Heart attack or heartbreak? Sanjeev Kumar perhaps died of both

Farhana Farook
·Contributor
·7-min read

At 22, he played the patriarch for a stage production of Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons. An actor with Indian People’s Theatre Association, Sanjeev Kumar rose to become an iconoclast in Hindi cinema. He smashed all prototypes of the Hindi film hero.

While his peers flexed their machismo, Sanjeev’s sex-appeal lay in his disarming smile and voice inflexion. His potbelly never came in the way of romancing top heroines on screen. Nonchalant about playing father to actors close to his age, Sanjeev Kumar’s confidence as an actor placed him in the esteemed echelon.

But while his art has made him immortal, his heart did him in. Some say, he died of heart failure. Some vouch it was heartbreak…

Read on to find out...

Sanjeev and Mumtaz in Khilona
Sanjeev and Mumtaz in Khilona

Born Harihar Jethalal Jariwala, Sanjeev Kumar spent his childhood in Surat. Later, his family shifted to Girgaum in Mumbai and lived in a chawl.

His hardships began early, after Sanjeev lost his father in his childhood. His mother had to fend for the children including Sanjeev’s two younger brothers, Kishore and Nikul, and a sister.

Fortune smiled on them when between the ’60s – ‘80s, Sanjeev witnessed both success and stardom.

His eclectic filmography boasts of superhits including Khilona, Seeta Aur Geeta, Manchali, Anamika, Aandhi, Mausam, Koshish, Sholay, Trishul, Vidhaata

While professionally, he was much sought after; Sanjeev’s personal life was in doldrums. Unrequited love and loneliness buffered erroneously by binge eating and drinking and an utter disregard for fitness… proved lethal for his congenitally fragile heart. Dead at 46, Sanjeev actualised the omen that the men in his family, including his father, never crossed 50. Revisiting the tragic tale of thespian Sanjeev Kumar…

THE SLAPGATE

Nutan and Sanjeev Kumar in Devi
Nutan and Sanjeev Kumar in Devi

Sanjeev was first linked up with the much-married Nutan. Rumours of their friendship during the filming of Madhusudan Rao’s Devi (1970) set the grapevine afire. Naturally, this left Nutan’s husband, Lieutenant-Commander Rajnish Bahl, perturbed.

In a bid to placate him and prove her innocence, Nutan slapped her hero in full view on the set. This was perhaps one of the first rebuffs that Sanjeev faced.

Years later, close friend and actor, Anju Mahendroo, reportedly said in an interview... “The one time Sanjeev fell madly in love it was with a married woman. The poor man went through a lot of hassles because of that and so did she… it was not meant to be.” On his part Sanjeev supposedly said, “I can take anything for love, even murder… forget just a slap.”

DREAM GIRL WHO WASN’T

Story goes that Sanjeev next fell in love with Dream Girl Hema Malini on the sets of Ramesh Sippy’s Seeta Aur Geeta (1972). Interestingly, Dharmendra was also part of the film. While both the heroes were besotted with Hema, Dharam kept his fondness discreet.

But Sanjeev could hardly camouflage his affections. Apparently, towards the end of shooting the song Koi ladki mujhe kal raat sapne mein mili, Sanjeev rode away with Hema in the jeep much to the amusement of the unit.

The daydream was cut short, when Hema’s parents apparently spelt it out to him that they wanted an Iyengar husband for their daughter.

Sanjeev, though heartbroken, tried his luck once again and proposed to Hema during the filming of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975).

This apparently irked Dharam, who was wooing Hema then. That also explains why there was no scene between Sanjeev and Hema in the 70 mm extravaganza.

SULAKSHANA’S ULJHAN

Sanjeev Kumar and Sulakshana Pandit in Uljhan
Sanjeev Kumar and Sulakshana Pandit in Uljhan

Sanjeev and Sulakshana Pandit worked in around seven films including Waqt Ki Deewar, Uljhan and Apnapan between the late ’70s – ’80s.

Sulakshana fell in love with Sanjeev during Uljhan (1975).

However, Sanjeev, who was still nursing a broken heart, was not keen on marriage.

Sulakshana once shared in an interview with Filmfare, “One day, we had gone to a Hanuman mandir in Delhi. I told Sanjeevji that I loved him and asked him to put sindoor in my parting. I asked him to marry me so that I could look after him. But he refused, saying he could never forget his first love.” She added, “After Sanjeevji died, I went into acute depression... Zindagi veeran hogayi hai.”

There were rumours linking Sanjeev with actor Jayshree T as well. “There was a big age gap between us. To me, he was a friend, philosopher and guide. I respected him… He was fond of eating and would tell me to bring him home-cooked food. However, our association was blown out of proportion,” once explained the danseuse in an interview.

Neeta Mehta, his co-actor in Patthar Se Takkar (1980), was yet another co-star he was rumoured to be involved with.

ESCAPE IN EXCESS

With time, Sanjeev let go of all sense of self-restraint. Food gave him an immediate gratification that perhaps filled the emptiness in his life.

He often joked that after 6 pm began his ‘khaane peene ka time’ and no ‘taqat’ could hold him back.

After a full course meal at a posh eatery, Sanjeev would visit dhabas to have his share of fish and prawns.

“Sharaab hi ek mehbooba hai jo kabhi bewafa nahi ho sakti,” he once reportedly told friend and veteran journalist Ali Peter John. He added, “I have now started loving this game of falling in love and losing because it gives me the courage to fall in love all over again.”

HEART & HOME

Tragedy hit home when Sanjeev’s youngest brother and producer of Do Waqt Ki Roti (1988), Nikul Jariwala, suddenly died of a heart attack at 36. Following this setback, an anxious Sanjeev asked his filmmakers to complete their shootings with him quickly.

No one could gauge the urgency till the actor himself soon suffered his first heart attack, followed by a second one. He was rushed to America where he reportedly underwent a surgery. He returned repaired but frail.

Another unfulfilled wish was the dream of owning a home. All life Sanjeev remained in search of one. Towards the end of his life, he bought a huge property in Juhu. But there was a legal tussle in the seller’s family. So he continued living on rent.

He’d buy exotic artefacts and store them in the room, where he slept. He died in the same room, which he called his ‘adda’.

Actor Sachin Pilgaonkar was the only person with him when he breathed his last on November 6, 1985. He was only 46. Tragically, his other brother Kishore, 49, died two years after Sanjeev’s demise… endorsing the family’s much-feared prophecy of untimely deaths

“Hari was hypersensitive but never showed it. He was not part of the rat race but it must have bothered him that someone as talented as him was not getting his due. Also, there was no woman to drive him,” friend Anju summed up the discordant notes in the actor’s brief life.

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