Sanjeev Kumar—The Actor we all Loved: Superficial tome on in-depth actor 

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The biography of Sanjeev Kumar published by Harper Collins. Photo: Book Inlay

He was an actor whose performances, come comic (Seeta Aur Geeta, Manchali, Pati Patni Aur Woh, Angoor), romantic or serious, had humongous depth. Ironically then, this book is quite superficial and while the initial pages make for a good read, thanks to some rare insights into his person and career, the rest of the chapters seem like fillers.

And this does supreme injustice to someone who I, along with arguably millions of others, consider to be one of the five all-time greatest actors in Hindi cinema. Also, periodic references through various family members to his heart attacks and deaths make the tone needlessly morbid. Only the most emotional of these should have been used.

Despite being co-written by a family member, the book goes wrong on two other crucial points: one, it is scattered and far from organized in its melee of content, with sudden and random chapters that are not necessarily very notable, and two, it focuses too much on certain hyped celebrities. And some chapters go into almost esoteric intellectual zones, pardoxically for an actor whose brilliant histrionics were as elemental as the simplicity in his persona.

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There are riveting excerpts from books on Hema Malini, Rishi Kapoor and even Smita Patil but too much focus overall on Gulzar, as the writers seem to be overwhelmed by Gulzar’s significant yet over-promoted association with the actor. A great, personal input from Ramesh Sippy, his Seeta Aur Geeta and Sholay director, for whose Shaan Sanjeev had been considered/announced (for Shakaal’s role!) and a discussion on his cameo in Sippy’s father G.P. Sippy’s Bandhan as well as the lead in Trishna would have made great reading.

Yes, there are interesting anecdotes, like Sanjeev’s conversation with Prakash Chopra, B.R. Chopra’s wife, at the Pati Patni Aur Woh success party, or the Randhir Kapoor chapter.  On Sanjeev Kumar’s personally romantic side, some interesting revelations come forth.

On the other hand, inputs from some more key people in Sanjeev’s career are missing, which would have enriched the book so much. The list includes Dharmendra (who did four films with him, including a movie that was like a home production—Satyakam), Jeetendra, Shatrughan Sinha, Rakesh Roshan, Waheeda Rehman, Zeenat Aman and composer Pyarelal.

That brings us to the chapter on his music. This is intolerably sketchy and does not do justice to an era where every major (and even minor star) got great songs. A special emphasis on Mohammed Rafi tailoring his voice for Sanjeev’s persona in songs like Khilona jaan kar tum to (Khilona) or Aaya re khilonewala (Bachpan) besides rare Sanjeev songs by many singers, including in small films could have increased the book’s reading as well as archival value.

The photographs are indeed interesting, but the actor’s ‘filmography’ is again woefully incomplete: no co-stars, romantic or otherwise, are mentioned for each film. Maybe all this needed arduous research, which seems missing in this generally hurried tone of this tome, since another biography (which I have not read) was out last year.

And of course, some factual errors further demonstrate this sad fact: Raaj Kumar is spelt as Raj Kumar, Manna Dey is not mentioned among singers though Bhupinder Singh is, ditto Yesudas (and later Suresh Wadkar). At various points, the authors mention that Shikar and Sunghursh both signaled his breakthrough, whereas it was actually Khilona that marked his big-time and also got him the end-1972 trio, Seeta Aur Geeta, Parichay (cameo) and Anubhav that set him into the big league.

There is also no mention of an admittedly forgettable film named Subah-O-Sham (1972), which was needed simply because it was the first Indo-Iranian production and co-starred Iranian actor Fardeen. It is listed just as a statistic in the filmography, but its year too is wrongly mentioned as 1971! Another key error is that Nazima is not mentioned at all—she was his (main) heroine in the L.V. Prasad golden jubilee hit Raja Aur Runk, not Kum Kum!

It would also have been interesting to note that three of his Sanjeev’s films (all hits) between 1968 and 1970 included Raja Aur Runk, Chanda Aur Bijli and Bachpan, films based respectively on classic English stories for kids like The Prince And The Pauper, Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn. This list comes in addition to Parichay (The Sound of Music), Manoranjan (Irma La Douce), Angoor (A Comedy of Errors) and Vidhaata (The Godfather), all inspired by foreign movies and plays. These become significant as tidbits when we realize, through this book, that Sanjeev had an affinity for Hollywood movies.

Finally, the title has an extra letter! It should have been “Sanjeev Kumar: The Actor we all Love.” The “d” that denotes the past tense should not have been there at all! We love Sanjeev Kumar—period.

Overall, the book is a curate’s egg of a book—good in parts. It could have been so much more.

Sanjeev Kumar: The Actor We All Loved / Published by: Harper Collins / Authors: Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta & Uday Zariwala

 

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