Bollywood Legends - Sanjeev Kumar
Haribhai Jariwala, a lower middle-class Gujarati, was once a theatre actor who struggled to find a footing in the film industry. He accepted bit roles and even did C-grade stunt films, Chanda aur Bijli before going on to become a towering performer. Interestingly, Sanjeev Kumar had earlier failed in a screen test for a Rajshree film!
His first film as hero, Nishana, 1965, was a B-grade swashbuckler and many of his earlier films were of the same ilk opposite starlets like Kum Kum. But they were popular nevertheless. His talent and professionalism were recognised and he graduated to be pitted opposite thespian Dilip Kumar in Sunghursh, 1968, where he confronted the senior actor unflinchingly and won the day.
His performance as a mentally unbalanced dejected lover in Khilona, 1970, came in for lot of praise as he projected lunacy with his eyes and unkempt looks, caring more for authenticity than appearance. Due to his outstanding performance, he was a star now. The same year also saw him deliver a fine performance in Dastak, matching Rehana Sultan`s National Award winning performance scene for scene and winning his first National Award as Best Actor.
Sanjeev Kumar still opted for roles that were off the beaten track in films like Anubhav, 1971. He also consolidated his position meanwhile in the mainstream with hits like Seeta Aur Geeta, 1972 and Manchali, 1973.
Parichay, 1972, and Koshish, 1972, which won him a second National Award, brought him into contact with their director, Gulzar. Thus started a mutually beneficial partnership that saw some of Sanjeev Kumar`s finest work as an actor. He played a deaf and dumb man in the latter and it is amazing to watch him emote having internalized his feelings without the help of dialogue and his performance is screen acting at its very best. The Gulzar - Sanjeev Kumar partnership resulted in such fine films as Aandhi, 1975, Mausam, 1975, Angoor, 1981, and Namkeen, 1982, with strong Sanjeev Kumar performances in each of them.
Sanjeev Kumar was one actor who improved his performance tremendously at the dubbing stage with his marvelous voice control. The quiver in his emotionally saturated voice was as important an element of his acting as small casual getsures like running his hand down his neck. And despite making his reputation as a serious actor, he showed a great flair for the light-hearted in films In Naya Din Nayi Raat, 1974, wherein he played multiple roles further showcased his acting talent and versatility.
In 1977 Sanjeev Kumar had an opportunity to work with the great Satyajit Ray when the latter made his first film outside Bengal, Shatranj ke Khiladi, 1977. The film features delightful performances by Saeed Jaffrrey and Sanjeev Kumar as Mir and Mirza respectively. It is a delightfully nuanced performance under a great director.
Unfortunately by the 1980s, Sanjeev Kumar had grown extremely careless with his looks and had let himself bloat up. Among his later lot of films the only two that really stand out are Vidhaata, 1982, which again brought him face to face with Dilip Kumar and Hero, 1983.
Unhappy and dejected in love, in his private life, Sanjeev tried drowning his loneliness in alcohol. Coupled with his weakness for good food, it resulted in a weight problem and a heart ailment. The man who had played husband, father and grand-father ironically died a bachelor in 1985. It is ironic that someone who had played so many elderly roles, himself didn`t even live to be fifty.