By Jyothi Venkatesh
If only the late Haribhai Jethalal Jariwala, as Sanjeev Kumar was fondly referred to by most of his friends, was alive today he would have turned 85. We lost him almost 38 years ago when he was just about 49. The news of his death came as a big jolt to many who were in touch with him. Even now when I think of him and recall the times I spent with him, I remember what a jovial and smiling guy Haribhai was. I can still visualize him smoking his cigarette like K Asif used to and devouring his favourite Paaya Curry after having his favourite glass of Scotch whisky in the evenings.
I still vividly remember the first time that I met him on the sets of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak way back in 1970, when I was just 18 years old. When I told Sanjeev that I was representing ‘Cine Trade Guide’, a film trade weekly in these days, he guffawed at me and told me that I should not at all tell my boss that I had met an actor called Sanjeev Kumar because Roshanlal was cross with him, as he did not get him an ad.
I was only working in the early 70’s with my boss Roshanlal Sachdev in his weekly during the intervening vacations before I could start attending my Jr B.Sc classes. Unashamedly I told Sanjeev Kumar that since he was my favourite actor, I would stop working with Cine Trade Guide since I had only a month to go and he was paying me only Rs 100 per month. Sanjeev started liking me immediately and told me I should keep on visiting him once in a while, of course without telling Roshanlal Sachdeva.
Sanjeev Kumar was loved by everyone, whether or not he was a cineaste. While an authorised biography of the actor with a foreword by Shatrughan Sinha has already been written by my friend Hanif Zaveri and Sumant Batra, on the anvil is a lifeography by Rajni Acharya on Sanjeev Kumar, besides ten different books in ten different languages on Sanjeev Kumar by Rajni Acharya by the end of the year.Hanif has written in his biography that , when he asked Sanjeev Kumar what makes a good actor, he had said “a good voice, and a capability for complete insolence.
After I sat with Raj Khosla and Sanjeev Kumar at his office at Mehboob Studios, Sanjeev Kumar was comfortable with me, though in general he used to detest drinking with strangers or young guys, especially journalists. However, one evening Yunus Parvez invited me for a drinks session with Sanjeev Kumar, Satyen Kappu and MacMohan at Pandurang Wadi in Juhu where he used to stay.
There was a starlet who also joined our session, who started flirting with Sanjeev outrageously and plied him with not only drinks but also a generous amount of Paya Curry which was Sanjeev Kumar’s weakness. In the next issue of CineBlitz, I went ahead and wrote about what transpired at the party, without bothering to censor certain private emotions between Haribhai and the starlet and overnight, I ceased to be a friend of Haribhai who felt I had betrayed him so much so that he refused to shake hands with me or even give me an interview when I went to a ‘On The Sets’ coverage of his film Qatl at Juhu Hotel where he was shooting with Sarika.
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Exactly 40 years ago, I recall once after the pack up of the shooting of Daasi was announced, it was time for partying and Raj Khosla invited us to Johnny Bakshi’s office adjacent to the floors, which was at his disposal. Sanjeev quipped, “Rajji always refers to me as his neighbour. Often we sit together either at my house or his for drinks after the day’s work”. Incidentally Daasi was the first film in which Sanjeev worked for Raj Khosla.
Director Raj Khosla now butted in our conversation with a reference to Sanjeev’s secretary Jamnadas. “Both Sanjeev and his secretary get away with their disarming smile and bechare producers just cannot do a thing. While allotting you his dates, Jamnadas will give you a smile and you will not have the heart to argue with him over Sanjeev’s dates. When Sanjeev saunters in every day three hours late on your sets, he will give you such an apologetic smile that you will not feel like asking him why he is late. Thus both the master and the chela hold the producers to ransom”, Raj Khosla once quipped with a poker face.
Does Sanjeev Kumar do any kind of homework for the roles that he is portraying on the screen, like for example the role of the blind musician that he is doing in Daasi? “I wish I had the time to do a little bit of homework to improve my performance. My performance will be 50% better than what it is now, because I sincerely feel that one cannot do justice to more than one film at a time without devoting sufficient time to do homework to get into the teeth of the role.”
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How far is it true that producer Nari Sippy has asked you to enact in the Hindi version the role played in the Telugu film Shankarabharanam by Somayajulu, the district collector who has become a superstar after the release of the film in Andhra Pradesh? I asked Sanjeev. “Nari Sippy hasn’t approached me so far with any such offer. Maybe Yusufsaab is going to work in the film for Nari”, Sanjeev said.
The industry was rife with rumours that Sanjeev Kumar was roped in by producer Nagi Reddy to direct a film for him in a start to finish non- stop shooting schedule in Madras. Sanjeev however asserted that it was the figment of imagination of a journalist. “Why should I take a risk and spoil the name that I’ve earned as an actor by taking up direction at this stage of my career? I am not keen on jeopardizing my career”, he said.
Sanjeev was all praises for the South Indian film makers and did not at all mind calling a spade a spade. ”Ever since Swarg Narak clicked at the box office, the trend has started once again to make Hindi films in the South. I worked in Takkar and Swayamvar in Madras. If only the film makers in the South had a big market like Hindi films for their films in the South Indian languages, Hindi films would have been relegated to the background a long time ago”.
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Sanjeev’s main worry in those days was to stop smoking and drinking. “My doctors have advised me not to touch liquor and cigarettes, but I have not been able to give them up because I am addicted to them. I have cut down on my intake though I have not been able to give up drinking as well as smoking altogether.”
Sanjeev added, “Jeetendra was a chain smoker who used to smoke more than five to six packets every day. Do you know how he gave up smoking? He told me that every time he picked up a cigarette to smoke, he used to remember the after effects of smoking like coughing nonstop at night and vomiting. “How many times can I ask poor Shobha to hold a basin for me to vomit in the middle of the night?,” he said and gave up smoking. ”
The talk turned towards stars and their children, when I informed him that Neetu Singh had delivered a baby daughter. Sanjeev told us, “Isn’t it rather surprising that every hero has had a daughter as his first child? Take the examples of Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Dabboo Kapoor, Feroz Khan, Sanjay Khan, Jeetendra, Rakesh Roshan and now Chintu. It looks more like a divine punishment to enable them to know what the problems that parents of daughters have to face in life are.”
Why did you refuse producer Yash Chopra’s offer to cast you in his film Nakhuda directed by his assistant Dilip Nayak? I asked Sanjeev. “I turned down Yashji’s offer because I’ve decided not to accept any more elderly roles under doctor’s advice .Yashji wanted me to work in Nakhuda directed by Dilip Nayak as Sachin’s foster father who gives his life in the end in order to save him. I do not like to saddle myself with more and more elderly roles especially after I myself had decided against it.”
If you didn’t accept Nakhuda, how and why did you accept the offer to act in Sawaal in which you are doing an elderly role again? I persisted. “Sawaal is an old commitment of mine which I had promised to Yashji even when I was working in Trishul and hence I couldn’t wriggle out of it easily”
Once the renowned director Hariharan asked me to function as the interpreter to Sanjeev Kumar who wanted to see the Tamil film Mundhanai Mudichu since the producers wanted to come up with a remake in Hindi called Masterji. When I walked into the preview theatre at Vijaya Vauhini Studios in Chennai, for a change I was shocked to see Sanjeev Kumar sauntering even before I did because he was very keen on watching the super hit Tamil film. If I was shocked, Sanjeev was doubly shocked to know that I would be the interpreter during the screening. My job was very easy because Sanjeev knew little Tamil and during the screening I had to brief him about what the scenes were only very few times.