Everyman’s Hero: Sanjeev Kumar

Check out this 2002 Rediff article on Sanjeev Kumar on his birth anniversary.
The gifted Sanjeev Kumar’s metier was his palpable sincerity and his knack for meditative explorations of his varied characters that brought them startlingly alive.

This actor did not have to sequin himself in designer duds to endear himself to the audience. He did so with his virtuoso performances.

Sanjeev Kumar thrived in spite of defying many of Bollywood’s norms for heroes. He defied the industry’s unwritten-rules not out of necessity, but by choice.

Consider Sanjeev’s unforgettable troika of old man roles in 1975 — Sholay, Aandhi and Mausam. Sanjeev Kumar was still in his thirties when he chose to play these roles. He did these films after he had already proved himself as a successful romantic leading man in a string of films like Anhonee, Anamika, Seeta Aur Geeta and Manchali in 1972-1973.

Born Harihar Jariwala, Sanjeev Kumar lost his father at an early age and lived with his mother and three younger siblings in a small Mumbai tenement. Yet, the young Hari would insist on money to be able to see the latest films. Food was his other area of interest.

Sanjeev gravitated towards the stage and, at a young age, played a 75-year-old man. But his eyes were on films and Sanjeev became part of the Filmalaya acting school. Later, Filmalaya product Simi would marvel at Sanjeev’s ability to remember lines with crystal clear clarity from plays like Shaadi Ka Prastav that were part of the Filmalaya acting curriculum. Sanjeev also did a walk-on part in Filmalaya’s Hum Hindustani [1960].

By the mid-1960s Sanjeev starred as hero in small-budget action films like Nishan and Alibaba And Forty Thieves. But his self-assured performances were noticed and helped him inch up the ladder.

In 1968, Sanjeev made his mark with two A-grade films — Shikaar and Sunghursh. As the police inspector in the Dharmendra-Asha Parekh hit Shikaar, Sanjeev brought a touch of believability to his role. He won the Best Supporting Actor Award when he stood up to Dilip Kumar while playing his vengeful cousin with murder on his mind in Sunghursh.

Sanjeev was now flooded with films opposite established heroines and newcomers. He went on a signing spree. Even K Asif signed him on for his ambitious Love And God. The film that gave Sanjeev’s career a tremendous fillip was Khilona [1970]. As the lovelorn jilted lover rehabilitated by the affection of a prostitute (Mumtaz), Sanjeev gave a crowd pleasing performance, with anguish writ large in his traumatised yet canny eyes.

Thankfully, Sanjeev showed an early propensity for roles off the beaten track. His portrayals of two differently troubled husbands in Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak [1970] and Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav [1972] won him accolades. Simultaneously, he played the young hero in commerical films like Seeta Aur Geeta [1972] and Manchali [1973] with flair.

Sanjeev enjoyed a particularly fruitful association with Gulzar, starting with Koshish [1972], where Jaya and he eloquently brought alive the hopes and heartbreaks of a deaf-mute couple.

The bold Sanjeev also played Jaya Bhaduri’s father in Gulzar’s Parichay [1972], and her father-in-law in the blockbuster Sholay [1975]. He also played her lover in Anhonee and Naya Din Nayi Raat, even giving into a bit of self-indulgence and essaying nine different roles in the latter.

Sanjeev’s subtle interpretation of difficult roles in Gulzar’s Mausam and Aandhi [both 1975], won him raves. Sharmila Tagore, his costar in Mausam, was initially annoyed by his late coming habits, but says her anger would evaporate the moment she saw him perform his scenes so well. She became his constant costar and friend after they starred together in several films.

Sanjeev Kumar won the Filmfare Best Actor Awards in 1975 and 1976 for Aandhi and Arjun Pandit. It was probably the best phase of his career. Even the renowned Satyajit Ray selected him to act in his only Hindi film — Shatranj Ke Khiladi [1977]

Sanjeev Kumar’s Landmark Films
1970Khilona Mumtaz
1972 Seeta Aur GeetaHema Malini
1972KoshishJaya Bhaduri
1973ManchaliLeena Chandavarkar
1975AandhiSuchitra Sen
1976MausamSharmila Tagore
1978TrishulWaheeda Rehman
1978Pati Patni Aur WohVidya Sinha, Ranjeeta

Sanjeev the Cancerian loved food, but he was fast going out of shape. This precluded him from doing youthful roles, Sanjeev fortuitously made his everyman physique part of his appeal like in Thande thande paani se nahana chahiye, from Pati Patni Aur Woh [1978]. In this B R Chopra chuckle raiser, Sanjeev proved his comedic flair as the irascible husband with the roving eye.

In real life, Sanjeev, in spite of his mother’s prodding, remained a lifelong bachelor.

The early Eighties saw Sanjeev continuing to costar with top heroines like Zeenat Aman (Takkar) and Rekha (Daasi). He also worked in films like Gulzar’s Angoor and Namkeen [both 1982]. In Ghai’s Vidhata [1982], Sanjeev was once again pitted against fellow thespian Dilip Kumar. Their acidic interaction proved more interesting than the film’s youthful love story.

Failing health soon caused Sanjeev’s career to falter. He suffered from a heart problem and had to cut down his work. After a bravura performance in Subhash Ghai’s Hero [1983], a visibly trim Sanjeev worked on his backlog of films.

He was not yet 50 when he passed away in 1985. Sanjeev Kumar died young but famous.



Leave a reply

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?