EXCLUSIVE: After his break up with Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar didn't want to marry says Hanif Zaveri
Hanif Zaveri – author, journalist, actor and playwright. Sumant Batra – a renowned insolvency lawyer, founder of Cinemaazi, a website dedicated to cinematic heritage. What brought them together was their common love for Sanjeev Kumar. Zaveri’s experience and Batra’s expertise resulted in An Actor’s Actor: The Authorised Biography of Sanjeev Kumar. It would be audacious to attempt to confine Sanjeev Kumar’s talent in words. The Grandmaster smashed all stereotypes, demolished all competition with the sheer fluidity of his talent.
Nonchalant about going grey or his girth, offhand both in intensity and underplay, Sanjeev Kumar stands nonpareil even three decades after his demise. He took on heart wreck, a heart ailment and the premonition of early death with similar off-the-cuff elan. “The book is an honest account of Sanjeev Kumar’s life without trying to sensationalize it or glamourize it. It’s as simple as the man he was,” sums up co-author Batra.
Excerpts from an interview with Hanif Zaveri…
How did the idea of a biography on Sanjeev Kumar come about?
Once during a conversation, Dilip Kumar saab remarked, “Why don’t you pen a book on Sanjeev Kumar?” That triggered the idea. To digress a bit, Naya Din Nai Raat (1974) was first offered to Dilip Kumar. But Dilip saab, who admired Sanjeev, asked producer N. P Ali to sign him instead. Reason being Dilip saab had already played a double role in Ram Aur Shyam (1967) and was essaying three roles in Bairaag (1976). When Dilip saab saw the trial, he was awed by Sanjeev’s performance and suggested they include his commentary in the beginning of the film.
Was it easy meeting Sanjeev Kumar’s friends and family for the memoir?
Yes, they were extremely supportive. I met at least 110-112 people. This includes Sanjeev’s bhabhis, his brother’s children, his late stepsister's children, his friends and relatives in Surat... His real sister, Gayatri Patel, lives in the US. She met me a couple of times in India. She even sent across the family album.
Sanjeev Kumar’s father, the late Jethalal Jariwala, had married thrice. Jethalal’s first wife was Shanti. They had two daughters, Laxmi and Jaswanti. After Shanti’s demise, Jethalal married again. Hi second wife, also Shanti (had a daughter Bhagwati) too passed away. Later, Jethalal left Surat and expanded his business in Mumbai. He built a home in Santacruz and called it Shanti Bhavan. He then married a young divorcee Zaverben. He called her Shantaben. Sanjeev was her eldest son among Kishore and Nikul and daughter Gayatri. Most importantly, common friend and author, Yasser Usman, introduced me to Sumant Batra. He too is a great fan of Sanjeev. His contribution has been immense. The book wouldn’t have been possible without him.
You’re a Sanjeev Kumar fan too…
Yes. Sanjeev and I share some uncanny similarities. His original name Harihar Jariwala and mine Hanif Zaveri begin with the alphabet ‘H’. Born in Surat, Sanjeev was born in Bombay and grew up in Bhuleshwar. While I grew up in Pydhonie, a bus-stop away. He was part of IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) just as I was. I debuted on stage playing an old man’s role. Sanjeev also played an old man’s role in his first play, Damroo, directed by AK Hangal. I knew Sanjeev from our theatre days. But our friendship developed in 1983. As a journalist, I did many interviews with him.
An episode in Sanjeev’s life, which left your surprised…
Sanjeev Kumar had got engaged to a girl named Hansuya or Hansa in 1954. The engagement broke after three years, as Sanjeev didn’t want to get married. It took me two-three years to trace Hansa in Surat, who’s been married twice. Years later, when Hansa’s family was undergoing a financial crisis, Sanjeev, who was then a superstar, got to know of it. He told his mother that he wanted to help the family. Somewhere, he believed he’d broken Hansa’s heart.
He was a charmer. Yet Sanjeev Kumar remained unlucky in love…
True. There was no showbaazi about him. His paunch didn’t come in the way when he romanced on screen. O manchali kahan chali (Manchali 1973) being an example. People loved him the way he was. But when it comes to life, it’s all about destiny. You can change your cutlery, your house, even your wife… but you can’t change your destiny. After joining films there were two important relationships in his life. One was with the late Nutan and the other with Hema Malini. There are dedicated chapters on them. Nutan was a married woman with a child. Her husband, Rajnish Bahl, was a naval officer. And no way would he have tolerated an affair. We have mentioned the ‘slapping incident’ (allegedly Nutan slapped Sanjeev on the set of the film to squash rumours of their proximity) on the set of Devi (1970). What happened prior to that, what happened that day… everything is covered in detail.
And Hema Malini?
Well, there were many reasons given for Sanjeev’s break-up with Hema Malini. But the truth is that a top actor (the book cites an incident where Hema Malini, on Rajesh Khanna’s insistence, attended a premiere of a Hollywood film with him) was somewhere responsible for the fallout. On her part, Hema did try her best to explains things to Sanjeev and help him see reason. But Sanjeev was unyielding. All this has been written in detail in the book.
