In 1982, at the peak of his film career, Khanna temporarily quit the film industry to follow his spiritual guru Osho Rajneesh. After a 5-year hiatus, he returned to the Hindi film industry with two hit films; Insaaf and Satyamev Jayate.
Khanna was born in a Punjabi Hindu family to Kamla and Krishanchand Khanna on 6 October 1946, in Peshawar, British India (now in Pakistan). He had three sisters and one brother. Shortly after his birth, India was partitioned and the family left Peshawar and moved to Mumbai.
He attended St. Mary's School, Mumbai until class II and then transferred to Delhi. In 1957, the family moved to Delhi where he attended Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. Although the family moved back to Mumbai in 1960, he was sent to Barnes School in Deolali, near Nashik. During his time at the boarding school Khanna watched the epics Solva Saal and Mughal-e-Azam and fell in love with motion pictures. He graduated with a commerce degree from Sydenham College, Mumbai.
Khanna was spotted by Sunil Dutt after graduation, and made his acting debut in Sunil Dutt's 1968 film Man Ka Meet (directed by Adurthi Subba Rao) as a villain and in which Som Dutt was the hero, a remake of the Tamil film Kumari Penn. At the start of his career, he played supporting or villainous characters in films such as Purab Aur Paschim, Sachaa Jhutha, Aan Milo Sajna and Mastana in 1970, and in Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Elaan in 1971.
Khanna was one of few Hindi actors who began by playing villains and moved on to play the hero. He got his first break as the solo lead hero in the film Hum Tum Aur Woh (1971) opposite Bharathi Vishnuvardhan. It was followed by the 1971 multi-hero film about youth unrest Mere Apne directed by Gulzar.
In 1973, his performance as an army officer facing death row in another film scripted and directed by Gulzar, Achanak, was critically acclaimed. It echoed the true life story of K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra and Khanna portrayed Kawas Nanavati, the real-life Navy officer. In 1974 he played a college professor in Imtihaan, which was different than his action movie roles. The movie was successful commercially in spite of releasing along with Roti Kapda Aur Makan and Majboor. This movie had the song "Ruk Jaan Nahi Tu Kahin Haarke" picturised on Vinod Khanna.
Khanna's Amar Akbar Anthony and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar were the highest grossing Indian movies of 1977 and 1978 respectively. Muqaddar Ka Sikandar was the third highest-grossing Hindi movie in the 1970s after Sholay and Bobby. Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki was released in 1978. In this movie Khanna played a supporting male lead to Asha Parekh and Nutan.
Between 1973 and 1982, Khanna played the lead role in movies which included Farebi and Hatyara with Moushumi Chatterjee; Qaid in 1975 and Zalim in 1980, both with Leena Chandavarkar; and Inkaar in 1978 opposite Vidya Sinha. He did successful movies such as Dhamkee with Kumkum, Gaddaar (1973 film) with Yogita Bali, Aap Ki Khatir (1977 film) opposite Rekha, Raajmahal with Neetu Singh, Khoon Ki Pukaar, Shaque and Adha Din Aadhi Raat with Shabana Azmi, Aarop with Saira Banu, Taaqat with Rakhee and Parveen Babi, Jail Yatra and Insaan (1982 film) opposite Reena Roy, Daulat (1982 film) with Zeenat Aman and The Burning Train with Parveen Babi. In 1980, he starred in Feroz Khan's Qurbani (1980) which became the highest-grossing film of that year. He was, at the time, one of the highest paid actors in Hindi films.
Vinod also starred in 47 multi-hero films. In Shankar Shambhu he co-starred with Feroz Khan and in Chor Sipahee and Ek Aur Ek Gyarah he co-starred with Shashi Kapoor, in Hera Pheri, Khoon Pasina, Amar Akbar Anthony, Zameer, Parvarish and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar Khanna appeared with Amitabh Bacchan; and in Haath Ki Safai and Aakhri Daku he co-starred with Randhir Kapoor. He appeared with Sunil Dutt in Daku Aur Jawan. He acted with Jeetendra in Ek Hasina Do Diwane, Ek Bechara, Parichay, Insaan (1982 film), Anokhi Ada and Janam Kundli. He did Rakhwala, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Patthar Aur Payal, The Burning Train, Batwara and Farishtay with Dharmendra. He worked with Shatrughan Sinha in films such as Panch Dushman, Bombay 405 Miles, Dost Aur Dushman, Pyaar Ka Rishta, Daulat Ke Dushman and Do Yaar, beginning with Gulzar's directorial debut Mere Apne. Gulzar worked with him in Achanak, Meera and Lekin, after his first movie Mere Apne.
