Interview Hindi

30 years of Saudagar: Vivek Mushran recalls evenings spent with Dilip Kumar

As the Subhash Ghai film, which co-starred Manisha Koirala and Raaj Kumar, completes 30 years, the actor, who also celebrates his birthday today, looks back at the days when he was making his debut.

Keyur Seta

Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar (1991) had an unusual cast, especially for a film of that era. On the one hand it had two veterans, each an icon in his right, in Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar. And the film also launched two newcomers as the romantic leads, Vivek Mushran and Manisha Koirala.

The film was about Veer Singh aka Veeru (Dilip Kumar) and Rajeshwar Singh aka Raju (Raaj Kumar), who are best of friends while growing up despite the gulf in their financial status.

One day, Veeru decides to marry a young woman whose marriage is stalled because her in-laws-to-be want a heavy dowry. This leaves Raju’s sister heartbroken since she is in love with Veeru. She dies by suicide, leaving Raju distraught. And so the best friends turn into arch enemies.

Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar in Saudagar

Years later, Veeru’s grandson Vasu (Mushran) and Raju’s granddaughter Radha (Koirala) fall in love. Knowing the enmity between the grandparents, they keep their love story hidden, until their secret is let out one day.

Saudagar became a runaway success while Mushran and Koirala also enjoyed popularity in their debut film. Mushran spoke to as the film completes 30 years today (it was released on 9 August 1991, which, incidentally, coincided with Mushran's birthday).

The film, obviously, means a lot to him. “Saudagar was the start of my career,” he said. “And, to be honest, I haven’t done anything so big apart from this film, so it means a lot. I developed a reputation, which has continued till now, all thanks to this film. Even today youngsters are watching it. I have great memories as I got to work with such talented artistes.”

Vivek Mushran and Manisha Koirala in Saudagar

Getting a break with someone like Subhash Ghai in such an important role was pretty simple for him. “I showed my pictures and they called me for a screen test," he recalled. "They liked it and signed me for the film. It was that simple.”

Asked about challenges while working on the project, he said everything was a challenge for him since it was his first film. “I was just 20," he said. "I had got my photos clicked thinking I would do some modelling. I hadn’t even thought of acting.

"It was challenging, but Subhashji knew exactly how to get good performances from different actors. He made me comfortable. Because of his guidance, it became easy.”

The young man wasn't intimidated working with stalwarts like Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar since he had hardly seen them on the screen. “I hadn’t seen much of their work," he admitted. "I had studied in a boarding school, so I didn’t get too many chances to watch films till that point in my life. I had seen Dilip saheb’s Karma (1986). Obviously, I knew they were very big stars.”

Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar in Saudagar

Mushran recalls that both veterans were nice towards him and he learnt the craft by observing them. He was, naturally, reminded of the time spent with Dilip Kumar when the legend died last month. “I was reminded of those evenings when he used to hold my hand and take me for a walk in Manali," he said. "He used to narrate stories of his era. Raaj-ji used to do the same.”

Dilip Kumar (1922-2021), the name that meant actor

Working with Manisha Koirala was not only a good experience for him, but it also gave him a lifelong friend. “We are still very good friends," Mushran said. "Normally, we lose touch with others [after a project] but that wasn’t the case with her. We still meet once or twice a year whenever she is in Bombay.”

It is impossible to talk about Saudagar without mentioning the song ‘Ilu Ilu,’ which had become a rage back in the early 1990s. Mushran, however, wasn’t thinking about whether the song would become a hit while shooting for it as he was tense about something else.

“My only concern was how do I put in the right steps as suggested by the dance director,” he said. “I was only tense about that as I wasn’t good at dance. I saw it as work. And I was very new. So I didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t, although people used to say the song has turned out good. Also Subhashji had a good reputation for music.”

Mushran was also not thinking about the film’s scale and the chance of it doing well at the box office. “Subhashji’s reputation was such, people around me used to say it’s a big film. I used to meet journalists who used to say the same. Slowly it started sinking in that this is a big film. I had seen Subhashji’s Ram Lakhan (1989) and Karma, so I knew he is a very good director. I was very young, so I was enjoying those moments of shoot.”

Over the years, Mushran has done quite a few television shows like Son Pari, Bhaskar Bharti, Parvarish and Parichay. He believes doing TV helps one to prepare for films. “You are required to work more in television in a day," he explained, laughing. "I feel doing films becomes child’s play after doing TV. You have to do seven or eight scenes in a day for TV. Even if you don’t do them well, you slowly start getting better once you get into films."

Vivek Mushran

He added, “I would advise those who wish to do films to work in a daily soap for five or six months. In TV, you are required to recite six pages of dialogues while in films you recite just six lines. I feel television is the best acting school.”

Mushran had said in an interview that doing the TV show Bhaskar Bharti was liberating for him as an actor. Asked what he meant by this, he said, “It was the role of the boss. There was no romantic angle. I succeeded in getting out of the image of a hero. Before that, I used to look even at character roles from the point of view of 'hero'. But Bhaskar Bharti was a loud character, so I did it in a bindaas [bold] way. The director also guided me well.”

Before that show, Mushran had tried to make films but it didn’t work out. He returned to acting with the show in 2009. “I thought I should forget all old formulas of acting," he said. "I unlearned and enjoyed. From that shoot till today, I haven’t seen myself on the monitor while shooting. I see only if the director asks me to communicate something. I am also not bothered about make-up. I just enjoy myself. I felt liberated in this way. I did the same in Tamasha (2015), Veere Di Wedding (2018), Parvarish and other projects.”