Remembering Haribhai …

I remember the day he died. I was in Bandra on that November day in 1985, shopping for cheap jeans at Linking Road. Suddenly, a large group of Gujju ladies went by, all dressed in white and wailing loudly. When I asked, the shopkeeper told me, “Haribhai mar gaya.”

Harihar Jariwala, better known as Sanjeev Kumar, was one of the most talented and versatile actors ever seen in Indian cinema. His death at the age of 47 on Nov 6, 1985 due to a massive heart attack, shook the entire film industry. Sanjeev Kumar was a simple, lovable person, and wildly popular especially in the Gujju community.

Sanjeev Kumar’s first audition was for a lead role in the film Aarti, opposite Meena Kumari. His audition was a miserable flop and he was summarily rejected. That role was bagged by Pradeep Kumar and the film went on to become a big hit.  Undeterred, Sanjeev Kumar took up roles in small B-grade movies, sometimes even as a stuntman. From those humble beginnings, Sanjeev Kumar rose to become one of the all-time greats of Bollywood.

The year 1970 saw Sanjeev Kumar deliver landmark performances in Khilona, as a deranged man, and in Dastak, for which role he won the National Award for best actor. After that, he became a major star. Through the seventies, he produced superb performances in all kinds of roles.

Sanjeev Kumar never said no to any kind of role, as long as it challenged his creativity. He was willing to play any character, at any age, even if it was not the lead role. He played Jaya Bhaduri’s father-in-law in Sholay, her lover in Anaamika, and her father in Parichay. He was the glib conman in Manchali, the genial lecher in Pati Patni aur Woh, the henpecked husband and the neurotic bachelor in Angoor, the indolent, chess-besotted Nawab in Shatranj ke Khilari, and in Naya Din Nayi Raat, he was nine different men, each with a different character. He had the unique ability to subtly change his voice and add more depth to his portrayal.

But Sanjeev Kumar’s best performance was in a role in which he did not use his voice at all. The movie Koshish in 1972, had Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri portray a deaf-mute couple. Along with Dev Anand’s Guide, I rate Koshish as one of the finest Indian movies ever made. And I do not think any other actor could have matched Sanjeev Kumar’s performance in the movie. It won him another National Award as best actor. The last scene of the movie in which he scolds his son for refusing to marry a deaf-mute girl, is one of the most touching scenes in Indian cinema.

Here’s a light-hearted scene from Koshish – in fond memory of Harihar Jariwala.

Cheers … Srini.

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