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Interview Hindi

Milind Gunaji: Hadn’t come to become an actor, was interested in sports instead

On his 57th birthday today (he was born on 23 July 1961), Gunaji reveals how he became an actor, speaks about his travels and gives the reason for not appearing in films very often.

Keyur Seta

Milind Gunaji appeared in film mostly in the 1990s. His rough-and-tough bearded look made him the perfect villain in a number of movies including like Drohkaal (1994), Fareb (1996), Virasat (1997) and Devdas (2002). Not many are aware that the actor once had his heart set for a career in sports. A shoulder injury shortened his sports career and forced him to explore another avenues.

The actor turns 57 today (he was born on 23 July 1961). In a friendly chat with us, he reveals how he became an actor, shares his travel experiences and gives the reason for not appearing in films very often. Excerpts.

You always wanted to become an actor? 

No, I never did. My education happened in engineering. I had also started a business of plastic bags. At the same time, I was thinking of a career in sports in cricket and badminton. I used to play at high levels. But when my factory was being installed in Satara, an accident took place, which dislocated my shoulder. So, my sports career suddenly got affected. 

Meanwhile, my business was going okay. My friends used to tell me that I have a good personality – height, built and face – so why don’t I do modelling. They said just do it for timepass. When I met well-known photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha, he immediately did my photoshoot. I gave the pictures to some top advertisement agencies like Lintas. As if it was my fate, I got a call just on the third day itself. I was immediately signed by Digjam suitings. They wanted a model after Shekhar Kapur. Hence, I suddenly became a part of the glamour world. For five years, I was among the top male models of India with big brands like Digjam, Vimal and Raymond. 

How did your film journey begin?

The renowned director Govind Nihalani noticed me in one of my ads. Then once when I was shooting at Nataraj Studios for an ad, he was also shooting an ad [there]; he also used to make ads then. He met me and said he is making a film. He said that I have a tremendous screen presence and if I learn acting he will introduce me in his film, which was Drohkaal. The film already had stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Amrish Puri. The film introduced me and Ashish Vidyarthi. 

Nihalani sent me to [screenwriter] Satyadev Dubey in the gap of six months before starting the film to learn theatre. The film was started even before the workshop ended. Meanwhile, I also signed the serial Kurukshretra, which was a mega hit on Zee TV. It released before Drohkaal. I, Ashish Vidyarthi and Parmeet Sethi were the three people from the serial to make it into films. Before us, only Shah Rukh Khan had done that. 

Ashish Vidyarthi and Milind Gunaji in Koi Kisise Kam Nahin (1997)

Fareb turned out to be a landmark film in your career. 

Mukesh Bhatt saw the first two episodes [of Kurukshetra], called me and said that they have a film called Fareb, where he wanted me to play the negative character. It was a complicated character. My song from the film ['Yeh Teri Aankhen Jhuki Jhuki'] became a hit and I became a star. The film became Bhatt camp’s biggest hit.

Because of Fareb, I got Virasat (1997). For both films I got nominated for Best Negative Performance in all major award functions. I did quite a few films, including Godmother (1999), which won six National Awards. 

Milind Gunaji and Shabana Azmi in Godmother (1999)

Among your noted roles is the one in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002). How was your experience working with Bhansali?

Bhansali ji called me and said that he has written the role by keeping me in mind as he wanted the same personality for the character. I immediately met him and signed the film, which became a hit. His vision is just like the final edited film, which is in front of you. My role wasn’t big but it was impactful. Not a single shot of mine was cut [from the main print]. He has such command over the medium. After my first scene he said that, ‘Aapne sur pakda hai barabar [you have caught the character well]. Continue this.’ 

You are a frequent traveller and you keep sharing your experiences often through your writings. 

I was always interested in travel and trekking. I am also interested in photography. So, I used to travel basically for photography. Meanwhile, I also gained interest and knowledge in geography and history of landscapes, especially related to Shivaji Maharaj and his forts. I started writing on it.

My articles started getting published in Lokprabha magazine. I also wrote 12 books and got Maharashtra state award for one [of them]. A TV show, Bhatkan, also got made on one book. The government of Maharashtra made me their forest and wildlife ambassador. 

The aim of passionate travellers is much deeper than just exploring new places. What is yours?

You want to explore new things. Reaching the destination is one thing but the journey to get there is important. You learn a lot through journeys; I also did. I meet sages too on the way. I learnt about spirituality from them. I also generated interest in spirituality and mystical science. So, travelling just became my passion. 

Milind Gunaji during one of his trips

You have not worked in films in the past few years. 

As I said earlier, I hadn’t come here to become a film star. My career was something else. I became an actor by default and I received fame and money; I also started enjoying working. But I didn’t have that jest of becoming a superstar. Ups and downs keep happening in everyone’s life. And I was more occupied in other things like travel. 

I just saw on the internet that one of your upcoming films is Mandi: Ek Prem Katha. 

Sometimes you get offered a film, you sign it and then nothing happens. I don’t know what happened with that film. Right now, I have Swords And Sceptres and the remake of Disco Dancer (1982). 

You have also done Marathi films. Are there any in the pipeline?

I have two-three films in Marathi which I have signed. They can go on floors any time this month or the next.