Did Sanjeev Kumar Die Because Of His Reckless Lifestyle????
Ali Peter John
I was told he was a very mild-mannered and soft-spoken man, but I was also told how he lost his temper and could be very nasty and even abusive at times. I said a silent prayer before I entered R.K. Studios where I was to meet Sanjeev Kumar, who I considered one of the greatest actors next to Dilip Kumar and at times even better than him but for some reasons best known to people who claim to know and recognize talent and confer titles and honors to actors had not been given the importance he deserved …
Sanjeev Kumar was sitting in a white wooden chair, he was dressed in his normal white pant and kurta and wearing matching white chappals. He was sitting with some of his close friends close to his white Mercedes. There was time for the shooting to begin. I introduced myself to him, he took a long puff at his “555” (the only brand of cigarettes he smoked, I later came to know) and in a sarcastic way said, “wah wah , kya naam hai , Ali Peter John, aisa lagta hai koi badshah ya shahenshah hum jaise garib par mehrbaan hone aaya hai”. His friends laughed, but he continued and asked me in English this time, “have you come from Bangladesh?” I wondered why he asked me that question. He later told me I looked all skinny and my long hair and beard and old khadi kurta gave him that impression and apologized. And in the very next minute he asked, “Have you done your homework? Sit down and tell me a little about what you know about me and if you fail in the test I will ask the guard at the gate to physically lift you and throw you out”. I knew I was facing a very big test but I was also very confident. I just rattled off and said, “Your name is Hari Bhai Jariwala. You come from a lower middle class family. You dropped out of a Gujarati medium school and joined the Indian National Theatre and did Gujarati plays mostly under the direction of Pravin Joshi. You joined the Filmalaya Acting School because you wanted to know what being a part of Hindi films was all about. You were recognized by Aspi Irani, a director who made stunt films and you had your most successful film called “Raja Aur Runk”. You then did character roles in films which had big actors and stars, but your talent was noticed. You came into your own when you were discovered by a director like Gulzar who gave you the best roles in which you made your talent known in some of the most complex roles. You reached a stage when you were recognized as one of the best actors. Sanjeev Kumar kept staring at me and all his friends were silent till Sanjeev said, “arre, yeh toh apna baap nikla. I hope you don’t know anything more, especially about my private life?” he asked. I told him I did and he got up from his chair and hugged me and he said, “Keep your interview going, but we are friends from today. I want you to join me for drinks and dinner today evening at the Chopsuey, the Chinese Hotel on Hill Road in Bandra at 7:30 sharp”. I finished the interview and met him at the venue he had mentioned. He was in time (and they told me he was always late and he said he was late only for his shootings and never late for his evening sessions). He ordered for several rounds of Scotch and several plates of “tangdi kababs”, and I thought he was a pure vegetarian. He said he was a vegetarian only at home and where people expected him to be a vegetarian but otherwise it was just Scotch and “tangdi kabab” and “fried fish” which he enjoyed.
The article I wrote about him was published the following Friday and he called me and said, “arre, tum toh kamaal ki cheez ho. Tum ko itna sab yaad kaise raha itna peene ke baad aur tumhari English ka main kya bol sakta hoon? Aaj se main Hari Bhai aur tum mere Ali Bhai. Aa jaana sham ko wohi jagah, celebrate karte hai”.
That evening we ate and drank at Chopsuey and then around midnight we shifted to a “Dhaaba” on the Linking Road where he feasted on fried “Pomfret” and “Raawass” and “Prawns” till 2:00 in the night. It was that evening when I asked him why he drank so much and he said, “sharaab ek hi sachchi cheez hai, baaki sab bakwaas hai. Sharaab ek hi mehbooba hai jo kabhi bewafa nahi ho sakti , sharaab ka har ek ghoot aadami ko insaan banata hai, sach bolne par majboor karta hai aur apne ko maalik ke nazdik pahunchaata hai. Hum ko toh sharaab mein pyar bhi milta hai , sukh bhi milta hai aur bhagwaan bhi milta hai. Kabhi kabhi main sochta hoon ki sharaab nahi hota toh mere jaisa aadmi kya karta”?
That was the first of several evenings that we spent at the two favorite places, Chopsuey and the “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan” “Dhaaba” where we had a special place and had the best fish which could not be found in any of the best hotels.
Hari Bhai as I started calling him after a few meetings was a very different man when he was at work and an entirely different man after he was drunk. I once asked him why these two faces and he said, “mere bhai, yeh duniya bahut zaalim hai. Yahan har waqt ek nayi ladaai ladni padti hai. Yahan par alag alag khel khelne padte hai, nahi to log yahan jeene nahi denge. Ab aadat ho gai hai alag alag aadmi banne ki, din mein Sanjeev Kumar aur raat mein Hari Bhai banna padta hai”.
In one of those “Chopsuey evenings” he only talked about love and how true love had always evaded him; how he had craved for love and had never found it. “I have no regrets about losing after loving some of the most beautiful women who only acted as lovers but never knew what real love was. I have always loved women, so what if they have not been faithful to me and have often ditched me,” he said and I could feel him hiding a lot of pain. He talked about women from the industry and women from outside it who he loved, but he kept on saying, “I have now started loving this game of falling in love and then losing in love because it gives me all the courage to fall in love all over again”. He talked about the women he loved but asked me to make a promise that I would not talk about them to anyone.
Sanjeev was tired of being compared to Dilip Kumar the great thespian. Once he was told that the legend had some of his best scenes cut off from a film called “Vidhaata” directed by Subhash Ghai, because the legend felt he was overpowering him in certain scenes. He slapped the man who came up with that story, gulped down his Scotch and said, “I am not fit to be compared to the emperor of acting. He is the greatest and will always be great, mere jaise Sanjeev Kumar aate jaate rahenge, lekin Dilip Kumar Sahab hamesha rahenge.”
