If Dilip Kumar was the king of tragedy, Raj Kapoor the Chaplinesque tramp, Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna the evergreen romantic heroes and Amitabh Bachchan the angry young man, Sanjeev Kumar was all these and more. From the understated anger of Thakur in Sholay to the jovial Ashoks in Angoor, if ever there was a versatile actor in Hindi films, it was without doubt Sanjeev Kumar.
The many faces of the actor and the man behind the characters he played have been unveiled in Sanjeev Kumar: The Actor We All Loved (Harper Collins), a biography by Uday Jariwala and Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta.
My Kolkata caught up with Uday Jariwala, who was in Kolkata on a book-signing trip, and discussed Sanjeev Kumar, the book, their love for Calcutta and much more.
'A lot of people had approached us to write a book on him before, but we didn’t want to get into any kind of controversy, so we stayed away from it'Ritagnik Bhattacharya
Three decades on…
The biography comes three decades after Sanjeev Kumar’s death. What took so long? “Ours is a very private family. A lot of people had approached us to write a book on him before, but we didn’t want to get into any kind of controversy, so we stayed away from it. But then my kids were growing up. They had their questions from what they had read or seen on social media or public platforms. So, I wanted to get the facts right. That’s why we decided to get the book out now,” nephew Uday said.
Rediscovering Sanjeev Kumar
The book gives the audience a glimpse of Kumar the actor and how he became a national sensationCourtesy Uday Jariwala
The book borders on a biography with narratives from industry colleagues interspersed with photographs and personal memories of the author.
It gives the audience a glimpse of Kumar the actor and how he became a national sensation. “There are lots of things about him (Sanjeev Kumar) that readers can discover through the book. He had to struggle a lot, faced many rejections and put in a lot of hard work before he became successful.”
Sanjeev Kumar was not only revered by his fans but also by his industry colleagues and friends. Gulzar saab had a lot to say about Sanjeev Kumar. “He came to the sets with a smile, gave a single take and left,” the lyricist said.
Beyond the actor
Uday had seen his uncle very closely. “I spent a lot of time with him. For me, he was my father, mother, grandfather — everything in one. That’s how I remember him.’’
So, was knowing him an advantage or a disadvantage while writing the book? “It definitely helped me. The challenging part was thinking about what he could have been going through while portraying each character. His friends and colleagues helped us out with it,” Uday said.
Video by Ritagnik Bhattacharya
Years of research
The book is the product of detailed research. “A lot of research went into the making of the book. We had to scour through a lot of his old interviews. We spoke to his old colleagues. We got inputs from a lot of film reporters of that time. It took around four years to get the whole book done,” the author said.
Reliving a shoot experience
While Uday does not remember the first time he visited his uncle’s sets, he does recall how fascinated he would be every time he accompanied Sanjeev Kumar to a shooting. “I have gone to most of his movie sets. He used to take me with him even on outdoor shoots. I was probably nine or 10 back then and he was shooting for Sawaal. It was an outdoor shoot and there was an action scene with a helicopter. In between the shoots, he took me on a helicopter ride,” Uday said.
“He came to the sets with a smile, gave a single take and left,” said GulzarCourtesy Uday Jariwala
Going through Sanjeev Kumar’s personal diary, his nephew discovered many associations with Calcutta. In the late '60s, he took a flight for the first time to travel to Calcutta from Bombay. “He wrote in his diary how excited he was,” Uday said.
Sanjeev Kumar also played the nawab in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi. “I remember when he was offered the movie Shatranj ke Khiladi. He also worked with many Bengali co-stars — Mousumi Chatterjee (Angoor), Sharmila Tagore (Mausam). Sanjeev Kumar’s love for Bengal also spilled over to food. He loved his maach bhaja and shorshe ilish, Uday shared.
Carrying on the legacy
The Sanjeev Kumar Academy of Arts and Performance and the Sanjeev Kumar Foundation, where Uday is the coordinator, has been engaging in performing art-based and philanthropic work. “We are just trying to promote the arts through the academy, which is based in Surat. We are trying to get new students to explore the art form. The foundation has adopted a government school where we take care of around 180 to 200 kids.”
Introducing Sanjeev Kumar to today’s generation
Sanjeev Kumar’s body of work is a lesson in itself for the younger generation, according to Uday. He worked hard and with a lot of patience. His perseverance paid off and won him success. “He even did bit roles in mainstream cinema that you can’t call special appearances. Then he did special appearances, played second lead and progressed to lead roles. He played all kinds of characters — villain, hero, comic. He did everything and did it successfully.’’