‘Saudagar’: The clash of two titans

 A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar in Saudagar

Riding high on the success of Ram Lakhan (1989), Subhash Ghai was trying to challenge himself by making a movie of an even bigger scale. But, as soon as he had the story ready with him, he faced an even bigger challenge. Basically, he wanted two star actors in the roles of the aging clan chiefs who have maintained a blood feud for decades. Dilip Kumar was naturally his first choice as he had previously directed him in Karma (1986) and Vidhaata (1982). But who would star opposite Dilip Kumar in a role that demanded an equally strong personality?

Now, Subhash Ghai had Raaj Kumar in his mind from the very beginning. But, Raaj Kumar and Dilip Kumar had a history which went back to a film they did together three decades earlier. During a scene, Raaj Sahab had slapped Dilip Sahab in a way that didn't go well with the latter. Perhaps, Raaj Sahab improvised to make the scene more realistic but somewhere Dilip Sahab took it rather personally. He pledged not to work with Raaj Kumar again. And for the next 32 years they didn't work together again. When Ghai learnt about this he didn’t back down from the challenge. Against everyone’s advice, he decided to pit the two stalwarts against each other.

Although, Ghai was quite clear in his mind he didn’t know how to communicate this to the two actors. So he took his time and somehow managed to convince both of them. Now, in the film, Dilip Sahab uses a particular dialect for his character of Veer Singh aka Dada Thakur. Those who have seen him in films like Gunga Jumna (1961) and Sagina (1974) would know that he could be very subtle with dialects and accents. And Subhash Ghai of course was aware of Dilip Sahab's ear for dialects/accents. So when on the first day of the shoot Dilip Sahab asked Ghai if he could use a particular accent for his character Ghai immediately gave his consent. In fact, Ghai got so thrilled that he couldn't hide his excitement. For, he knew that it was only going to make the character more authentic. Besides, who could question Dilip Sahab's judgment?

As the shoot progressed, Raaj Sahab suddenly noticed that Dilip Sahab was using a certain dialect with a distinct accent while delivering his lines. He suddenly became hell-bent that he would also speak the same dialect and accent in the film in order to match Dilip Sahab’s delivery. When Ghai heard this, he began to panic realizing that Raaj Sahab would lose his essence if he spoke any differently. But he kept mum and just nodded. Next day when Raaj Kumar arrived on the sets he miraculously stuck to his natural delivery to Ghai's great relief. It was really a clash of egos as each actor wanted to get the better of other. Ghai had to greatly pamper both his star actors throughout the duration of the shoot while trying his best to diffuse the ever rising tension. Eventually, he succeeded in getting the best out of both of them and anyone who has watched Saudagar can vouch for it.

A version of this article was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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