Today would be the enigmatic 95th birthday of the enigmatic Raaj Kumar if he were only alive. We are reproducing this rare interview by JYOTHI VENKATESH, which was first published in the now-discontinued monthly film issue MOVIELAND from. appeared
Published July 1987 in Malaysia as a tribute to him.
Raaj Kumar is now a legend of his own, as are Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor who are his colleagues. Although Raaj Kumar is comparatively young and started an acting career in films after serving in the army, what sets him apart from others of his kind is that he doesn’t mind calling a spade a spade. “I’m very unpopular in the industry because I don’t mind being open. I don’t mind calling a spade a spade, “said Raaj Kumar when I recently met him for this interview at Premier Studios in the remote suburbs of Mysore, when he was shooting for producer Pranlal Mehta’s latest project, Surya, in which he participated together with Vinod Khanna and Bhanu Priya.
“I haven’t spent a year or two in show business, but thirty years,” jokes Raaj Kumar, who has less than a hundred films. “Even when I played the young lead actor, I never signed more than five or six films at a time. I never believed in running from one set to another or from one shift to another. I’ve never worked more than a shift or two because I’m not chasing the money. For me it is quality and not quantity that counts. I definitely want to differentiate myself from the stars of today who aren’t actually stars but shopkeepers who snatch the signing amounts paid to them by Nincompoops who become producers overnight and distribute their data to them. Today the stars are just wild cards who don’t know what to do in the crazy rat race to long for security. “
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Raaj Kumar continues. “That was not the case in our time. Take Dilip Kumar, for example. The total number of films he has worked on throughout his career may not be more than the number of films that can be seen on the floors of Vinod Khanna or Dharmendra today. Even today Dilipsaab works in hardly a few films, although there are producers who like to sign him. Do you know that today I only work on three or four films and turn down at least half a dozen projects every day?
Besides Surya, I also work in Mahaveera from producer Ratan Mohan. Mind you, in both Surya and Mahaveera I only do a guest appearance, or what you call a special appearance, and yet I charge them what I normally charge a producer for working on a film. I don’t care whether I work in a full-fledged role in a film or in a guest appearance. If the producer wants Raaj Kumar to work in a film, hum zaroor kaam karenge when I get my award.
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“I have always admired Shammi Kapoor as both an actor and a star. Like many new girls, he’s given the industry as a gift. I remember there was a time when every other of his films had a new heroine. The list is endless. Saira Banu, Sharmila Tagore, Kalpana, Asha Parekh etc. He lived and enjoyed his life as a star, really as a star. He lived lavishly on and off the screen and most stars or rather so-called stars today have to take a tip or two from him. Shammi had discovered so many new directors too. Today it is sad but true that the stars chase after the directors.
“If you ask me what the difference between Filmdom then and now is, the answer is simple. In the past, the stars fought openly for the best lines, the best roles, today they fight each other in a subtle way. Today there is no discipline at all as the star flits from one set to another trying to fulfill his obligations to the “Hazaar” producers. The devotion is missing and what kind of change has taken place. I remember Prithviraj Kapoor and Jagdish Sethi fighting over better scenes on the sets, both among themselves and with the director and writer. Today the main actor prefers to shear the better scenes of his colleague behind the scenes.
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“I wish we had the producers of yore today who were sincere in their work. Today we don’t have any dedicated producers. Instead, we only have assemblers or so-called filmi applicants who live on stars and rely on big names in order to earn their money. The music director composes songs for a film, the battle composer composes the battle scenes, the dance director choreographs the dance numbers for the film, the dialogue writer writes the choicest of the dialogues, and the actors recite their lines in front of the camera and the cameraman decided where the camera would be for the last Intake should be placed. Where is the real director today? Where are the good filmmakers today?
“Maybe we don’t have a good director today, with the exception of Raaj Kumar and Kamal Amrohi. Kamalsaab stopped taking pictures after Razia Sultan flopped. And even Chetan Anand, with whom I have worked on many films, no longer makes films. Only Raj Kapoor makes or tries to make good films the way he sees fit, without bowing to the distributors. What contribution do the directors make to the film today? Virtually zero, and that’s one of the main reasons I don’t take offers to direct myself. See, I’m still not inspired to make movies as a maker. I would rather continue working as an actor in films. I’ve stopped counting how many films I’ve made in the last 30 years because I don’t keep a diary.
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“What I can’t stand in this industry or anywhere else in the world is dishonesty. I hate cheating on others and I expect no one will try to cheat on me. I believe in direct business. I am very adamant about my price. People who are straight and honest will praise me, while people who try to cheat on me will crawl over me for treating them mercilessly. Tell me, why do you think I have to film film after film with makers like Chetan Anand, Brij etc. Ulfat because of me as he claims? I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
“I enjoyed working with Essmayeel Shroff in Bulundi and producer Pranlal Mehta in Marte Dum Tak. I worked with him and Mehul Kumar on Marte Dum Tak for the first time because I liked their approach to a film. They provided me with the full script and dialogue and promised me that they won’t try to change it here and there once the film hits the ground. I have willingly agreed to work for Pranlal Mehta in Surya and now Surya is slated to hit theaters this September and I am determined to work in another film for producer Pranlal Mehta. Mehul Kumar is directing with Govinda and Mandakini by my side. When I was working in Marte Dum Tak, the Pranlal financier called me to tell me he would come to my house to transfer a substantial amount in cash. Believe it or not, I told him not to come and keep the money because Pranlal might need it for filming. I told him I was ready to wait for the picture to be ready and only took the money after I also finished dubbing and returned home after a long vacation abroad. I did this because I implicitly trusted the producer.
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“I’m not one of those ungrateful actors who give up their previous associations when they become stars. I agreed to work in a dual role in Mahaveera – one as underworld mafia Don and the other as police superintendent for director Naresh Saigal just because he staged me as a newcomer to Ujala and encouraged me to do the time. Even today, if Brij and Chetan Anand want me to make a film for them, or want Kamalsaab, I’ll be ready, for the sake of the old days, to make one for them, because I know for sure that they don’t have me in theirs Films will waste life as soon as they sign me. “
Raaj Kumar is still a mystery today. In Mysore, on the day I was with him for this interview, another journalist was looking for an appointment for an interview and Raaj Kumar asked him to come to his hotel suite at 8 p.m. The clerk landed ten minutes after 8 p.m. and Raaj Kumar’s valet shooed him away because Raajsaab didn’t want to sit with the clerk, who was not estimating his time. This is Raaj Kumar for you – an eccentric genius who is a staunch disciplinaryist!