Times news network (July 11, 2002)

''Imagine Hugh Grant trading places with Gordon Brown in Tony Blair's Cabinet'', I volunteered. The BBC man sitting next to me at the Rotisserie raised his eyebrows, shook his head in disbelief and shrugged. ''Is that what all the fuss is about?'' he asked. The reference was to banner headlines in Delhi, announcing last week's dramatic reshuffle.

The veteran journo from London was puzzled and amused. As amused as we might have been with the induction of Anthony Hopkins into George Bush's administration (Hopkins is officially ''American'' now). That's how the world responds to movie stars joining politics...

It's one thing for actors to play cheerleaders at political rallies (who better than they for the job?). Quite another when they overreach them selves and actually make it as ministers. Unfair? Prejudiced? Silly? Of course. But who can challenge public perception? When I spoke to Sharayu Daftary (Vinod Khanna's mother-in-Law) the morning of the seshuffle,it was still too early in the day (10.30 am ) and the call wasn't about Vinod, anyway. But she could barely conceal her excitement as she blurted out the news. ''He got a call from L K Advani early this morning. Advaniji told him,''just come to Delhi are being swom in at 5 pm''

I was delighted and promptly congratulated her. But Sharayu was understandably cautious when she said, ''You know how it is in Delhi...anything can hoppen between now and 5pm. Let's wait for the official announcement''

So,I waited...and watched Vinod Khanna being swom in that evening. My vision blurred (a little). And my heart leapt (a lot). 'Good for you', I said to countless old images flashed past...a rapid rewind of an entire era. Then,a quick cut to the present Vinod Khanna mantriji?? Why ever not?? He has worked hard to get there. Very hard. Earned his berth. And grown into the role. He may not know all his lines yet. He may need several retakes before Jagmohan says, 'Cut'. But one thing's for sure. Vinod won't be waiting around for anyone to yell,'Action' from now on

I have known the MP from Gurdaspur from way back when his first wife, Gitanjali ,was the college beauty who swept the rugged Vinod off his feet. The marriage surprised us all. Gitanjali was (and remains) a low-key, reserved person who loathed the limelight and sensibly atayed miles away from the film industry. Vinod, on the other hand,was an outgoing,gregarious,and treguently garrulous guy who loved to party,preferably 24/7.Nobody was surprised when Vinod and Gitanjali decided to go their separate ways.And nobody was surprised either, when Vinod drifted Osho-wards.

I met him in Pune at the time he was a gardener in the Ashram. I was with Smita Patil, driving around in a battered jeep. She seemed fragile,confused and madly in love. Vinod? He couldn't stop talking about the tomatoes he was growing organically. He spoke as passionately about hydrophonic farming as he did about his guru's teachings. Dressed in a flowing caftan, Vinod cut quite a figure in the Ashram. This matinee idol baggage was nowhere in evidence. Clearly, he had recast himself in a new mould,rewritten the script and reinvented himself in a role of his choice - that of a sexy sanyasi. It suited him hugely.

But more, much more, than any robes he might have donned or any lines he may have thrown, that I admired in him then was the courage of his convictions - right or wrong. The fact that he could walk away from a highly successful career when he was at its peak, without as much as a backward glance, said a lot about his belief - in himself, and the new life he'd chosen. Critics insisted it also said a about his irresponsibility as a father and provider. Be that as it may,the point is, he was willing to take his chances. And he did. Some called him selfish. Intensely selfish. I prefer to think he was lost and seeking. He's doing that again. Seeking. In his latest avatar as a neta. Though, one thing cannot be doubted or questioned - his sincerity. Naive he may be (who else would glibly promise to convert Gurdaspur into the "Paris of India"?), but fake he is not. He has seen a lot, done it all and gone back for more.

Today, he's obviously at a stage in his life when he can wield the megaphone for himself and assume complete creative control.

His kids are fine. His present wife, Kavita, is nothing if not his biggest asset. His sights are set. So are his targets. As minister of state for tourism and culture, Vinod Khanna could so easily become the "face" of contemporary India. I'm okay with that. How about you? Meanwhile,Hugh here's your cue. Go for it, Grant All is forgiven. Even the Divine Brown incident.


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