Sanjeev Kumar’s Southern Connection

The legendary Bollywood actor had three important links to the southern India: Sivaji Ganesan, L.V. Prasad and Hema Malini
Sanjeev Kumar’s Southern Connection

Born Harihar Jethalal Jariwala, Sanjeev Kumar was one of Hindi cinema's most acclaimed actors. Over the course of his career, Sanjeev Kumar would do commercial movies like Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Sholay (1975) and Trishul (1978) as well offbeat projects like Dastak (1970). One of his most famous performances was in director Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977). Kumar passed away in 1985, at age 47. A new biography co-written by his nephew chronicles important aspects of his life and work. Find out more in this excerpt:

In the late 1960s, a very important relationship in Hari's life started taking shape. It was one of mutual respect with the legendary actor of Tamil cinema, Sivaji Ganesan. Hari was given a character role in Ganesan's home production Gauri (1968), which was a remake of Ganesan's own Shanti (1965). An article of unknown provenance titled "Naan Sivajiyin Maanavan" (I am a student of Sivaji's), which presumably was translated into Tamil, obtained from Hari's family archives, quotes him as follows:

"I first met him when I was but an extra on the sets of Gauri. One look at me and he said, 'In the future, you will be a very accomplished actor.' His words were like God's own words and he blessed my career. Whenever a Sivaji Ganesan movie had to be remade in Hindi, all of us actors would worry plenty. His prowess inspired fear. We would see the Tamil print again and again to observe his performance and learn! At a personal level, whenever I visited Chennai, I would seek his blessings. I am grateful for all the love he has given me. If he sees me as one of the finest actors in Hindi cinema, it is my honour."

To put it simply, Hari's nuptials were to the media in the 1970s what Salman Khan's marriage was to the media in the 2000s.

The mutual admiration between Sivaji Ganesan and Hari and the latter's own quiet, easy-going nature eventually played a major role in Hari's success. When South Indian producers and directors wanted to remake their Tamil or Telugu films in Hindi, they often chose Hari. These remakes typically had long dialogues and demanded good histrionics, and this further augmented Hari's 'actor' tag. For example, Sivaji Ganesan's Avan Thaan Manithan was remade as Shaandaar, and Gnana Oli was remade as Devata — both featuring Hari. Among the Telugu films, Takkar was a remake of N.T. Rama Rao's Devudu Chesina Manushulu with Hari in the lead role. The winds blew the other way too. Hari's Mausam was remade in Tamil as Vasanthathil Oru Naal, featuring Sivaji Ganesan.

The other important southern connection was L.V. Prasad. Hari scored a hat-trick of hits with him — Raja aur Runk (1968), Jeene Ki Raah (1969) and Khilona (1970). Hari's third connection to the south—actor Hema Malini, whom he would meet soon—was an intensely personal one.

… When Hari started shooting for Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), he met another ambitious and beautiful woman. That was Hema Malini. The role of the protagonist in the film, a double role, was originally offered to Mumtaz but was finally performed by Hema Malini.

Bharathi's interview format was interesting. She posed questions to Hari and Hema side by side. She also referred to another article in which Hema allegedly told a journalist that Hari was after her money!

Gayatri Patel [Sanjeev Kumar's sister] confirmed that in 1971, Hema had started visiting their home occasionally. She said:

"Just before my marriage, Hema had started coming home. She was very close to us and a very beautiful, polite and dignified person. My mom and I have gone to her house in Mumbai as well as Madras and there was a lot of cordiality between us. On every birthday since 1972, Hema used to call my mother and say, 'Mataji, give me your blessings, it's my birthday.' Baa also reciprocated wholeheartedly and loved her a lot."

This made perfect sense. Hari himself told Bunny Reuben much later in the 1979 issue of Star & Style:

"The bride that my mother had chosen, Hema Malini and her aunt had come over for dinner. My mother reacted more instantaneously and more favourably to this girl than she had ever done to any other guest — male or female. She told me she admired her simple charm and asked me why I didn't propose to her. Being from within the industry, knowing the profession, she would understand me, my work and behaviour better and her homeliness would make it easy for her to settle down into a good bahu … so my mother pointed out. She also sensed Hema's nature which obliterated all fears of my being dominated or pushed around. Hema was the daughter-in-law my mother had virtually set her heart on. Seeing her keenness, I who had signed two films with her approached her with a straightforward direct honest proposal, besides which there was a growing fondness on my part too. When I told Hema's mother of my intention, I sensed a certain disapprobation. The consequences of the whole episode are well-known now, including the break-up."

… Hari attributed the break-up to Hema. In an interview with N. Bharathi in the March 1977 issue of Star & Style, he said, "The problem with Hema is that she's very confused. She doesn't know whom to listen to." Hari reminisced, "We broke up because I wanted her to quit working after marriage."

Bharathi's interview format was interesting. She posed questions to Hari and Hema side by side. She also referred to another article in which Hema allegedly told a journalist that Hari was after her money! N. Bharathi asked Hema whether she had said so. Hema was livid: "The interview was written by a journalist I have never met in my lifeI was furious when I read it."

About a patch-up, Hari said, "I am told, Hema's mother regrets the past."

Hema Malini, however, denied that there was any attempt by her mother to broker peace between Hari and her. She told N. Bharathi, "I met Sanjeev … when he was in hospital. I am not hostile towards anybody but it is certainly not true that my mother has been sending feelers to his place. … My mother will never do anything behind my back."

…. As news of the Sanjeev-Hema break-up spread, magazines in the mid-1970s started getting obsessed with getting Hari married. To put it simply, Hari's nuptials were to the media in the 1970s what Salman Khan's marriage was to the media in the 2000s.

The magazine Cine Blitz played cupid in May 1975 in an article credited to a writer named Crish and titled 'Wanted, a bride for Haribhai—will you be his saathi?' It speculated thus:

"Who'll be the lucky one? Girls, can you picture yourself as the Jariwala bride? Do you think you can be the ideal one in his life? If yes, send us your picture in profile and full figure. Write to us about your family background, educational qualifications, accomplishments or aspirations, age, hobbies and so on…

Sanjeev has a fascination for girls who are utterly charming, in the finest sense of that term—neither lean nor amply loaded. He has a weakness for a NAME, that is, a girl who had some accomplishments to her credit."

Rather objectifying of women, one would say today! Clarifying that neither Haribhai nor his mother knew about the article, the magazine called their appeal a friendly social service, asking marriage brokers, agents and astrologers to keep off.

In another piece, circa the mid-1970s, in the form of a photoshoot, Stardust's photographer B.J. Panchal shot Hari with seven different brides, as per seven different religious rituals: Prema Narayan (Christian wedding), Ranjeeta (Punjabi wedding), Smita Patil (Maharashtrian wedding), Bindiya Goswami (South Indian wedding), Simple Kapadia (Gujarati wedding), Begum Zaherra (Muslim wedding) and Rita Bhaduri (Bengali wedding). After each ceremony, the bride did kiss Hari on the cheek in good faith. Hema Malini lent her own Kanjeevaram saree to Bindiya Goswami for the South Indian wedding shoot!

In 1978, Haribhai told journalist Mangala Chandran from Film World, "I don't have the urge any longer to get married. In fact, marriage is an obsolete word."

Excerpted from Sanjeev Kumar: The Actor We All Loved, by Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta and Uday Jariwala (Harper Collins) 

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