He tried producing a film to establish his younger brother Nikul Jariwala. He got friends like Feroz Khan, Sulakshana Pandit, Reena Roy and Amjad Khan to play roles in the film called “Do Waqt Ki Roti”. He invited me to the shooting in Bangalore and made sure that I was looked after by the unit and they really took care of me. A strange thing happened when they were shooting at the Bangalore palace. A huge crowd had collected to see the stars from Bombay shoot. Then a white Ambassador drove in and the entire crowd ran after the car. The man inside was Raj Kumar, the greatest superstar of Kannada films. I remember how Sanjeev and Feroz looked at the scene and Sanjeev said, “hum log kya khaak star hai, assal star toh yeh log hai”. They then went to pay their respects to the great thespian and were surprised when he told them that he was their fan.
The trip to Bangalore was a very memorable trip for me for many reasons, but especially for that one prediction Sanjeev made during one of our meetings in his room. He said he was very sure that he would die before he was fifty and I just took it lightly. Soon things started going wrong. His youngest brother Nikul suddenly died of a massive heart attack and the film he was producing was stuck and has still not been released. A few months later Sanjeev asked all his filmmakers to complete their shootings with him as soon as possible. No one could understand the hurry till he had his first heart attack. He tried to work very hard to complete his films so that his producers didn’t suffer but he suffered his second heart attack. He was rushed to America where he underwent an open heart surgery and showed signs of recovery. He came back to Bombay but was very frail and could not walk or speak. I called on him to invite him for my company’s party for the entire industry. I knew he would not be able to make it, but he still kept saying he would try to make it and even walked up to the door to see me off.
Three days later the phone on my table rang. It was the actor Sachin who was very close to him. He was crying aloud and I knew the worst had happened. Sanjeev Kumar, Hari Bhai was dead. His body had to be kept for three long days because of the huge crowds which walked by to have a last darshan of one of the greatest actors Indian cinema has ever seen. He was only forty -six when he died and I remembered the prediction he had made in Bangalore when he said he would not live till he was fifty.
More on Sanjeev Kumar
– His prediction about his dying before he was fifty was not only for him but for all the male members of the Jariwala family. His father died when he was fifty. His brother, Kishore a struggling music director and actor died when he was forty -nine and his youngest brother Nikul died when he was just thirty -six.
– He was a born natural actor but still joined the Filmalaya Acting School to know the art of acting in films. Other actors who were students with him were Joy Mukerji, Sadhana and Asha Parekh who went on to be major stars in the sixties and seventies.
– He was very unhappy with the first few films, all of them stunt films, but he made a major impact with ‘Khilona”in which he played a mentally retarded character with Mumtaz as his heroine.
– He could rattle of dialogue in Hindi and Urdu within minutes without letting the lines lose their value. He could finish a scene within minutes which is why filmmakers tolerated his habit of coming late to his shootings.
– He tried his best to master the English language but could not succeed the way he wanted to.
– He was a left hander but could do anything with both his hands when challenged. He shared the same talent with Amitabh Bachchan.
– Gulzar was the one director who got the best of him as an actor in films like “Parichay”, “Aandhi” , “Mausam” , “Namkeen”, “Angoor” and “Koshish” in which he and Jaya Bhaduri played dumb and deaf characters.
– He had complete command over his voice and could change it with the circumstances and scenes.
– He had great respect for his seniors like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar and Dev Anand with whom he always wanted to work with but could never, and directors like Gulzar , K.Asif and Ramesh Sippy.
– He considered his best work to be the nine different characters he played in one film called “Naya Din Nayi Raat”. Kamal Haasan recently tried to play ten different characters in a film called “Dasavtharanam” but confessed that he could not match the brilliance of Sanjeev Kumar.
– He was a brother to Jaya Bhadhuri and they kept up their relationship till the very end.
– Among the women he had affairs with were Sulakshana Pandit, Jayshree T and a struggling actress called Neeta Mehta. He once proposed to the actress Nutan and was slapped by her in public but he did not take it to heart because he said, “I can take anything for love, even murder, and forget just a slap”. One the day he died there were three women who claimed to be his widows, but one of them who was most affected by his death was Sulakshana Pandit who turned into a “sadhvi” and now lives in a temple in Juhu ever since Sanjeev’s death.
– He first lived in a chawl in Girgaum but later shifted to “Perin Villa” where he lived with his younger brother and his family. He had just one room to himself. He died in the same room which he called his “Adda”. Sachin was the only man with him when he breathed his last. Sachin has a huge collection of Nepali caps which were presented to him by Hari Bhai. He also tries to imitate him “as my tribute to him”.
– He had made a will which gave everything he had to the widow of his youngest brother and her children.
– He had a secretary called Jamnadas who looked after all his business matters and dates. He died and one of the boxes found in his house had more than five thousand photographs of the man he always called “Hari Bhai , maaro boss” .
– His love for good Scotch was known to everyone who knew him and they also knew that he could be tempted to do anything for the love of Scotch which he had in plenty, all stocked because he was always scared of running out of Scotch.
– He was so sure about his dying before fifty that he wanted to make the best of life and he made sure that he had a good life and all the good things he needed, except love. His doctors warned him about his drinking and smoking and he just flicked the ash from his cigarette and said, “humko kahan hazaar saal jeena hai, thodi si zindagi hai, thodi si pee lete hai aur jee lete hai, thodi si masti kar lete hai, phir kahan paidaa hone wale hai hum”?
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