In the era dominated by Kumars (Dilip, Raj, Rajendra…!), it was but natural for Hari Jariwala- a born Gujarathi to assume a screen name ‘Sanjeev Kumar’. His first role as hero was in a B-grade costume drama Nishaan (1964). It was his fiery performance in the Dilip Kumar- starrer Sanghursh (1968) that won him rave reviews and from then on, Sanjeev Kumar was a name synonymous with strong screen presence and brilliant acting.
With his expressive face, eloquent eyes and with those tremendous voice modulations, he could bring any character to life. So when he played a deadly dacoit (Anokhi Raat), a mentally deranged poet (Khilona), a deaf- mute (Koshish) or a philandering husband (Pati Patni Aur Woh), he changed colors as deftly as a chameleon. In Naya Din Nayi Raat, he essayed as many as nine different screen characters, each with uncanny precision.
to his mid-thirties, he became the ‘Grand Young Old Man of Hindi films’, portraying some great characters of old men in milestone movies like Aandhi, Mausam, Sholay and Trishul. His increasingly rotund figure over the years almost took him away from lead roles but author-backed strong character roles always remained reserved for him- like the Mirza he played in Satyajit Ray’s only Hindi film Shatrnj Ke Khiladi.
Manchali (1973) is a light-hearted movie about a rich, spoilt heiress (Leena Chandavarkar), who ‘hires’ a temporary husband (Sanjeev) to complete a condition in the will and to grab her share of estate. How that hireling changes her life for better is fun to watch with Sanjeev’s cheeky performance.
Angoor (1981)– an adaptation of Shakespear’s Comedy of errors, is one of the finest comedies ever. Two boss- servant pairs (Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma, both in double roles!) sporting identical looks and identical names, get intermingled. Sanjeev Kumar’s comic flair and his perfect tuning with DevenVerma, make it a hilarious imbroglio with confusions galore.
Qatl (1986) is a lesser- known gem that was released a year after his death. He plays a blind husband, who is enraged on discovering the affair between his wife (Saarika) and his best friend (Marc Zubair). With craft and cunning, he plans and executes a perfect murder of the infidel wife. Director R.K.Nayyar makes it a riveting suspense thriller and Sanjeev’s wronged vengeful husband is a treat to watch!
Such a pity that such a versatile thespian couldn’t live to see even his fiftieth birthday!