Mention character actor Sujit Kumar and immediately you think of the scene in ‘Aradhana’ where along with hero Rajesh Khanna in a jeep, he serenaded Sharmila Tagore in the moving train. While Khanna mouthed the famous song, ‘Mere Sapnon Ki Rani’, friend Sujit played the mouth organ. The scene, the song and the actors are etched in our minds.
When Sujit Kumar (75) passed away in Mumbai this past week, the industry lost a remarkable veteran, who, in a span of around 35 years, acted in more than 150 Hindi films and another 35 in Bhojpuri, where he enjoyed unchallenged star status.
Once, when asked about the lack of success as a hero, Sujit shrugged and replied, “I did play the hero in small budget films such as ‘Lal Bangla’ and ‘Ek Saal Pehle’. These were forgotten by the people but not the character roles I played, like the one in ‘Aradhana.’
One hundred and fifty-odd films is quite an impressive record and Sujit was always in demand because he could play any kind of character role -- police officer, priest, lawyer, college principal, doctor, patriot, spy and any family member. As he grew in stature, Sujit emerged as a special kind of character actor. He just did not appear and disappear, but remained on screen for a long period, from beginning to end, as in ‘Aradhana.’
From ‘Honeymoon’ in 1960 to ‘Intequam’ in 1993, it was a long grind. Sujit was such a professional that despite his talent, there was never a clash of egos with the heroes. He did dozens of films with temperamental superstar Rajesh Khanna including hits such as ‘Aradhana,’ ‘Hathi Mere Sathi’, ‘Roti’ and ‘Mere Jeevan Sathi’ without any hassles, and it was the same with Dharamendra and Amitabh Bachchan.
He explained to me, “There were occasions where the script enabled character actors to steal the scene from the lead pair, but I did these in a subtle and low key manner. Heroes had their egos, but I had no problems with them and remained friends with everyone including veterans Dev saab and Shammi Kapoor.”
This sort of vast experience enabled Sujit occasionally to branch out to other avenues of film making. He produced semi-hits such as ‘Khel’, ‘Champion’ with Sunny Deol and the Amitabh starrer ‘Aetebar.’ Sujit also wrote and directed ‘Ram Khaye Saiyan Hamare.’ His career in Bhojpuri films was even more impressive, with hits such as ‘Bidesiya’ and ‘Dangal’.
Physically fit, Sujit remained tall, erect and slim and whatever type of costumes he wore, they suited him. This was an asset for any actor. Born in Varanasi, Sujit came to Bombay with great hopes and was lucky that many of them were realised. He was convincing even in unconvincing roles, like the spy in Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Aankhen’ and that was the key to his success.