I must have been all of four in 1983 when my parents took me to a theater to watch Angoor. Angoor till date remains my go to movie on a gray day. It just lifts my spirits up. Angoor was my first introduction to an actor called Sanjeev Kumar. I watched Sholay much later. My father had this whole collection of movies, on video cassettes, starring Sanjeev Kumar; Seeta aur Geeta, Manchali, Anamika. Being a Bollywood aficionado, I have read and collected autobiographies of the thespian Dilip Kumar, the one of his kind Naseeruddin Shah and the biographies of the first superstar of Indian Cinema Rajesh Khanna and the legend gone too soon, Guru Dutt. But my collection seemed incomplete as a book on one of the finest actors of Indian Cinema, Sanjeev Kumar, was missing.
The book delves upon the personal life of Hari Bhai, as Sanjeev Kumar was fondly known, and professional life. Having lost his father at the age of twelve he became a trusted lieutenant of his mother, Baa, as she fought on to raise him and his much younger siblings. Through thick and thin these two supported each other. Even when the family would make ends with great difficulty, Baa supported Hari Bhai’s dream of becoming an actor. He struggled for twelve years to get that breakthrough. Even after becoming a superstar he never neglected his responsibilities to his siblings. He got them educated, married and settled them just like a father would. One of the reasons he did not marry was also that he wasn’t sure if his wife would accept his family.
What I liked about the book
The book throws light on the early struggles of Hari Bhai which were not public knowledge. Hari Bhai was full of humility and simplicity and maintained a sense of humour throughout his struggle and remained so when he found success. How he would travel by bus and felt no embarrassment in saying so. One instance that the book recounts is while shooting for a film with Nanda, who was a superstar compared to Hari bhai; she noticed that Hari Bhai travelled by bus as he would fold the bus ticket and tuck it into his wrist watch. She asked him if he travelled by bus, to which he calmly replied that if he got late he travelled by bus else he walked from his home to the studio. Also once Nanda while watching a movie in a theater spotted him watching the same movie from the stalls, the seats available for the lowest prices. Aghast Nanda complained to Mehmood, the director. When Mehmood asked Hari Bhai why he bought a Rs1 movie ticket, he simply replied that a lower denomination ticket was not available.
The book has essays/ tributes by Hari Bhai’s contemporaries, colleagues and colleagues who turned friends. They all give glimpses into what it was like to work with him and what it was like being friends with him. The book also speaks on the few times that love came his way but the author maintains dignity and does not sound derogatory.
What I missed in the book
I felt that there were two glaring omissions in the books; an absence of essays/ tributes by Jaya Bachchan and director Ramesh Sippy. Jaya Bachchan was Hari Bhai’s favourite co-star and together they starred in some path breaking movies. It would have been a great read to have her insights on how Hari Bhai prepared for his various roles, especially Naya Din, Nayi Raat where he played 9 different characters.
Having insights from Ramesh Sippy as to how Hari Bhai transformed into Sholay’s Thakur, the most iconic characters ever seen in Indian Cinema, would have helped us understand Hari Bhai the actor better and would also serve as a guide for all the young aspiring actors.
My book mark reads “Bas Ek Safa aur” (just one more page) and it resonates with Sanjeev Kumar’s life. Wish he had lived longer, wish he had more meaningful roles written for him like they are being written for Mr. Bachchan and I wish medical science was more advanced back in the 80’s to help him get over physical and emotional difficulties.
I would like to thank the author Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta for writing this wonderful book on Sanjeev Kumar, a fine tribute to one of the finest actors ever.
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