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The original one

Anuj Kumar
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Chat Meet Mahender Sandhu, the Agent Vinod many of us have forgotten. Anuj Kumar

Gunmaster!Mahender Sandhu in “Khoon Khoon”.
Gunmaster!Mahender Sandhu in “Khoon Khoon”.

Fresh from FTII, a Punjabi lad was lapped up by the media as the Indian answer to Clint Eastwood. The year was 1972. As luck would have it his first film “Khoon Khoon” was a remake of Eastwood's “Dirty Harry”. In November 1972, Stardust described him as controlled, sensuous and overpoweringly masculine in an article “Swinger Sandhu hits the town” but six years later the magazine apologised for it took wood for Clint Eastwood. Some 20-odd films later Mahender Sandhu called it quits but two decades later Sandhu is once again in media's focus for “Agent Vinod”, the biggest film of his career, has got a new lease of life, courtesy Sriram Raghavan and Saif Ali Khan. “My phone is ringing consistently. Old acquaintances from Canada and the U.S. are calling up to ask, Oh! we thought you are no more.” That's show business and Sandhu has learnt its quirks the hard way. “I had everything, good looks, chiselled body, heavy voice and training from country's best institute but I could not handle the glamour world,” recounts Sandhu adding it is the stories of nobody's like him that add lustre to the success stories of stars.

“I come from a family of landlords in Patiala, where youngsters either went to farming or Army. I was different. I used to do plays with Harpal Tiwana and Balwant Gargi. They advised me to go to Bombay and take proper training from FTII. From tractor I jumped to become an actor! Jaya Bhaduri was my senior and Asha Sachdev (his co-star in “Agent Vinod”) was my batch mate. I started getting offers in the final year itself. There was no struggle period. I signed “Khoon Khoon” (opposite Rekha). People believe that plagiarism is a new thing but you won't believe that 20{+t}{+h}Century Fox sued the producers of “Khoon Khoon” in 1973 for copying “Dirty Harry”. The film had to be taken off theatres for a few days till the issue was resolved. It hit the prospects of the film.”

One dimensional

Like the media, Sandhu also always talks about his action thrillers. Why doesn't he share details about Sudhendu Roy's “Sweekar”, which was also released in the same year and projected him as a philosopher? “I signed ‘Khoon Khoon' and ‘Sweekar' simultaneously but the latter faired very badly. Also having grown up with guns in a sporty atmosphere, I wanted to live my real life on reel.” His attitude didn't endear him to many. “At 67, I shouldn't lie to myself. It was not just luck; I also hurt my prospects as I couldn't come to terms to the ways of an industry which is divided into camps. I never went asking for roles. I expected producers to come to my house. I said no to play second lead. I would ask what he has got that I haven't. I said no to negative roles. I believed nobody can hit me. Now I can say it was a childish attitude but at that time I was more interested in riding horses and car chases. In fact when once somebody asked me, why I don't shoot in Srinagar, I said Srinagar is for Rajesh Khanna and Shammi Kapoor, Sandhu shoots in Chambal. As a result I ended up becoming poor man's Dharmendra. When I look back, I feel I should have shown more variety,” reflects Sandhu who happens to be the son-in-law of Surendra Nath. Yes, the singing star of “Anmol Ghadi”, who was once the favourite of Mehboob Khan. “He also didn't get his due,” he says wistfully. Today Sandhu is doing well in his real estate business. “I have come to a conclusion that I know the smell of soil better than the smell of celluloid.”

On Agent Vinod

“Agent Vinod” was Sandhu's ninth film and it was the second time he was playing a character called Vinod. He earlier did it in “Videsh”, where he played CBI inspector Vinod. “Rajshri Productions was known for their small budget socials. It was an experiment for them as perhaps for the first time they were making an expensive film. I was expected to play an Indian James Bond. They promised director Deepak Bahry to turn it into a franchise but they didn't keep their promise despite the fact that the film did good business. It was a hit in Bombay and for the rest of my life I became Agent Vinod. Even now once in a month I find somebody addressing me as Agent Vinod. Mostly it is the policemen who recognise me!” says Sandhu. Hope he doesn't lose his status this Friday!


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