Khanna became a follower of the spiritual teacher Osho (Rajneesh) and left the film industry in 1982 for five years.
In 1987, Khanna returned to films with Insaaf in which he performed with Dimple Kapadia. After his comeback, he played romantic roles in Jurm and Chandni, but he was mostly offered roles in action films. after Amar Akbar Anthony. His Muzaffar Ali-directed Dimple Kapadia-starrer Zooni is still unreleased.
After Qurbani, he worked with Feroz Khan again in Dayavan in 1988. The movie was a remake of Maniratnam's 1987 Tamil movie Nayakan.
In the 1990s, Khanna appeared in films including Muqaddar Ka Badshaah, CID, Jurm, Lekin, Humshakal, Aakhri Adaalat, Maha-Sangram, Khoon Ka Karz, Police Aur Mujrim, Kshatriya, Insaaniyat Ke Devta, Ekka Raja Rani and Eena Meena Deeka. Actor Salman Khan played a supporting role in the film Nishchaiy in which Vinod Khanna is in the lead role. His pairing with Meenakshi Seshadri was appreciated by audiences and the pair made films such as Jurm, Mahaadev, Police Aur Mujrim, Humshakal and Satyamev Jayate. Actor Ranjeet directed Kaarnama in 1990 with Vinod in the lead role. He co-starred with Raaj Kumar in Suryaa: An Awakening.
In 1997, he launched his son Akshaye Khanna in Himalay Putra in which he also starred alongside him. In 1999, Vinod Khanna received a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the industry for over three decades. Since then, he started playing character roles in films such as Deewaanapan (2002), Red Alert: The War Within, Wanted (2009) and Dabangg (2010). In 2007, he starred in the Pakistani film Godfather.
Khanna also ventured into television, playing the male lead role of "Kashinath" in the Smriti Irani-produced Hindi serial Mere Apne, which aired on the channel 9X in 2009. In 2014, he played the lead role in Koyelaanchal, in which he played the role of a Godfather and leader of the coal mafia. He made his last film appearance in the 2017 film Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi alongside Hema Malini. The film was directed by National awards-winning film director Gul Bahar Singh and released on 21 April 2017 worldwide.
In 1997, Khanna joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and was elected from Gurdaspur constituency in Punjab in the next year's Lok Sabha poll. In 1999, he was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from the same constituency. Later, he became union minister for culture and tourism in July 2002. Six months later, he was moved to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) as Minister of State. In 2004 he won re-election from Gurdaspur. However, Khanna lost out in the 2009 general elections. In the 2014 general election he was again elected for the 16th Lok sabha from the same constituency.
Khanna met his first wife Gitanjali in college. Khanna married Gitanjali in 1971 and had two sons with her, Rahul and Akshaye; both became Bollywood actors. In 1975, he became a disciple of Osho and in the early 1980s, moved to Rajneeshpuram. Khanna and Gitanjali settled for a divorce in 1985.
In 1990, upon returning to India, Khanna married Kavita Daftary, daughter of industrialist Sharayu Daftary. They had a son, Sakshi (born 1991), and a daughter, Shraddha.
Khanna was hospitalised at the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Center in Girgaon, Mumbai on 2 April 2017 for a few weeks after suffering from severe dehydration. He died at 11:20 a.m. (IST) on 27 April, and it was revealed that he had been battling advanced bladder cancer. Although the news about his deteriorating health started to spread in early 2017, his family declined to disclose any information. He was cremated at the Worli Crematorium on the same day.
Vinod Khanna won his first filmfare award for Haath Ki Safai.1975 – Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award for Haath Ki Safai1977 – Filmfare Nomination as Best Supporting Actor for Hera Pheri1977 – Filmfare Nomination as Best Actor for Shaque1979 – Filmfare Nomination as Best Supporting Actor for Muqaddar Ka Sikander1981 – Filmfare Nomination as Best Actor for Qurbani1999 – Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award2005 – Stardust Awards – Role Model for the Year2007 – Zee Cine Award for Lifetime Achievement