Haribhai came to Mumbai with the only aim to become an actor. He learned acting from IPTA, Filmalay, and then Indian National Theater, and his first role was of an old man of sixty years with six children when he was only 22. The mother of Shabana Azmi named Shaukat Azmi was his wife in the play. It was ‘Damaru’ based on ‘All My Sons’ by Arthur Miller and the director was A. K. Hangal. Sanjeev Kumar wanted the main role but Hangal said, ‘You are handsome and can get the role of hero anytime. However, it is challenging for an actor to perform the role of a character which he is not actually in real life.’ Even Prithviraj Kapoor was impressed by his acting. He carried teachings of Hangal and his career started with a character role in the initial period.
Sanjeev Kumar entered in films with ‘Hum Hindustani’ directed by Ram Mukherjee featuring Sunil Dutt, Asha Parekh, Prem Chopra but the film couldn’t run well. Then came ‘Nishan’ with his main role but it also didn’t give him success. Though both these films were not successful, his acting was worth appreciating. Gujarati film industry recognized this and he received two Gujrati films. One was ‘Kalapi’ and another was ‘Mare Javun Pele Par’ and in both, his heroine was Aruna Irani.
He got popularity by his role of a mentally challenged person in ‘Khilona’ and it proved to be useful for him while portraying a psycho murderer in ‘Anhoni’. The title song of ‘Khilona’ and the acting of Sanjeev Kapoor received great appreciation.Film ‘Subah aur Shaam’ proved lucky for him as he was recognized by Gulzar for his acting in it and he received films by Gulzar like Parichay, Koshish, Mausam, Aandhi, Angoor, Namkeen, and those nearly nine movies made him a competent actor with prosperous career. Ashok in ‘Angoor’ and truck driver in ‘Namkeen’ were opposite roles. The films like Parichay, Aandhi, Angoor, Mausam gave him character roles. His style of dialogue delivery with voice base was very popular in mimicry artists in those days.
He received Filmfare for best acting in ‘Aandhi’. He was honored with National Award for his role in the movie ‘Dastak’ which was based on the life of a prostitute. The main role was played by newcomer Rehana Sultan. His role in ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’ was memorable. His contemporary actors Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra were playing the hero in all films and Sanjeev Kumar was engaged in character roles, may it be Parichay, Sholey, or Trishul.
He strongly acted opposite Amitabh, Dilip Kumar and Shammi Kapoor also. He was a favorite of South Indian producers as they believe his entry make the film successful. They proved it in Swayamvar, Shriman Shrimati, Swarg Narak, Yahi Hai Zindagi, etc.
Sanjeev Kumar was a young, handsome, sweet smiling face, favorite among people especially women. He had tremendous fans. His versatility was unparalleled. The romantic hero singing Hawa Ke Saath Saath, Ghata Ke Sang Sang with a dream girl, the insane in Khilona, the leprosy victim in ‘Naya Din Nayi Raat’ all are the pieces of evidence.
He proved his talent and quality of acting every time; then may it be a comic role in Ladies Tailor, Angoor, Pati Patni Aur Wah or any villain’s role or romantic hero or any character role. His acting of dying in the arms of Dilip Kumar in the movie ‘Sanghursh’ impressed Dilip Kumar himself. He played various roles with Jaya Bhaduri as her father in ‘Parichay’ and romantic hero in ‘Naukar’ and husband in ‘Koshish’ and father-in-law in ‘Sholey’. Once he had said mischievously in an interview that he was waiting for a role as the son of Jaya. It was in his blood to give proper justice to any role he used to undertake with his honesty and hard work. It is not necessary that there should be impressive dialogues, heavy dressing, and make–up to bring an effect to the role. He has proved through his role of a dumb person in ‘Koshish’ that even eyes and facial expressions also can make proper communication and give life to the character. The last scene of father and son in this movie is used to make viewers feel uneasy with apex acting skills. He received National Award for this role.
Bhim Singh was impressed and inspired by nine roles/ characters portrayed by Shivaji Ganeshan in ‘Navratri’ and he selected Sanjeev Kumar for ‘Naya Din Nayi Raat’. It was a landmark in his career. He has acted so skillfully in the film with 9 roles that one cannot decide as to which one is better than the other. He has not allowed any of them to get mixed with others. Especially the roles of assistant dancer and leprosy patient are memorable. Any article on Sanjeev Kumar is incomplete without mention of ‘Naya Din Nayi Raat’. The make–up man Sarosh Modi also has much credit and generous Sanjeev Kumar used to give that properly in his every interview.
Sanjeev Kumar was very handsome and equally innocent. He had very friendly relations with all. He was an apple of the eye for young girls but he could not give place to anyone in his heart. He was attracted towards Hema Malini during ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’ and he wanted to marry her but she was engaged with Dharmendra. Gossips tell that, when he proposed Hema Malini on the shoot of Sholey, Dharmendra got angry and told the director that he would not have any scene with him. Not only this, Thakur Baldev Singh has no dialogue mentioning the name of Basanti. Dharmendra was to play Thakur but the roles were exchanged as he was afraid that Sanjeev Kumar and Hema Malini would come together again like ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’.
May as it be, many loved Haribhai and fans were mad for him. During the movie ‘Uljhan’, Sulakshana Pandit fell in love with him and their romance blossomed with movies Apnapan, Do Waqt Ki Roti, Waqt Aur Deewar, Chehare Pe Chehara, etc. She intensely wanted to marry him, but Sanjeev Kumar was hurt due to refusal by Hema Malini and told an excuse to Sulakshana that astrologers have warned about his short life. Sulakshana also lived unmarried. Would it have been Hema Malini or Sulakshana, Bollywood would have got a beautiful couple. Sanjeev Kumar has had a friendship with Tabassum since ‘Alibaba Chalis Chor’ by Homi Wadia. Both share the same birth date, 9th July. They used to celebrate birthdays together. After the death of dear Haribhai, Tabassum never celebrated her birthday. Sanjeev Kumar was lonely in his last days. His hobby of having delicious food went on overeating and his health deteriorated. Fans used to see him making romance with heroines with his fat body and tummy.
He left the world on 6th November 1985 at the age of only 47. Saying GustakhiMaaf he went away leaving his fans in grief and feeling as ….Tere Bina Jindagi Se Koi Shikwa To Nahi, Tere Bina Jindagi, Jindagi Nahi.