They hail from diverse backgrounds. Mumbai-based Hanif Zaveri is an author, journalist, actor and playwright. New Delhi-based Sumant Batra is one of India’s leading insolvency lawyers, rated amongst the top 100 globally — and a film buff. The meeting of their minds has resulted in “An Actor’s Actor” (Penguin/Ebury Press), the first authorised and authoritative biography of the personal and professional life of Sanjeev Kumar, an actor who remains a role model even 35-years after his death.
Born Harihar Jethalal Jariwala in Surat on July 9, 1938, the book takes off from his family’s traditional ‘zariwala’ business, his struggles in the Hindi film industry where he underwent a “celluloid metamorphosis and was known to the worlds as Sanjeev Kumar”, his romantic involvement with some of Hindi cinema’s biggest names, his lifelong battle with loneliness and his glittering achievements on screen that won him several accolades, including two National Awards for “Dastak” and “Koshish”.
Sanjeev Kumar could light up the screen in underpants, paunch showing, in one of Hindi cinema’s most lovable song sequences, “Thande thande paani se nahana chahiye” (“Pati Patni Aur Woh”, 1977). Entirely unselfconscious of his image as a star, he would often be cast as the father figure to a number of his contemporaries, most famously Sharmila Tagore in “Mausam” (1975) and Amitabh Bachchan in “Trishul” (1978), or as the elderly Thakur in “Sholay” (1975) — not forgetting the indolent Mirza Sajid Ali in “Shatranj ke Khiladi” (1977), the only Hindi film directed by Satyajit Ray — and yet leave an indelible mark with his presence and his acting prowess.
After starting out in B-films in the 1960s, he caught the eye in “Sungharsh” (1967), where the manner in which he held his own against Dilip Kumar is now the stuff of Hindi film folklore. Equally adept at comedy (“Angoor” and “Manchali”, for example) and dramatic serious roles (“Anubhav” and “Koshish”), he was truly an actor’s actor.
“Sanjeev Kumar was shy and an introvert. He had no greed for publicity. In his entire film career, he never kept a personal public relations officer, which most of his contemporaries appointed. His sartorial sense was also in keeping with his down-to-earth lifestyle. No costly, fashionable suits for him. He was a simple person who was most comfortable in a kurta pyjama or in a silk kurta and lungi with simple slippers. Whenever in stress, he smoked but never discussed his feelings with anyone,” Zaveri said.
Considerable research has gone into the book, which is based mainly on information resulting from extensive interviews held with the family members of Sanjeev Kumar, his co-actors, filmmakers and other artistes. With a foreword by Shatrughan Sinha, “An Actor’s Actor” is truly a succinct introduction to the life and films of a star who tragically left this world at the young age of 47 on November 6, 1985 but who continues to live through his unforgettable and remarkable contribution to Hindi cinema.