He broke all the rules of stardom and yet was a star,a romantic hero and an all-rounder par excellence. 47 was no age for one of Hindi cinemas brightest talents to go,but on November 6,1985,Sanjeev Kumar passed away,leaving fans,friends and the Hindi film shell-shocked.
Gulzar remembers Sanjeev Kumar
For me,he was the complete actor. I have always said that I had two anchors – one was Sanjeev Kumar,and the other was R.D.Burman.
What most people do not know is that I knew Haribhai (as I called him) from the late 1950s. We were both with the Indian National Theatre where I would write for the plays and he was a stage actor. Sanjeev was a student of P.D.Shenoy,who was also teaching at the Filmalaya School of Acting and later turned film director.
Sanjeev was just over 20 years old,and he was playing a father! Leela Chitnis was playing his wife and Manvendra Chitnis his son,and what a performance Sanjeev gave as the old man! We struck a rapport somewhere,began sharing cups of tea – which was the best way to cement friendship and practice economy simultaneously! We also began to discuss acting, and realised that he was quite a knowledgeable man.
Sanjeev was born for excellence and for getting compliments! One day,after the performance,Sanjeev happened to meet Prithviraj (Kapoor)ji,who did not recognise him without make-up and told him,That old man was really wonderful!,thrilling Sanjeev no end!
Then one day,he overheard a Gujarati lady say,without knowing that Sanjeev was a Gujarati too,that he looked a lot like Joy Mukerji,who was a big name and was the son of S.Mukerji,the Filmalaya chief! Sanjeev was so happy that he resembled a successful film hero as he thought that he thus had a brighter chance of becoming a star!
So far as movies are concerned,our first film together was Sunghursh,in which I was the dialogue writer. To say that Sanjeev Kumar matched both Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni was an understatement! I still recall the first shot he gave – a chess sequence with Dilipsaab. What confidence he displayed – and what precision! I overheard Dilip Kumar asking H.S.Rawail,the producer-director,Iss ladke ko kahaan se dhoond ke laaye aap? He is such a good actor!
As an actor and as a human being,Sanjeev Kumar earned immense respect from everyone right from his theater days. Far from being the miser he was said to be,he quietly helped out everyone who needed assistance,right from his theater friends to his staff and others. I know that he bought a taxi for someone,a machine for someone else and so on.
After Sunghursh,we came together in Aashirwad and then I approached him for Vinod Khannas role in my directorial debut Mere Apne. He told me,You know that I cant say No to you. But please try and understand,this film belongs to the actress who will play the old lady. But I always felt that jo aur koi nahin kar sakta hai woh Sanjeev to kar hi lega,so I approached him next for the cameo of Jaya Bachchans father in Parichay and he accepted it. After that,he would never ask me for the story and would blindly trust me.
An interesting story followed. I knew that no one else could play the deaf-mute to perfection in my third film Koshish. The gap between these two films releases was a month,and the main theatres in Mumbai for them were a few buildings apart as Parichay was still running. Sanjeev came to me and voiced his apprehensions,saying that he was playing Jayas father in Parichay but her husband in Koshish. How could the people accept that? I conceded that he had a point and went to producer N.C.Sippy. And Sippysaab simply said,You forget what a good actor he is! People forget who Sanjeev is because he becomes the character. This will be a test for him and of my faith in him.
As it happened,Koshish was also a hit and Sanjeev even got his second National award for it. In the same year,he was Jayas boyfriend again in Anamika. Among their later films,he also played her father-in-law in Sholay! Mausam,Namkeen,Angoor for me and Faraar,Arjun Pandit and Devata in which I was only the writer – Sanjeev was always a dependable force for me,and I also wrote lyrics for his Anubhav,Grihapravesh and Swayamvar.
On the sets of Namkeen,Sanjeev upset all the four ladies – Waheeda Rehman,Sharmila Tagore,Shabana Azmi and Kiran Vairale – because he would always report late. They would also blame me because I never chided him,so they would not speak to him when he arrived. Sanjeev would instinctively sense this,but remain completely indifferent! But the shot he gave would bowl them over and break their resolve! They would end up teasing him,suggest improvements in his wardrobe,bully him affectionately and finally tell him,We forgive you only because you are such a terrific actor!
Sanjeev had a great sense of humour – a must if one has to do all those comic roles that he did so brilliantly. Comedy is all about timing – you either have it or you dont. Sanjeev was a rare actor – he was attracted only to roles. It did not matter what role it was. Like his nine roles in Naya Din Nayi Raat – who else could have done them with such distinction? One day,after his bypass surgery from which he never really recovered,he was standing late at night outside his home with Boney Kapoor – he never really changed his lifestyle for the better – and I was passing by and asked him how he was. He said,They have put a vein from my leg in my heart,so it is learning to kick! Earlier,he would drop into my home as late as 1 a.m. in the night and needed a Black Label every time. If you cant afford it,I will get it! he would joke. My sister lived with me then and would love to cook a non-vegetarian meal for him that late. Sanjeev was mad about non-vegetarian food as it was never cooked at his home!
Another incident I recall was of Noorjahan,the famous singer,coming down to Mumbai – she adored Sanjeev and invited him for dinner at a famous restaurant. She was accompanied by her sister and brother-in-law and Sanjeev coaxed me into accompanying him,stating that he would need me if she began to speak in chaste Urdu that he would not undrestand! It turned out to be a memorable experience and I owe Sanjeev the privilege of meeting that great lady!
