Sincerely, one of my favorite things about the Indian film industry is how it handles death. America is terrible with death in general, we hardly like to even acknowledge it, and we never let it interfere with “business”. But Indian film (and maybe India in general, it’s outside my area) treats it with the respect it deserves. And so when a great figure goes, the effect isn’t limited to tweets and articles in the newspaper, it has reverberations beyond that.
In Hollywood film, we also lost a great figure recently, the director Jonathan Demme. Various memes were tweeted and statements issued, but mostly life went on.
In India, Vinod Khanna has died, one of the major figures of the 1970s. But not THE major figure, and not someone who has been relevant for the past several years. And yet, the industry has shut down. Just like a family would when one of their major figures passes away.
There are phases to a death in Indian film, regular and predictable. The initial shocked reactions as the news spread, including stories coming out of the unsung gestures and kindnesses that were kept private out of respect until now. The slow movement of industry figures to visit the grieving family and pay their respects. The official death ceremony, at which we will learn how important this figure really is based on who all shows up (this time, I am guessing Vinod will get the honor of attendance by Shashi Kapoor himself, not just Ranbir and Rishi. And possibly even Dilip Kumar himself). And finally, the series of films coming out with a respectful dedication placed. Right now, we are still in the shocked reaction phase, with the nice stories being told of his memory. But I look forward to a series of candid photos of all 3 Khans, along with other major figures, slowly making their way to Vinod’s house. And months from now, I think we can be fairly sure that Akshaye Khanna’s next major release, Mom, will have a Vinod dedication plaque in front.
The first and biggest reaction is that the Baahubali 2 premiere has been canceled. This is not a day anyone who would attend, reporters or stars or producers or anyone else involved with the industry, will be in the mood to celebrate.
The next biggest reaction was from Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh always responds to every death, he seems to see it as his duty as the leading figure of Indian film. But this one in particular, this is a star who was also a friend and co-worker. Reportedly, he received the news while in the middle of an interview, and excused himself, to immediately leave for Vinod’s house and be with the family until further notice.
Amitabh is the most important, always, but he is not the only star of the olden days who has responded. Saira Banu released a lengthy statement describing how supportive and kind Vinod always was to her. Saira, obviously representing not just herself but her husband Dilip, no longer healthy enough to speak for himself, but the oldest living icon of Indian film. In the same way, Akshay Kumar’s condolences represent not just himself, but by extension his deceased father-in-law Rajesh Khanna and mother-in-law Dimple Kapadia.
Rishi Kapoor not only put out a series of tweets, he changed his profile picture in Vinod’s honor. And made me tear up a little. Old men missing old friends just gets me somehow (by the way, I also learned today that the another member of my Grandpa’s WWII flight crew just died, making him the only one left).