What about his rumoured romances with co-stars Sulakshana Pandit, Neeta Mehta, Jayshree T and others?
The rumoured romances with Sulakshana, Neeta, Jayshree… and others were one-sided. After his break-up with Hema Malini, Sanjeev didn’t want to marry. He’d stopped considering marriage. He also feared that his wife would not be able to adapt to his late nights and erratic lifestyle. In fact, Sulakshana reportedly said in an interview that she asked Sanjeev to put sindoor in her parting in a Hanuman mandir. But he refused saying he was still in love with Hema. He may be blamed for Sulakshana’s sad state but the truth is Sanjeev didn’t want to get married ever. Nobody destroys anyone. It was perhaps not in Sulakshana’s destiny to get married.
Was Sanjeev upset when rumours of Hema’s closeness to Dharmendra started doing the rounds?
No. In fact, Jeetendra, who’d also proposed to Hema Malini, was Sanjeev’s friend. Sanjeev even featured in Jeetendra’s productions. Sanjeev’s stance was, “After the break-up, what happens is not my concern.” During the shooting of Sholay (1975), Sanjeev and Hema lived in separate hotels. They were not seen together in any frame. Same was the case in Trishul (1978). Supposedly, Sanjeev was to play Shakaal (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda) in Shaan (1980). He left the film when he came to know Hema was to be part of it. Eventually, Hema too left the film and Bindiya Goswami came in.
Did Sanjeev resort to alcohol after the heartbreak?
No. Sanjeev began drinking right from his theatre days. Those days, he visited a place at CP Tank, which served cold drinks during the day and liquor at night. He would drink with his theatre peers. He got into the habit since then - much before the Hema Malini episode. But he never drank during the day or on the set. He adhered to a timetable for drinking.
What about his infamous love for food?
He was truly a foodie. Once he was invited at actor Mukri’s house along with others. There, he headed straight to the kitchen. He began eating so heartily that there was hardly anything left for the guests. He’d call up his co-star, Rehana Sultan (Dastak 1970) and say, “Main aa raha hoon, fish banakar rakh!” He also enjoyed her paya soup and chicken gravy. Once Moushumi Chatterjee was leaving for a party with husband (Jayant Mukherjee) when Sanjeev dropped in. He asked her to tell her staff to prepare chicken for him before heading out. Another anecdote is about Prem Chopra, who’d once thrown a party at his Bandra house. Around 2.30 am, when all the guests had left and Prem was about to retire, the bell rang. Sanjeev was at the door. He said, “I’m sorry I’m late. But the party cannot be complete without me.” The two friends then ate and drank till 6 am.
What about his reputation of being a kanjoos (miser)?
Sanjeev was not a kanjoos. Remember, a kanjoos never lends money. At the time of his demise, the industry owed Sanjeev Kumar around 96 lakhs, a massive sum those days. He had lent huge amounts to people without anything in writing. His bhabhi, Jyoti Jariwala, approached Sunil Dutt to help recover the sum from people. Dutt saab gave up after a few months. The film industry cheated Sanjeev. Worth mentioning is the fact that a month after his death, Boney Kapoor went to Sanjeev’s house with a briefcase of money. He said he’d taken loan for Hum Paanch (1980) and was returning it.
Was Sanjeev irked by rivalry?
Sanjeev had so much work, he didn’t mind if roles were taken away from him. He was never in the race. He worked for big and small producers, for friends including BR Ishara, Johny Bakshi... He didn’t care for publicity or looks. He would be dressed in a silk lungi, kurta and chappals. He had absolutely no ego. An actor and human being like Sanjeev Kumar will not be born again.
Did he fear dying as uncannily men in his family didn’t live beyond 50?
He was not afraid of death. In an interview, Tabassum asked him why he accepted ‘old man’ roles when he was so young. Sanjeev replied in jest, “I’m not going to turn old as I will not live beyond 50 much like the men in my family. So, I might as well experience old age on screen.” For the record, his grandfather, Shivalal Jariwala, his father Jethalal Jariwala, his brother Kishore Jariwala, his younger brother Nikul Jariwala… all died before reaching 50. Sanjeev also died at 47 (on 6 November 1985). They all died of heart attack.
In Co-author Sumant Batra’s words:
Hanif Zaveri conceived the idea. He conducted all the interviews and gathered an immense wealth of content. I happened to meet him through common friend/writer Yasser Usman. I am a great fan of Sanjeev Kumar and believe I have the ability to write. At Cinemaazi, we had amazing content to complement the work Hanif had done. We stitched the narrative together. Both of us are not film critics. We don’t have the credentials to review his work. What people want to know was Sanjeev Kumar’s life as an individual. We delved into that. Though Sanjeev was so successful, he maintained no discipline about arriving on the set on time. Surprisingly, people didn’t hold it against him. Once he arrived late on the set of Gulzar’s Namkeen. An upset Gulzar said, “Let’s pack-up!” Sanjeev smiled and said, “Let’s all go for a movie instead!” Everyone burst out laughing. Sanjeev was such an affable human being that one smile and all annoyance would melt away.