Sanjeev Kumar was one of the finest actors on Indian screen. His forte was his versatility. He was able to pull off ‘father’ roles while still young with aplomb. He never cared if he wasn’t the central character as he was confident he would have the audience rooting for him nevertheless. Consider Sunghursh (1968), where he shone bright despite the presence of such heavyweights as Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni. Or take Silsila (1981) for that matter. It was a miniscule role, that of the wronged husband. He didn’t have much to do or say but we still remember him for the pain that he portrayed on his face.
He would forever be enshrined in the heart of the audience as the Thakur from Sholay (1975). He’s shown to be without hands in most of the film and conveyed his angst and sorrow solely through voice modulation and his expressive eyes. You still get goosebumps when he almost kills Gabbar through his steel-shod shoes. In Koshish (1972), he played a speech and hearing impaired man to perfection and in Khilona (1970), he convincingly played a mentally unstable man. He would often let his heroines take the centre stage, like he did with Suchitra Sen in Aandhi (1975).
On the occasion of his birthday today, we present a list of some of the best films in which he graced the silver screen.
Acting besides thespian Dilip Kumar won him instant recognition. He stood his ground against the veteran in this gangster drama and their scenes together are remembered even today as a clash between a master and a budding genius.
Sanjeev played a man who lost his mental equilibrium and is slowly nursed to health by a nautch girl. He played the mentally unhinged guy to a T. His reaction scenes to Mumtaz, especially in the song Khilona jaan kar tum to, are so real you feel you’re watching an actual person and not a character.
This arguably is one of his best acting efforts. He played a deaf and dumb man who falls in love and marries a woman with similar handicap. His prank phone call scene to Dilip Kumar or the scene where he finds his first child has died is a masterstroke of realistic acting.
Based partially on The Taming Of The Shrew, this was a rom com where Sanjeev played a husband for hire. He had made a name for himself by then doing hardcore roles but here he demonstrated the fact that he was equally good doing light roles too.
Naya Din Nayi Raat (1974)
The story takes place over the course of a night where the heroine, Jaya Bhaduri, meets eight characters, all of whom share a resemble with her suitor, Sanjeev Kumar. Yes, In this remake of Tamil film Navarathri (1964), Sanjeev emulated Tamil thespian Sivaji Ganeshan’s feat of enacting nine characters in a single film. Quite an achievement, we must say.
Take out Thakur’s character from the film and you don’t have Sholay. He was seen without having hands in most of the film and yet proved that real actors don’t need gestures. Their face, their eyes, their expressions are enough to get the point across. A command performance if there was one.
He played the estranged husband of a popular politician who still retains a soft corner for his wife even after more than a decade of separation. This middle-aged love story co-starring Suchitra Sen was about subtle body language and expressing love and longing through eyes and both Sanjeev and Suchitra excelled in their roles.
Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977)
Satyajit Ray’s only Hindi film has Sanjeev Kumar squaring it off with Saeed Jeffrey. The film was about decadent nobility at the time of Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and Sanjeev played a debauched nawab, who is more interested in playing a game of chess than the changes occurring around him to a TV.
He played Amitabh Bachchan’s and Shashi Kapoor’s father in this drama. Though the film belonged to Amitabh, Sanjeev’s dark hued RK Gupta is still remembered as it brought out the human follies as well as man’s ability to redeem himself vividly.
It’s not easy to play a cuckold and yet infuse it with such grace that the audience ends up connecting with you. Sanjeev did that in Silsila with aplomb. His interaction with Jaya Bhaduri, where they both discuss the wayward nature of their respective spouses in dialogue coded with meaning is a masterclass teaching you how great actors can raise the bar even in small scenes.