On Sanjeev Kumar’s 80th birth anniversary, here’s remembering Bollywood’s beloved Hari Bhai
It is heartbreaking when one gets to know that the life of one of our favourite stars was cut short by a heart problem. As if it wasn’t enough that iconic Indian screen beauty Madhubala died at a young age of 36 because of a hole in her heart, talented Bollywood actor Sanjeev Kumar (fondly called Hari bhai by many of his colleagues in Bollywood) too died rather young, aged 47, due to a massive heart attack.
Harihar Jethalal Jariwala (Sanjeev Kumar was his screen name) was born in Surat, Gujarat but soon his family moved to Mumbai (Bombay). He started out as a theatre actor, working in plays by Indian Peoeple’s Theatre Association (IPTA) at a young age. In fact veteran character actor AK Hangal cast him in one of his plays, early in his career.
Though Sanjeev made his film debut in 1960 with a small role in Hum Hindustani, it was a movie called Khilona (1970; remade from Tamil original Engerindho Vandhaal) that Sanjeev first tasted success. He played a man who loses his mental balance after being jilted. A courtesan (Mumtaz) is hired by the family to pretend to be Sanjeev’s wife and take care of him. In one his many bouts of madness, he rapes her. How he gets back his sanity and how the two get reconciled with each other, forms the rest of the story. The film helped Sanjeev display his acting prowess—importantly his ability to move from loud and often melodramatic moments to ones of restraint, making him a natural choice for many directors and storytellers.
He would go on to work with various directors and in many different genres, acing many styles of acting. With films like Manchali, Seeta Aur Geeta, Anamika and Aap Ki Kasam (in the last one, he played the second lead) he channelled the romantic side of his personality with ease. In films like Angoor, Biwi O Biwi, Itni Si Baat, Pati Patni Aur Woh among others, his comic timing wowed all.
Thanks to his realistic acting, soon he would become a regular in Gulzar’s films as well. In movies like Mausam, Namkeen, Angoor and Aandhi, together they set the bar rather high for others to emulate. The thing about Sanjeev was that despite commanding the admiration of millions of fans, he never really allowed himself to be caught in an image of a star. Even in his days as a theatre actor, Sanjeev wouldn’t contend himself playing the ‘young hero’. True to his craft, through his career, he often played older characters. Watch him in Sholay, Mausam, Trishul and Koshish and you will understand what one is pointing at. In fact, often he played these roles where the other actors, often playing his sons, were much older than him. He played a dad to Shashi Kapoor in Trishul, while the virile Dharmendra in Sholay was also elder than him.
Sanjeev never batted an eyelid even when he was cast in a much smaller roles, despite being a powerhouse performer. In films like Parichay (lead were Jaya Bhaduri and Jeetendra) and in Silsila (where he played a small role as Rekha’s husband; watch him as he notices his wife flirt with her ex-lover, played by Amitabh Bachchan in the song Rang Barse).
If in the early ’70s he got lead roles, towards the late ’70s and early ’80s, Bombay filmmakers often cast him in character roles.
It is a measure of Sanjeev’s phenomenal acting prowess, that a filmmaker like Satyajit Ray was willing to cast him in a rather realistic (often bereft of any drama at all) in Shatranj Ke Khiladi even as Ramesh Sippy would think of him as Thakur in Sholay with all his typical mannerisms. What would Gabbar Singh’s ‘yeh haath humko de de, Thakur’ have been without Sanjeev’s heavy baritoned ‘nahin’?
Such a consummate artist Sanjeev was that he worked in other language films as well, while he was among the most talked-about actors in Bombay. His Punjabi film, Fauji Chacha and Tamil films (in small roles) Bharat Vilas and Uyirandhavargal are cases in point.
Sanjeev was an immensely popular star but he never married. It is reported that he was in love with Hema Malini (he even proposed to her, it is said) and later got involved with actor Sulakshana Pandit. Sadly, they never married and she reportedly chose to stay single even after his death.
Sanjeev suffered his first heart attack in 1976. He went to the US and underwent a bypass. However, in November 1985, aged 47, he suffered a massive heart attack, which resulted in his death.
33 years have gone by since his passing away but his legion of fans, still remember him and say: Tum aa gaye ho, noor aa gaya hai.
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