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Sanjeev Kumar, the Superstar of the Common Man

Ravi is an avid movie and theatre buff and loves films that surprise him. He specializes in dissecting movies and recommending the best ones

Sanjeev Kumar was one of the greatest actors to have graced the silver screen. With over 100 iconic movies in a short life of 47 years, the actor-par-excellence memorable performances remain unparalleled in the annals of world cinema.

Sanjeev Kumar was one of the greatest actors to have graced the silver screen. With over 100 iconic movies in a short life of 47 years, the actor-par-excellence memorable performances remain unparalleled in the annals of world cinema.

Sanjeev Kumar, the Foodie Actor

Only two things come to my mind when I remember the iconic actor Sanjeev Kumar.

  • His unmatched versatility as an actor.
  • His love for good food.

So often, we categorize actors and actresses into labels; comic, tragic, action, romance, and so on. But Sanjeev Kumar was unique. He had a category of his own. He was such a multi-talented actor that by the time he reached his 40s, he had played the diverse roles of father, husband, lover, villain, romantic lead, and even comic hero in more than 100 movies.

His expressive face, infectious emoting of his eyes, and natural body language made him a director's delight and a complete package.

A Director's Delight

And the only other thing that could match his acting skills was his love for good food. Ever the fun-loving man, Sanjeev Kumar was so fond of food that his favorite pastime was to scout the streets of Mumbai in the wee hours of the morning searching for a new place to eat or an "undiscovered food gem," as he called it. He often joked that the best thing about acting is unlimited "khana aur peena” (eating and drinking).

It is also said that his overindulgence in food was a way for him to forget his medical condition. He was born with a congenital heart problem. Perhaps it was because he had a premonition about his early death. He never married despite being a ladies’ man and having numerous affairs.

Sanjeev Kumar died on November 6, 1985, at 47, due to a heart attack.

Kumar was so talented that by the time he reached his 40s, he'd played a father, husband, lover, villain, romantic lead, and even comic hero in more than 100 movies.

Kumar was so talented that by the time he reached his 40s, he'd played a father, husband, lover, villain, romantic lead, and even comic hero in more than 100 movies.

The Making of Sanjeev Kumar

Sanjeev Kumar was born Harihar Jariwala in a Gujrati family in 1938. He lost his father very early and grew up with his mother and his three siblings in a small tenement in Mumbai.

From a very early age, Sanjeev Kumar showed a natural talent for acting and had a keen interest in movies. He was so addicted to movies that he would do multiple part-time jobs till midnight to save money to watch the latest movie.

Filmalaya Acting School

Later, pursuing his burning ambition to act in movies, he joined the Filmalaya acting school. After completing the course, he managed to get several minor roles in movies like Hum Hindustani (1960), Nishan (1965), and Alibaba Aur 40 Chor (1966).

But, the movie that changed his life was Sunghursh (1968). It was directed and produced by Harnam Singh Rawail and included heavyweight actors like Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthi Mala, and Balraj Sahni.

Sunghursh (1968)

Sanjeev Kumar’s moment of fame came when he was asked to enact a face-off revenge scene against the legendary actor Dilip Kumar. The young Sanjeev not only stole the thunder, but also impressed Dilip to such an extent that the older actor asked the director Harnam Singh Rawail, “Where did you find this boy?”

Sanjeev Kumar was now flooded with roles. His next path-breaking movie was Khilona (1970) where he played the role of a mentally unstable man who falls in love. The movie cemented his stardom further as he went on to churn blockbusters like Andhi (1975), Mausam (1975), Angoor (1982), and Namkeen (1982).

Two Best Actor Awards

There was no looking back for Sanjeev Kumar now as he won the National Film Award for Best Actor for Dastak in 1971, followed by Koshish in 1973. His acting skills created a new benchmark for world cinema as audiences went gaga over his expressive eyes that could effortlessly essay any role. Sanjeev Kumar became one of the most versatile actors the world had ever seen.

Sanjeev Kumar became one of the most versatile actors the world had ever seen.

Sanjeev Kumar became one of the most versatile actors the world had ever seen.

The Ladies Man Who Never Married

Sanjeev Kumar was quite the ladies' man. But unfortunately, his every love affair failed, and he never married.

His first crush was the famous actress Nutan. Sanjeev Kumar was so smitten with Nutan that he proposed to her in front of everybody on the sets. Nutun, who was already married, did not take his public display too kindly and allegedly gave him a piece of her mind for his immature act.

Shabana Azmi

An affair with the actress Shabana Azmi soon followed this. Sanjeev was seriously in love with her and wanted to settle down, but her mother put her foot down, citing her refusal to accept a Muslim girl. As Sanjeev Kumar told later in an interview,

“Till the age of 26, I never touched a girl. The first time I first fell deeply and seriously in love, was around that time. I wanted more than anything to marry her. But she was a Muslim girl, If I was the youngest son of my mother, I would have said to hell with the world and married her.”

Hema Malini

Perhaps the mother of all affairs was with the “Dream Girl” actress Hema Malini. Sanjeev Kumar acted with her in the commercial blockbuster “Seeta Aur Geeta” and fell head-over-heels in love with her. Unfortunately, Hema Malini did not reciprocate his love and went on to marry the actor Dharmendra leaving Sanjeev Kumar heartbroken and shattered.

As Sarosh Modi, the movie journalist writes about Sanjeev Kumar's love life,

“Every woman whom Sanjeev loved and yearned for, ditched him, leaving him high and dry. His ego is terribly hurt. Sanjeev is suffering from some kind of a complex. Luck has never been in his favour. He loved them all. Shabana, Nutan and Hema.”

After the heartbreak with Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar began to eat and drink excessively. He became increasingly isolated as the excesses started to take a toll on his health, culminating in a fatal heart attack on November 6, 1985. He was 47 years old.

Dead at 47

Thousands of fans thronged his Bandra residence to pay their last homage to a legendary actor who was their superstar, a common man's superstar who would permanently reside within their hearts.

They say actors come and go, but institutions remain. Sanjeev Kumar was a venerable, irreplaceable institution.

They say actors come and go, but institutions remain. Sanjeev Kumar was a venerable, irreplaceable institution.

Iconic Sanjeev Kumar Movies

  • Sunghursh (1968)
  • Khilona (1970)
  • Dastak (1970)
  • Koshish (1972)
  • Naya Din Naya Raat (1974)
  • Sholay (1975)
  • Aandhi (1975)
  • Angoor (1975)
  • Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977)
  • Trishul (1978)
  • Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978)

Sources

© 2022 Ravi Rajan