I n an era of glorious Eastmancolour sunsets and popular cinema, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s debut production, Dastak (The Knock, 1970), a small-budget, black-and-white film, based on one of his own plays, Naql-e-Makaani (Moving to a New House), was a foolish gamble.
Family and friends were convinced that Bedi saab had gone mad, throwing away good money on a movie that wouldn’t run even for a day. But Dastak surprised everyone by not only pulling in the crowds on the first day but day after day.
Of course, initially the crowds came to see Rehana Sultan, the girl whose bare legs spread wide across the posters of BR Ishara’s Chetna had made her an overnight sensation. But Dastak’s Salma was a different Rehana, a conservative ‘begum’, who moves to the city with her husband into the flat that was recently vacated by a ‘tawaif’
(prostitute). She is presumed by Munnibai’s clients to be her younger, prettier replacement, and, soon, the knock on the door every night is a sound that brings in its wake dread and despair.National honours
However, for Rehana, co-star Sanjeev Kumar and music director Madan Mohan, Dastak was a bearer of good tidings. The trio bagged the National Award for Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Music Directior. “But my father who had missed out
on a popular award three times earlier, despite being nominated and considered a strong contender, had turned bitter and had
decided not to accept the national honour this time,” reminisces Madan Mohan’s son Sanjeev Kohli.
Sanjeev, who was 14 then remembers his namesake, Sanjeev Kumar, coming home one evening to persuade his father to accompany Rehana and him to Delhi. “We have to show solidarity,” he coaxed, and even convinced Madan Mohanji to get an identical tuxedo stitched for the occasion.
I never got a chance to meet Harihar Jethalal Jariwala, better known as Sanjeev Kumar. He left too soon, on November 6, 1985.
At 47 he was too young to say goodbye. But if you had asked him, he’d have said he wasn’t surprised, he’d known for years the ‘dastak
’ was coming. Many of the male members in his family hadn’t lived beyond the age of 50.
He himself had inherited a congenital heart condition and even a bypass in the US, following his first heart-attack, hadn’t made it
possible for him to celebrate his 48th birthday. His younger brother Nakul had died before him and his other brother Kishore two years after. Grey streaks
I’d been surprised to learn that he was only 47, when his heart had given way. I’d
imagined he was older, given the ease with which he had pulled off ‘grey-haired’ roles, including Gulzar’s Parichay (1972), Aandhi (1975) and Mausam (1975). Later, I discovered that Gulzar saab, who’d known him since their theatre days, had first seen him as an old man in an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, when he was only 22. A year earlier, he’d played a 60-year-old with six children in a play directed by AK Hangal.
Sanjeev Kumar enjoyed the challenge of being an older guy to a romantic hero that only required him to be himself. He was kicked to play a father to Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in Yash Chopra’s Trishul (1978). He would have become Amitabh’s father-in-law in Sholay (1975), had Jai not been felled by a bullet.
Both roles had got him lots of accolades, but when Yashji approached him for Silsila (1981) that required him to play his age and take away Amitabh’s girl Rekha, he was reluctant. Dil dhoondta hai…
A persistent Yashji followed him to Bangalore for a story narration. When he came to the scene where Amitabh and Jaya step on to the dance floor, Sanjeev Kumar stopped him, called his secretary and told him to make dates available to Yashji. Rang barse!
That’s the song I grew up hearing every Holi. But the one I associate Sanjeev Kumar with is Mausam’s (1975) nostalgic yearning, ‘dil dhoondta hai phir wahi fursat ke raat din…’
I wish I could have met him in the autumn of his life and walked down memory lane with him. Then maybe there would have been more star stories to tell…