Vinod Khanna was a Libra, an Air sign. This air sign is about balance; a balance between intellect and socialising, a corridor of convenience between glamour and renunciation. What could have driven him to Acharya Rajneesh’s mystique, I wondered. Why would such a popular and successful hero of Indian cinema, loved both by the masses (Muqaddar Ka Sikander, Amar Akbar Anthony, Hera Pheri) and classes (Mere Apne, Imtehaan, Dayavaan), leave every material belonging behind and become a hermit? Was there a recluse inside the skin of fame? Did the line of Filmfare ladies (trophies) with Best Supporting Actor against his name depress him?
Such questions are hypothetical. My conjecture about Khanna’s joining a cult, that of Osho’s, at the peak of his career is a hypothesis as well.
What was his calibre as an actor? If awards are the measures, it was modest. He didn’t choose his roles from an extensive repertoire. Even his good friend, Mahesh Bhatt, made only potboilers (Lahoo ke do rang) with him. When Bhatt graduated to cinema for intellect, he chose Raj Kiran or Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Arth) and not Khanna.
Cinema had become just a subsistence medium for him, a vehicle to ride him through the whistling admirers.
Vinod’s father had vowed to shoot him dead if he joined films. His mother was said to have convinced the patriarch. The story is very filmi, maybe modified by the actor to keep his ‘origin story’ romantic, but it at least indicates that he didn’t enjoy a paternal canopy over him, to guard him from the rains and the sunshine. Osho, perhaps, filled that role.
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Talking to Simi Garewal in her TV show ‘Rendezvous’, Khanna explained why he joined the commune ‘in the quest to find his inner self’.
“My mind made me do that. My mind was hyper, my thoughts were all over the place. I was very angry as I had reached a saturation point… When I would meditate, I realised I could master my mind…”
“These things drove me to say – I’ve given enough films, I have given enough time, made enough money… now I need to give myself completely to meditation and be with my guru.”
The Acharya was an enchanter, and of course, an opportunist. His commune in Pune was under fire from the local authorities and the citizens. Complaints were few, rumours were many, about his amoral association and liberated libido. He needed credence to survive. He needed money to expand and connections to wriggle out of the legal troubles. His charm had transcended from the descendants of the Western hippies to the quintessential mavericks of Hindi cinema in neighbouring Mumbai. Wealth, connections and credibility followed such disciples. Vijay Anand, Mahesh Bhatt and Vinod Khanna lent star power, and respectability, to the Acharya’s cavalcade.
It might not have been hard for a seasoned preacher and popular charmer to seduce a roaming and saturated mind. They complemented each other in their need, their paths overlapped and they stayed with each other for 5 years from 1982.
Osho ran into trouble with the law again in Oregon, USA where Khanna was living as well. Vinod had lost his family, films and followers.
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Osho asked him to take charge of the Pune commune. Possibly he had run out of funds, or of patience, or libido for a life abandoned to decadence. Disenchanted by now, Khanna refused. A totalitarian, Osho didn’t take this refusal kindly. They parted ways.
The truth-seeking sojourn of this handsome, successful Bollywood film artiste came to an end. He returned to Mumbai and was welcomed back with open arms.