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Blast from the past: Vinod Khanna at Rajneesh’s Oregon commune in the 1980s

Photojournalist Jay Ullal knew the actor during his Rajneesh phase, and remembers him as being a member of the godman’s inner circle.

Veteran photojournalist Jay Ullal, who worked with the German magazine Stern for three decades, was a close friend of Vinod Khanna. The Hindi movie star died in Mumbai on April 27 from cancer of the bladder. He was 70.

Ullal was among the few journalists to have met Khanna when he was at the godman Rajneesh’s commune in Oregon in the 1980s. The photographs from that period are locked away in the Stern archives.

The Rajneesh period is one of the most intriguing and least documented phases of the movie star’s life. Khanna gave up his career in 1982 to follow in Rajneesh’s footsteps, and left behind his first wife Geetanjali and his sons Rahul and Akshaye to become a devotee of the controversial cult leader at the Rajneeshpuram commune. Rajneesh was deported in 1985, and he moved back to his original ashram in Pune. In 1987, Khanna returned to the movies.

Vinod Khanna and his first wife Geetanjali in Hamburg in August 1973. Photograph by Jay Ullal.
Vinod Khanna and his first wife Geetanjali in Hamburg in August 1973. Photograph by Jay Ullal.

The photo above is from a visit to Hamburg in Germany. “My wife Rajni and I were personal friends of Vinod Khanna, who visited us in Hamburg in August 1973 with his first wife Geetanjali and stayed a couple of days with us in our unfinished home,” Ullal told Scroll.in. “After a few years, when I was doing a story for the Stern German weekly magazine at the Rajneesh ashram in Poona, I met him a couple of times. I also photographed him and thereafter in Oregon Rajneeshpuram.”

Khanna was a gardener at Rajneeshpuram, Ullal said. “He was one of the inner circle of Bhagwan Rajneesh,” the photojournalist said. “I was thrice in Oregon and always met Vinod and he always very friendly and charming.” Khanna had a “wonderful smile always on his face”.

Ullal continued to meet Khanna during his visits to Mumbai. “His one comment on Bhagwan Rajneesh that I remember very well was, ‘Jay, Bhagwan is the only living god.’ And my reply was, ‘Vinod, you are the only enlightened living actor I know of.’”

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