Updated: August 11, 2021 8:24:06 am
Saudagar goes down in the history of Indian cinema for probably two things. One, it starred two of the biggest titans of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar, and two, it redefined onscreen romance with its songs like “Ilu Ilu”. Actor Vivek Mushran, who made his starry debut with this Subhash Ghai blockbuster agrees.
“The mastery of Subhash ji was how handled these two great actors. It’s not easy to have such big people in a single project. You have to treat them with a lot of care, and yet manage to get great performances out of everyone. Every filmmaker cannot do that,” Vivek told indianexpress.com.
Saudagar’s plot was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar playing friends-turned-foes and how their grandkids pledge to reunite them. Along with Vivek Mushran, actor Manisha Koirala made her film debut too. Saudagar also had a stellar cast including Amrish Puri, Anupam Kher, Deepti Naval, Dilip Tahil, Mukesh Khanna, Gulshan Grover, Jackie Shroff and others.
As Saudagar completes 30 years, Vivek Mushran sat down with us to look back at how it was being on a Subhash Ghai set, and the candid moments he shared with both the Kumars. “I still get a feeling that it’s just been a few years since its release. And with these films being aired on television, you keep getting new audience for it.”
Vivek never intended to be an actor. He just lucked out by leaving his pictures at Subhash Ghai‘s office where he least expected to get selected in the first attempt. “I was a college student. I got some pictures clicked to try modelling. Even if I had failed to get anything, I would have gone back to MBA. But as they say, sometimes stars and destiny is in your favour. It was just one of those moments.”
Thus began Vivek’s film journey. He agreed than Saudagar was a school for him where he also learned about filmmaking and editing. He said, “Seeing Subhash ji editing was the best learning. Since that was the only film I was doing, I used to sit with him in the editing room. He told me to start watching movies and that’s where my cinema experience began.”
Further lauding the filmmaker for his competence at understanding his actors and giving them confidence, Vivek said the way he treated two debutants around other great actors was impeccable. “Both Manisha and I were newcomers who were learning. Subhash ji knew that, and so he started shooting silent scenes with us first,” the actor shared, remembering his first shot which involved him being injured and Manisha treating his wounds, while the two share a candid moment sans any dialogue.
Vivek said he’s still in touch and great friends with Manisha Koirala.
Vivek eventually got comfortable on the sets, and that’s when his interactions with both Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar started. “The stories of many films remained the same at that time, it was about how directors put their own impression onto it. Even Saudagar had Subhash ji’s touch, the way he presented it musically, the way he got the drama and then casting the two giants. The longevity is because of that.”
Vivek had no major exposure to Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar’s work at his boarding school, baring Karma, also directed by Ghai starring the former. “But while working with them, I started respecting them and realised why they are such big stars.”
Walking down the memory lane, Vivek agreed that Dilip Kumar’s demise recently brought the days spent around him on Saudagar’s sets like a flash. “Dilip saab was a very people’s man. He used to go on walks in between shoot, and needed company, so he dragged me along. We were filming in Manali. He took his cook everywhere and got him prepare meals for the entire crew. Then he used to sit down to share stories about his life and career. He was a very good talker and liked to be around people.”
Raaj Kumar, however, seemed like an introvert. Vivek revealed that despite being more reserved, his style and persona was extraordinary.
Recalling one such memory when Raaj Kumar was asked to tell his story how becoming an actor, Vivek said, “Raaj ji shared how he was in the police force where he came second or fourth out of 50 candidates or something. He was academically quite good. And then how he met some producer. I don’t remember the full story but I do remember that after narrating it for half an hour, just before the most interesting part of the story of how he ultimately became an actor, he said ‘acha chhodo jaani ab aage ka tumko kal batayenge (laughs).’ Such was his style of breaking the ice with everyone.”
According to Vivek, Raaj Kumar “had a very understated wit and a lovely sarcasm which many people couldn’t understand.” Theyo interacted quite a lot on the sets. “Raaj ji used to ask me ‘chai piyoge?’ And then he told his man Friday ‘chai mein doodh dalna, doodh mein chai nahin.'”
Back in the day, we even heard stories about a spat between the two biggies on the Saudagar sets. Vivek, however refuted of being aware of any such thing. He instead called them “quite childish with each other.”
“Since Raaj ji kept to himself most of the time, there must have been some instance where Dilip ji greeted him and he didn’t realise. Then later Dilip ji told Subhash Ghai, “lalle aaj maine bhi usko ignore kiya, toh usne hello bola.” They did such childish things on the set. I don’t think there was anything major.”
In fact, it was Ghai who kept the two stalwarts in sync, while keeping his own reputation of being the ‘Showman of Bollywood’ intact. “In Subhash ji’s films, you do what he tells you to do. I remember he was taking Raaj ji’s first shot in the film. It was a simple one where he gets off a car, shuts its door and walks 3-4 steps. Subhash ji took some 17 retakes. He was great at convincing, like a subtle way of telling with all respect that ‘I am the boss of this set.’ You have to do that with big actors or else they can overpower you.”
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During the making of the film, the cast got a feeling that Saudagar is on the path of becoming something big. Vivek said seeing himself on the film’s posters and hoardings was surreal, though he had a hard time convincing his friends. “A newspaper ad had my name as ‘launching this actor.’ Some of my friends refused to believe it. In fact they started scratching my name to see if it was real or stuck over there (laughs).”
“Saudagar has stood the test of time because of Subhash Ghai’s patience with his actors and confidence over the medium. His shot taking was unique, his editing style was amazing, and ofcourse his expertise over music and song picturisation. He had his own way of doing things. Because of Subhash Ghai’s goodwill and Saudagar’s stamp, life has been comfortable for me,” Vivek retrospected.
But how does he react when people recall his “Ilu Ilu” song? “I say it’s been so many years, now forget that song. Don’t think of me as the same teenager. But that’s the beauty of some movies, they last for so long, people remember it always,” he concludes with a smile.
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