Sanjeev Kumar The Actors’ Actor
He was an actor’s actor, who performed every role with a characteristic panache. An actor, who excelled in every role, whether it was that of a romantic hero, a villain or even in a stellar role. He wasn’t afraid to match histrionics with any actor, and stood his winning ground. A man who knew he would die young, and did not marry any of the heroines who tried to woo him. He was hopelessly in love with Nutan who slapped him on the sets of their starrer, when he persisted in his unholy designs. The only other co-star he reportedly flipped for, it was Hema Malini. This was Harihar Jariwalla, better known to his admirers as Sanjeev Kumar. When he died at the young age of 47, on November 6, 1985, from a congenital heart problem, he had already acted in 144 films, some released posthumously, debuting in a side role in the 1954, Ali Baba and 40 Chor when barely 16. His first adult role was in Hum Hindustani (1960).
He was a foodie, a heavy smoker, and loved his Scotch no less (seldom at his own expense), and he indulged in both as if there won’t be a tomorrow. Little is known about his women, except momentary interest. Yet he was a gentleman to the core who couldn’t, as they say, even hurt a fly. He would rather wait for the fly to fly away rather than be hurt, or killed. Simple, down to earth, very conventional in his habits (including shaving from an old-rusted shaving kit with a small, folding mirror in front of him), even when surrounded by waiting producers, scriptwriters, and directors. He was a late riser because he almost except for the last couple of years, after he returned from America after a successful by-pass surgery, he seldom went to bed before dawn. Yet, no one ever complained of his late reporting on the sets. He often joked that none in his family had crossed the 50 mark, and there was no reason why destiny will make an exception in his case.
His first film as a hero was the B-grade Nishana (1965). But he rapidly jumped the ranks when matched histrionics with the seasoned Dilip Kumar in the HS Rawail-directed Sangarsh (1968) that dealt with the dreaded killers in Benaras. It was the role of the lunatic in Khilona (1970) that elevated him to the ranks of a hero. There was no looking back after that as others like Seeta aur Geeta (1972), and Manchali (1973) followed in quick succession to firmly settle his place in the history of Bollywood cinema. It was the consistency of his sterling performances that gained him recognition with eminent non-conventional directors like Satyajit Ray (Shatranj ke Khiladi, 1977), Basu Bhattacharya (Anubhav, 1971; Griha Parvesh 1979), and Gulzar with whom he did the maximum number of films (Parichay, 1972; Mausam and Aandhi, 1975; Angoor, 1981; Namkeen, 1982).
Although it was his role as Thakur Baldev Singh in Sholay (1975), that he is today best remembered for his career’s best performance, his equally landmark film was Naya Din Nayi Raat (1974) a role that had been immortalised by the legendary Tamil and Telegu actors Shivaji Ganesan and A Nageswara Rao (Navarathri) in nine different get-ups. But it proved to be a big flop in Hindi. His other notable starrers, mostly in character roles, were in Trishul (1978), Vidhata (1982). It is a paradox that such a brilliant actor of rare histrionics starred, and wasted in more than 100 inconsequential films. At the same time, it is a tribute to his talent that despite this he won as many as 14 Best Actor Filmfare nominations, and lifted the trophy 3 times. He also won the Best Actor National Film Awards for his performances in Dastak (1971) and Koshish (1973), and the personal favourite, Anokhi Raat. Unfortunately, despite sterling performances he never won acceptance as a solo hero.
He was a natural actor, so it would seem odd that when invited for a screen test by the House of Rajshri for a film called Aarti opposite Meena Kumari soon after he had graduated from the Filmalaya School of Acting, he failed, and given the boot. It must have hurt him badly, so on the rebound when he was approached by the same production house, he did not entertain the offer. Haribhai, unlike his contemporaries, used facial contortions and hand gestures to telling effect, and meticulously worked on his dialogue delivery during dubbing to give the character an extra edge, and that is how he scored over other actors.
Harihar Jariwalla was not a spendthrift. His apartment bore a middle-class look. He did not even use fancy gadgets. He would meet producers and visitors to his apartment in a crumpled lungi-kurta around the afternoon. He would place an ordinary mirror on the table in front of him, dig out the much-used shaving apparatus from a rusted biscuit box and start applying leather on his face, while attending on the waiting assembly. This was in total contrast to most other heroes, who would show-in at their best in their waiting rooms. Sanjeev Kumar was simplicity personified, and if at all there were any ego hang-up there was never a public display of them.
Sanjeev Kumar left behind 10 incomplete films. Unfortunately, none is really worth writing home about. Yet, paradoxically, no actor of his caliber or capabilities has walked past the Bollywood streets. Memories of his last journey as it moved from his Bandra (west) apartment to the last post, surpassed only by the inimitable, charismatic Raj Kapoor, are still vivid. It is doubtful if such a tearful adieu will be bestowed on any other Bollywood stalwart. But unlike many other, even more popular and successful ones, he left behind a small body of work to be remembered by.
By Suresh Kohli