Shri Ram Katha, Ramayan is full of ideal characters and each one has their own importance in the story. Apart from the leading characters, characters like Arya Sumantra, Nishadraj Guhu, Shabari, Mareech, Kumbhajkarn, etc have their own place and importance. They all leave a mark not matter how big or small part they play in the story. One such character is that of Sita ji’s father, Mithila Naresh Maharaj Janak (also known as Videhraj) beautifully played by veteran writer/actor/director – Mulraj Rajda (मूलराज रजदा) in Ramanand Sagar ji’s Ramayan (1987). Being daughters of very loving fathers ourselves, this portrayal is very close to our hearts.
Late last year we managed to get in touch with Mulraj ji via phone and on 29th January we met him at his Borivali residence. We had a long conversation and spent a lot of time with him. He is very caring and affectionate, humble and totally down-to-earth. This post is an essence of our numerous conversations with him.
The Journey Thus Far
Mulraj ji was born on 13th November, 1931 in a Gujarati household residing in Kalbadevi, Mumbai. After graduation, he worked in the Cable Corporation of India and Dena Bank for a couple of years. He got married to actress Indumati on 2nd March, 1956 and the couple is blessed with three children. His career in the field of entertainment began in 1959 when he acted and scripted a Gujarati play. He says he is essentially a writer first, and then an actor, his preferred genre is Comedy. After being active in Gujarati Theater for more than 15 years, he joined the Gujarati Film industry in 1976 as story-screenplay-dialogs writer and actor. In the mid-80s when Television made its way into common man’s household, he started working in TV serials. His early TV serials include Vikram Aur Betal (1985), Rajni (1985), Dada Dadi Ki Kahaniyan (1986), etc. For Basu Chatterjee’s Rajni, he acted as well as wrote a couple of episodes. He was part of various shows made by Ramanand Sagar, B R Chopra, Dheeraj Kumar, etc. B R Chopra would always start his shows with Mahurat shots featuring Mulraj ji. He was also part of shows like – Vishwamitra (1995), Swabhimaan (1995), Vishnupuran (2003), etc.
Over the years he has continued to write, act and direct Gujarati TV shows, plays and films. Some of his Gujarati TV serials are – Naari Tu Na Haari, Chal Mhare Sathe, O Zindagi, Surajmukhi, etc. Coming to Bollywood he is credited for the screenplay of Mitti Aur Sona (1989) directed by Shiv Kumar. The film Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar (1973) was based on his Gujarati play Chakdol. Due to his association with Mehul Kumar since his days in Gujarati films, Mulraj ji was always called to play small parts in all his films. In 2002, he wrote and directed the TV series Jai Shri Swaminarayan (2002) produced by Devang Patel. Last he was seen playing a small part in Gujarati TV series Rit Rivaj (2009) for which he is also credited for dialog. Today Mulraj ji largely leads a retired life with his wife surrounded by their children and grandchildren, however he says he is always open to writing for films / TV shows.
The Ramayan Experience
Vijay Kavish, who essayed the role of Lord Shiv and Maharishi Valmiki in Ramayan (1987), was part of the Production Team at Sagar Arts. He was a regular visitor in the Rajda household, given that he had been a part of the same theater group as Mulraj ji’s son, Samir. During one of their conversations, Mulraj ji expressed his desired to work in a TV series if there is a befitting role for him to Vijay ji. At that time Sagar Arts was preparing for their next TV series, Vikram Aur Betal (1985), produced and directed by Prem Sagar. Vijay ji introduced Mulraj ji to Prem Sagar, thus started his association with Sagar Arts. Vikram Aur Betal was followed by Dada Dadi Ki Kahaniyan (1986), produced and directed by Moti Sagar. Both were episodic-children’s story based shows and Mulraj ji got to play various characters ranging from positive to negative.
By then Sagar Arts team was already into the pre-production of their next big venture, Ramayan (1987). This was a risky project at that time; the makers were not sure if viewers would watch a mythological on TV since mythological films had a very low viewership. Many artists initially cast quit the show citing a fear of being typecast in costume dramas. Mulraj ji was initially signed for the role of Maharaj Dashrath, Shri Ram’s father, but after some brainstorming and casting changes, he was informed that the role of Maharaj Dashrath has gone to actor Bal Dhuri and he has been chosen to play Sita ji’s father, Maharaj Janak. Mulraj ji admits that he was initially disappointed. He felt that Maharaj Dashrath was a more powerful character giving wider scope to perform; however he gradually realized that Maharaj Janak was very popular, his emotional appeal being a daughter’s father was vast and he had his share of important scenes in the story. Ramanand ji often told Mulraj ji that his eyes made him decide that he was perfect to play this part, we agree.
About preparation for the role, Mulraj ji says that he did not read the epic before he started shooting and it was more enjoyable to read it after being part of the show. He had multiple brainstorming sessions with Ramanand Sagar (director, producer, screenplay & dialog), Vishnu Mehrotra (research & adaptation) and Phani Majumdar (research & adaptation) before the shooting started. They helped him understand how they wanted him to play the role, his walk, way of speaking, body language, etc. Most importantly he was told that Maharaj Janak was Sthitapragya (स्थितप्रज्ञ, meaning one ‘standing’ (Sthita, स्थित) in ‘wisdom’ (Pragya, प्रज्ञ)), a self-realised, calm, contented balanced man firm in judgment. Mulraj ji had to always keep in mind that such a character will not show the expected extreme emotion in difficult situations while performing. Apart from this, multiple costume and makeup tests were done under the supervision of Gopal Sawant (make-up) to decide the final look for every character. It took a good one hour for Mulraj ji to get ready in that costume and makeup. Wearing the Mukut (headgear) was the most troublesome and painful. Today he is very content and satisfied to have played this role which brought him a lot of recognition and appreciation.
