Mahender Sandhu hasnt watched a Hindi film in over 25 years. He is,however,curious to watch Saif Ali Khans spy film Agent Vinod,which releases on March 23. Reason: his association with the 1977 film by the same name. For all those who grew up in the 70s and 80s,Sandhus antics as the spy arent hard to recall. Famous for his gun-wielding,goon-chasing act in the original Agent Vinod,he was Bollywoods answer to James Bond for a long time. Those were the days, reminisces Sandhu,adding,Everywhere I went hotels,airports and abroad people called me Agent Vinod.
Today,Sandhu does not hobnob with industry folks,nor does he have any friends in the fraternity. He even declined a role in the upcoming Agent Vinod,offered to him by its director Sriram Raghavan. Though a forgotten hero,Sandhu leads a contented life as a successful builder. He divides his time between Boisar,located on the outskirts of Mumbai,and Punjab. I make bungalows and row houses in Boisar. In Punjab also,I construct bungalows, says Sandhu. His wife even runs an art gallery in Boisar.
His glorious days in Bollywood may be over but his swagger is intact. When we meet him at his Yari Road flat in Mumbai,he sportingly agreed to click photographs,which would be reminiscent of his Agent Vinod days. He admits to not have given an interview in years. Yet,Sandhu is at ease talking about his days in the industry.
Punjab-born Sandhu moved to Mumbai with a degree in acting from Film and Television Institute of India,Pune. Since he came from a wealthy family,he did not have to lead a strugglers life. I rented a place in Mumbai and bought a car, he states. He was against doing negative or supporting roles in films or approaching producers for work. So I did not enjoy much box-office success despite an impressive debut in Khoon Khoon,a remake of Dirty Harry, admits the 67-year-old actor,who has acted in around 20 films.
His career picked up when the late Tarachand Barjatya spotted him in Shibu Mitras Khoon Ki Keemat,in which he played a double role. He offered me a film called Alibaba. I refused it. After six months,he offered me Zorro,which I again refused. After Raaj Kumar had turned down the role of Agent Vinod,Barjatya again got in touch with Sandhu. This time,I immediately signed the film, recalls Sandhu. The producers promised him that if the movie clicked,they would create a franchise,just like the James Bond one. The film was a massive hit and Sandhu became an overnight star.
My most memorable part of the film were the punchlines and the gadgets the gun that fired backwards,the jacket with secret compartments and the escape with the help of the helium balloon, says Raghavan. Sandhu believes that the
movie was very expensive. That was probably one of the reasons why the Barjatyas did not repeat the feat.
But the actors successful run did not last long. I should have capitalised on my success by getting into a Bollywood camp. But I did not know the ways of the industry, he says. Sandhu did try his hand at producing films,but in vain. In retrospect,I think I should have made a sequel to Agent Vinod. That would have worked, he says. However,he did not pursue the film business for long and called it quits in 1992. I wasnt an A-list actor. It wasnt like the industry missed me much, he says. Going by his success in real estate,it seems Sandhus decision has certainly paid off.