Every time somebody decides to analyse Hindi cinema academically, one of the actors they are asked to study is Sanjeev Kumar. Widely regarded as one of the best actors to have graced Hindi cinema, Sanjeev Kumar passed away at a young age of 47 in the year 1985. During his lifetime, however, he managed to do a variety of films across different genres that helped him earn the reputation of being a malleable actor who can step into any role with effortless ease. ‘Sanjeev Kumar – The Actor We All Loved’, authored by Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta and Uday Jariwala, is a biography of the actor that offers one a detailed account of his journey in the film industry.
I started reading the book hoping to get a glimpse of the kind of trajectory Sanjeev Kumar has had as an actor. The book, apart from serving as a detailed guide into his journey as an artist, also sheds light on many incidents and events that occurred in his personal life. “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another” – as you open the book, you see one page being dedicated to this popular quote by Ernest Hemingway. Sanjeev Kumar spent a relatively short time on this planet but did the kind of work that continues to be an inspiration for actors and performers. Students of acting study and analyze his performances from different films meticulously to figure out how he did what he did. While he is not around to conduct a master class, his acting performances serve as a guiding light for aspiring actors and those who are already working within the industry.
The book opens with a poem by Gulzar called ‘Na Le Ke Jaao’. This was the same poem that was used in a song format in the Karisma Kapoor – Hrithik Roshan starrer ‘Fiza’. As you go through the poem, you realize these lines reflect the kind of pain Gulzar went through when he lost his dear friend Sanjeev. Gulzar had directed Sanjeev in films like ‘Mausam’, ‘Aandhi’, ‘Angoor’, ‘Koshish’ and ‘Namkeen’. and was known to be very fond of the actor. Then, we see a picture of a young Uday Jariwala (co-author of this book) with his uncle Sanjeev Kumar. This picture serves as an indication of the fact that the book will offer a glimpse into several incidents of an individual which would have been witnessed only by those who were close to him. Gulzar’s poetry and this particular picture helps the reader warm up to the book and makes one look forward to what it offers.
In the book, one finds the authors acknowledging the fact that ‘GenZ’ might not have seen any of Sanjeev Kumar’s films. They also hope that when somebody reads this book, they would be intrigued to know more about this man and perhaps, see some of his films. Interestingly, the book takes off by discussing the incident concerning his death. The first chapter of the book informs the reader how Hari (Harihar Jethalal Jariwala was the actor’s real name) was first hit by the acting bug. Many of the misconceptions around him are cleared in the same chapter.
One of the things that strike you about this vastly engaging book is that the chapters are short, crisp and informative. This should prove to be a great pull for those who don’t like going through long chapters while reading a book. The book, in equal measure, explores the actor’s personal tragedies and professional triumphs. Journalist Bharathi Pradhan’s personal piece, that is one and a half pages long, serves as a wonderful introduction to the women who had been a part of Sanjeev’s life. While Sanjeev’s achievements are celebrated in the book, the authors do not shy away from talking about some of the aspects of his personality that many would find problematic today. For instance, Sanjeev was very particular about marrying a woman who would not be career-oriented and willing to look after his household. We are also informed about his temper issues that he could not manage to resolve.
There are some factual errors in the book which, hopefully, should be rectified in the next edition. On page number 242, it has been stated how Gulzar collaborated with Sanjeev Kumar and R.D. Burman on films like ‘Parichay’, ‘Koshish’, ‘Mausam’, ‘Aandhi’, ‘Angoor’ and ‘Namkeen’. The soundtrack for ‘Mausam’ was composed by Madan Mohan and not R.D Burman.
In a career spanning twenty-five years, Sanjeev Kumar did enough films to substantiate the fact that he has been one of the most versatile actors to have worked in Hindi cinema. While this book will greatly appeal to those who have been admirers of the actor and followed his work very closely, it also serves as a robust guide to those who wish to study the thespian’s career in detail.