Mulraj ji shared some fascinating trivia about his experiences working on the iconic show. Interestingly very little of Ramayan was shot outdoors – it was mostly shot in Ramanand Sagar ji’s villa. Even the seeming outdoor scenes like Bharat Milap were shot in the villa. They had a set of 25-30 junior artists who played multiple characters ranging from Humans, Demons, Vanars to Gods and every category had a fixed standard makeup. Initially he used to be amused seeing one person as a Sadhu performing pooja in front of him one day and sitting as a Mantri beside him the next day. Those who have followed Ramayan and Uttar Ramayan (Luv-Kush) closely can’t help but notice the visible difference in setting, costume and makeup. Mulraj ji tells us that this change came about due to Mahabharat (1988). After seeing its production values, Sagar Arts also changed from a simple to a brighter look. He says the cast spent a lot of time together and some bonds built then have only grown stronger with time.
Being Part of Mahabharat
As the shooting of Ramayan was coming to a closure, BR Films (BR TV) announced the televised version of Mahabharat (1988). Mulraj ji approached them if there was a role befitting him but he was told that the makers have decided that they will not cast any popular artists who featured in Ramayan. Later, on insistence of one of his friends who wanted to try for a role in Mahabharat, Mulraj ji accompanied him to BR Films Office. He recollects that it was a Saturday and they were asked to wait in one of the rooms. Soon the Casting Director, Gufi Paintal (who gave a memorable performance as Mama Shakuni in the classic series) entered room. As soon as he saw Mulraj ji he jumped with joy and left saying that they had finally found their Rajguru of Hastinapur. He returned with BR Chopra & Ravi Chopra and Mulraj ji was immediately finalized for the role. He was given details about his part with scenes where he will be required and asked to report for the shoot after 5 days.
Mulraj ji still remembers his first day of shoot for Mahabharat – it was the scene where Rajguru reprimands Hastinapur’s then king Shantanu for putting Hastinapur’s future at stake by making his unborn child the Yuvraj of the kingdom. To our surprise even after so many years he remembers all the lines from that scene and narrated them in front of us with perfection. He still remembers the applause he got after finishing the shot; Gufi ji came and hugged him. Eventually Mulraj ji played two characters set in different times. The first was Rajguru of Hastinapur in the initial 3-4 episodes and then as Mukhiya of Gandharva who catch Duryodhan for his misconduct, in the 51st episode. This started a long association between him and BR Films. Later he was part of their other shows like – Main Dilli Hoon, Vishnupuran, Aurat, etc.
Mulraj ji shared some of his most cherished memories. Once he was shooting for two shows – Hatim Tai and Dangerous Detective with Shammi Kapoor and Pran Saab respectively. On one occasion his dates clashed when he was needed to perform crucial scenes with both the veterans on the same day for the two shows. Both the producers were asking Mulraj ji to postpone the other shoot fearing shooting delays and difficulties getting new dates from the veterans. Shammi ji sensed the tension and when he got to know that it involved Pran Saab, he instantly asked the producer to let Mulraj ji go and he would accommodate dates for them. He says that’s the kind of respect Pran Saab commands from his fellow artists.
Similarly once when actor Ajit Vachhani was introducing him to Dadamoni (Ashok Kumar), to Mulraj ji surprise Dadamoni said he already knows him and they have worked together. Seeing his amazed expression Dadamoni said “Don’t you remember we worked together in Dada Dadi Ki Kahaniyan?”. Mulraj ji says that though they worked in the same show they hardly met as their shoots were always conducted separately since Dadamoni played the Sutradhar (narrator) while he played various parts in the stories. He could not believe that a veteran like Dadamoni recognized him and appreciated his work. He remembers that day very fondly.
As kids our Sundays started with “Sita Ram Charit Ati Pawan……“, and today 25 years down it still holds a special place in our hearts. It was a dream come true to meet an artist who was part of our all time favorite series. Mulraj ji is one of the finest people we have met, so loving and caring, like a grandfather. He shared so many tidbits about the films and shows he worked on and otherwise. It has been a pleasure to know the veteran actor. We wish him Good Health and Lots of Happiness.
Mulraj ji left for a better world on 23 September, 2012. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. Meeting you is one of our most cherished memories Mulraj Sir, rest in peace. We miss you.
– Maitri Manthan
* Here is a link to one of our favorite scenes featuring Mulraj ji from Ramayan. It is the scene where Maharaj Janak sees Shri Ram for the first time, there are no dialogs, just expressions with the following verse from Ramcharitmanas being recited by Ravindra Jain in the background –
मूरति मधुर मनोहर देखी। भयउ बिदेहु बिदेहु बिसेषी॥
भावार्थ:- रामजी की मधुर मनोहर मूर्ति को देखकर विदेह (जनक) विशेष रूप से विदेह (देह की सुध-बुध से रहित) हो गए॥
* We would like to thank Author Harish Raghuwanshi and India-Forums member Lola for their assistance.
* The information provided in this blog is to the best of our knowledge, if any discrepancies are found please let us know. Thank you.