An actor’s actor

Though more than three decades have passed since he left us, Sanjeev Kumar continues to be a benchmark in acting

Published - November 10, 2017 01:40 am IST

VARIED REPERTOIRE Sanjeev Kumar with Suchitra Sen in “Aandhi”

VARIED REPERTOIRE Sanjeev Kumar with Suchitra Sen in “Aandhi”

He died young but now lives forever. This could be the epitaph for Sanjeev Kumar who made versatility his nick name in a film career spanning two decades. Though it is said that they die young whom Gods love more, yet it’s sad that Sanjeev, who enacted dozens of unforgettable aged characters, did not live to see even fifty summers when there was still an immense reservoir of brilliance to be tapped. Scores of wonderful actors have straddled the Hindi film screen but few could transcend limits of histrionics like Sanjeev Kumar did even in the most mundane and mediocre film productions.

Always a ‘heavy weight’, the charming man never let that come in the way of his enactments. So spot on were his depictions that none ever bothered about his girth or unwieldy mass; his spontaneity never made us feel that we were witnessing a ‘performance’ since Sanjeev led us to ‘a willing suspension of disbelief’ by effortlessly becoming the character. Old timers know that even in his first major film “Shikaar”, which won him the Best Supporting Actor Award from Filmfare, Sanjeev was so enthralling that none felt there was a raw new comer on screen. It was this aplomb and dexterity that ensured till his last breath that though Amitabh Bachchan reigned as the box office king, Sanjeev Kumar remained the badshah of histrionics with his stupendous talent that was applauded by none other than the great Satyajit Ray by choosing him as the protagonist of his only film in Hindi! He lived up to his trust by mastering the Lucknowi Urdu diction in Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

Sanjeev Kumar with Mumtaz in “Khilona”

Sanjeev Kumar with Mumtaz in “Khilona”

Unlike Bachchan, who remained ensconced in the safety of angry man persona, Sanjeev, like a colossus, executed screen personas as diverse as any tried on the Indian screen. From a deaf and dumb man in “Koshish” to a limbless Thakur in “Sholay” and from a lunatic in “Khilona” to an old father in “Mausam”, he exemplified personalities and emotions that were unheard and untried in the annals of any cinema.

Nine emotions

That is why it was no surprise when he excelled in nine different roles (depicting “Navras” or nine emotions of human personality) in “Naya Din Nayee Raat”, a feat few can match anywhere in the world. Anupam Kher may feel he was the first to don an old man’s garb at a young age but actually Sanjeev started the trend much earlier in “Parichay” like he did very often in IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) productions.

Though accused of late coming, most directors from Yash Chopra to Rajendra Singh Bedi had no complaints since the talented actor delivered his shots in minimal time. His theatre associate and writer Sagar Sarhadi once confided that “Sanjeev understood the sub-texts so well that emoting was a mere cake walk for him”. Moreover, “his reactions and expressions, with or without another actor, were so apt that if cameramen loved him, editors adored his genius since he gave them abundant choices for cutaways and insertions.” Add to that his masterly voice modulations that brought gravity and substance to characters and performances that were worth their weight in wonder writer-director Gulzar called him “a complete actor”.

Gulzar, who has a penchant for seeing things differently, is perfect in his assessment for from “Aandhi” to “Angoor” he played a range of characters for him From comedy, tragedy and mute, silent enactments to silliest of characters like Tripathi (”Swarg Narak”) or constable Ratan (”Manoranjan”), Sanjeev’s execution brought sparkle to the screen. A true blue thespian, he rose above scripts to deliver powerful performances that riveted your senses and satiated your sensibilities. Sanjeev exemplified on reel that “acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion” though, unfortunately and paradoxically, he was unable to express emotions in real life and hence, remained a perennial loner. Sensitivity may be strength for an artist but can also be a weakness when a person feels too much, too deeply. Perhaps this flaw as well as his deep rooted, fatalistic belief that he wouldn’t live beyond fifty played havoc with Sanjeev’s heart, leading to an early demise. But since sensitivity is also an ode to beauty, Hari Bhai, as Sanjeev was lovingly called, still remains the “pole star” of our film horizon, inspiring us with a body of work that remains, quintessentially, a great treat to watch since he was an actor’s actor.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.