu/Bhavani in the film had been written specifically for him. AB agreed to do both films, but on one condition: He requested Vijay Anand to replace Rajesh Khanna in Rajput with another actor. His unwillingness to work with Kaka stemmed from the ill treatment He had suffered at the latter’s hands many years ago while working with him in director Hrishikesh Mukherjee's ANAND (1971) and NAMAK HARAAM (1973). Vijay Anand refused, saying that only Kaka could do justice to the character of Dhiren. Consequently, AB gracefully bowed out of Rajput and VK was roped in to replace Him.
Father to the Friend’s Son
VK played adoptive father to AB's son Abhishek in Players (2012), while AB played VK's son Akshaye's father in DEEWAAR (2004). This is the only instance of AB sharing a reciprocal on-screen relationship with a contemporary actor and their respective sons.
Seriously, where has all the colour and excitement from Bollywood gone?
Have a safe journey, VK.