Lots has been written about why Sanjeev never married,but the truth was that he firmly believed that there was a curse on his family that the males would never live beyond the age of 50. His father had passed away early,and Sanjeev,as the eldest of three brothers,was very attached to his mother,because of whom,despite his success,he did not move to a bigger house but lived with her and youngest brother Nikul or Baba,and his family. In the 80s,he helped Nikul launch a film,Do Waqt Ki Roti,which never released. Then suddenly Nikul died,strengthening his belief in the curse. Sanjeev died at the age of 47,and less than two years later,the second brother Kishore also died. It was strange!
Well,what else can I say? Sanjeev always knew his capability and would plan what he would do with the number of sequences he had in a film. He was a hero of his own kind,not in the cliched sense of the definition of a film hero. And I miss him!
(As told to Rajiv Vijayakar)
A torrent of talent
Like water,Sanjeev Kumar simply took on the shape of the role and film in which he was placed. The master of natural acting in the Ashok Kumar-Pran-Motilal-Balraj Sahni mould,Sanjeev Kumar had paradoxically dabbled in theatre before entering cinema. Coming from a lower middle-class family,Harihar Zariwala (his real name) got his first break in the cameo of a cop in Filmalayas Hum Hindustani (1960),since he was also a student of the Filmalaya School of Acting.
The stunt film Nishan (1965) was his first solo lead. The first turning-point came in 1968 when he stole the scene as the inspector in the Asha Parekh-Dharmendra murder mystery Shikar. In the same year,L.V. Prasads swashbuckling Raja Aur Runk was Sanjeevs first A-grade solo hit,and the film saw the first of his many chartbusters,Phirkiwali tu kal phir aana. Both films proved Golden Jubilees.
Slowly,A-grade directors (Prasad again,Hrishikesh Mukherjee,Asit Sen,Dulal Guha,A.Bhim Singh,H.S.Rawail,G.P.Sippy,N.N. Sippy,Govind Saraiya) were coming forward to sign him in lead or parallel roles (Aashirwad,Anokhi Raat,Chanda Aur Bijli,Jeene Ki Raah,Bandhan,Satyakam) and Sanjeev even did his first negative turn in the Shammi Kapoor-Sadhana-starrer Sacchai.
In early 1970,H.S.Rawails Sungharsh was a box-office dud,but the world noticed that Sanjeev Kumar loomed very tall in the triangular histrionic confrontation with powerhouse performers Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni. Weeks later,Prasads Khilona hit the screen. As the lover-boy-poet who goes insane,it still ranks among the most magnificent essays of both his career and that decade.
In 1971 and 1972,the actor clinched two consecutive National awards for Dastak and Koshish. Haribhais simple looks never came in the way of powerful and variegated performances,like the lighthearted doctor boyfriend (Seeta Aur Geeta),the old musician (his cameo in Parichay),the middle-class husband in a discord with his wife (Anubhav) or the philandering executive (Pati Patni Aur Woh).
In the mid-70s,Sanjeev did a whole parade of multi-hero films,unworried by what footage he had or whether the film would benefit him. Shashi Kapoor,Jeetendra,good friend Shatrughna Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan remained his favourite male co-stars.
And though he became a saleable hero only after Anubhav,Seeta Aur Geeta,Koshish,Anhonee and Anamika in the early 70s,it was a rare filmmaker like B.R.Chopra and Mahesh Bhatt,who worked only once with Sanjeev Kumar. Besides Prasad,Atma Ram,A.Bhim Singh and Hrishikesh Mukherjee,even Yash Chopra,Subhash Ghai,Ramesh Sippy, Gulzar,Shakti Samanta,Ravi Tandon and many more went that extra mile to cast him,or conceive subjects with him.
In 1974-75,Sanjeev Kumars remarkable essays of nine roles in A. Bhim Singhs Naya Din Nayi Raat (a remake of Sivaji Ganesans 1964 Navarathiri) and his magnificent portrayals as the husband of a political leader (Aandhi) and the Thakur of Sholay proved more landmarks. Not surprisingly,in 1976,Sanjeev was signed by Satyajit Ray for his first tryst with Hindi cinema,Shatranj Ke Khiladi,in which he again dazzled as Mirza. And let us not forget that K.Asif,in his only film after Mughal-E-Azam,chose Sanjeev for Love And God. Sadly,the film was to release only after both Asif and Sanjeev had gone. But Sanjeev was known never to leave his house for work without paying respects to Asifs framed photograph in his living room.
The super performances Sanjeev gave in multiple films in middle-aged/old man roles (Arjun Pandit,Mausam,Zindagi,Trishul,Hum Paanch) outshone his young roles later. But one could never typecast this actor in whose dictionary the word limitation did not exist. Apart from his old roles,the crème-de-la-crème of his oeuvre,included his comic roles in Seeta Aur Geeta,Manchali,Pati Patni Aur Woh,Nauker,Biwi O Biwi,Angoor and Hero,with his uncanny excellence at comedy through deceptively-casual tweaks of his voice,eyes and even hands! And for a man who neither had a romantic image nor was an adept dancer,Sanjeev Kumar inspired his composers to come up with amazing songs like Khilona jaan kar tum to / Khilona,Tere naam ka diwana / Suraj Aur Chanda,Hawa ke saath saath / Seeta Aur Geeta,Tere bina zindagi se / Aandhi and Dil dhoondta hai / Mausam. Mohammed Rafi even tweaked his voice to suit the actor.
When he died suddenly of a massive heart-attack,the actor had eight films on hand! Sanjeev Kumar proved conclusively that true talent always writes its own rules.