Screen villain Milind Gunaji on modelling, acting and facial hair

Most people only know Milind Gunaji as the ruggedly handsome villain of Hindi films such as Fareb, Viraasat and Devdas.

Indian actor Milind Gunaji says his beard has shaped his career.

But he is also an engineer, poet, photographer and TV anchor (hosting a travel show in a Marathi channel) and is passionate about Hindustani classical music.

Recently, Dubai Maharashtra Mandal had organised a chat with this popular model-turned-actor in the Indian Consulate. Candid and eloquent, Gunaji was an interviewer's delight.


How did you become a model after becoming an engineer?

After getting my degree in engineering, I had started a small factory in Satara but I was keener on seriously pursuing a career as a sportsman. I was a state-level cricketer and a badminton player. But a shoulder injury following an accident put paid to those sporting ambitions.

My friends suggested I become a model, thanks to my looks and personality. I met Gautam Rajadhyaksha [famous photographer] in Mumbai and not only did he shoot my portfolio but he also recommended me for a major ad campaign.

Literally within the next 24 hours I got signed for a Digjam suiting campaign. Since [film director] Shekhar Kapur had just left that ad and since he had the beard, I also had to grow a beard!

That beard then became a distinctive part of my personality.

From modelling to films – how did that happen?

At one of the modelling shoots, filmmaker Govind Nihlani spotted me and suggested that I take up a role in his next film Drohkaal.

I wasn't very keen as I used to detest acting till that point of time. But again, the encouragement of my friends pushed me into accepting this acting offer.

How was the initial acting experience?

Initially I didn't even know how to say my dialogues even though I could memorise them in a flash.

I had no clue whatsoever about the nuances of acting and my Hindi-Urdu diction was atrocious.

For six months before Drohkaal, Satyadev Dube trained and taught me the finer points of acting and then I was ready to face the real film crew.

Luckily this first role was well appreciated and that brought me more acting assignments.

Was your beard an advantage or a disadvantage in your acting career?

I would say it was mostly an advantage, as it became my unique signature. It gave me a distinct image. It also gave me my wife, who loved it from the beginning of our courtship!

Of course, there were a few films that I had to decline because they wanted me to shave off my beard.

Who are your favourite actors?

I am a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan. I don't think any actor in the present generation comes close to him in terms of expression and screen presence.

I also like actors such as Motilal and Balraj Sahani. I have also admired all our top comedians like Mehmood and Johnny Walker. Comedy is a tough job.

Among actresses, I like Nutan and Kajol.

What do you think of the film industry?

New ideas and artistic sensitivity are rare traits nowadays. Commercial success has become the prime concern.

Filmmakers such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali are the exceptions to this mediocre mentality.

He is a brilliant director and immediately gets in tune with the actors. His cinematic sense, the way he visualises each frame, is simply wonderful.

How did you become a writer?

I trace that to my fascination with reading. Right since my school days, I have been a voracious reader, especially of Marathi classics.

So far I have written four books in Marathi and one in English. Four of these are travel books and one — Chanderi Bhatkanti — is about the places and people I have come across in my acting career.

Since the last few months, I have also started writing poetry and a compilation of my poems will soon be published.