The Actor We All Loved’ recounts his life and his cinema: The Tribune India

Nonika Singh

When a family member, in this case the nephew of legendary actor Sanjeev Kumar, is on board as a co-author, you wouldn’t expect the biography to be more than a hagiography. Refreshingly, however, as the book documents the life, movies and talent of the phenomenal actor from films like ‘Sholay’, ‘Koshish’, ‘Aandhi’, ‘Mausam’, ‘Anubhav’, ‘Angoor’ and many others, he does not gloss over his weaknesses.

It’s not just a simple filmography either, though the initial rush of writing that takes us through his career chart might fool you into thinking so. Of course, you get the name of his first film (“Hum Hindustani”), his days in the theater and his years of struggle in the film industry before he rose to prominence with a breakthrough performance in “Khilona” (1970). His film career is well detailed, reflecting the era in which he lived and the cinema he represented. We remember how before today’s Ayushmann Khurranas made unconventional choices, lived an actor who defied norms, had no qualms about baring his unflattering body and playing a man older than his age .

However, unlike many movie-centric biographies, his astounding film career studded with national awards doesn’t overshadow Sanjeev the person here. You see it in all its glory. Generous to the end, faithful friend, family man par excellence, who ironically remained single all his life, the scriptwriters, while emphasizing his excellent virtues, do not hesitate to tell the other side of the coin. It’s no wonder, then, that if we read comparisons to handsome Gregory Peck, his growing paunch is duly mentioned, along with a biting review of his movie “Bad Aur Badnam.”

Stories from his co-stars, directors and friends provide a peek into his less than perfect personal life. While “the actor’s actor”, as defined by Rajesh Khanna, was perfection incarnate, he led a life that was anything but exemplary. Going through the pages of the book envelops you with a deep sense of loss, and not just because he died prematurely at 47. Does gluttony and not a worldly attitude with fatal consequences for one’s health count for a life well lived?

Yet here was a man who followed his heart. Only if the heart (Hema Malini) had beaten hard for him had returned the favor in full measure or if he had responded to the one (Sulakshana Pandit) who unequivocally desired him. The question – what could he have been had he married Hema Malini or the mysterious Muslim woman or the many who professed their inclination – weighs heavily. Many attribute his failing health and untimely end to his celibacy.

Well-written and consistent reflections with the skill of many rare insiders make for fascinating reading. Whether or not the biopic in the works does the actor justice, this book brings him to life. Highlighting his acting prowess that was as much about gravity as it was about impeccable comedic timing, it effortlessly humanizes the actor in many ways.

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