One can only imagine the demons Sanjeev Kumar had to battle in his last days: the loneliness, the powerlessness and constant struggle with bitter hopelessness. He had wrung every drop of life from the fabric of his existence; battled against his circumstances and done his best. He was the master of his fate. Even with just a few precious days left, far from accepting defeat, he kept moving forward, determined to complete what he had started. Film director Raman Kumar recounts,
He advised me to complete his dubbing for Rahee. I was not ready but he forced me, I did as he said, and, within a couple of days he passed away.
Jyoti had planned a long trip to Calcutta and Banaras with her family. She left Parin Villa on 29 October 1985 with all her children except Uday, who stayed back because he wanted to spend some time with his dada. He spent four days at home with his uncle and, on 3 November, left for Calcutta to join his mother. Jyoti Jariwala recalls:
We decided to visit the holy city of Banaras to pray for Bhai and the family, because for quite a while we had all been getting this premonition that something bad was about to happen.
On 28 October, Sanjeev spoke to his sister Gayatri for the last time, and the phone call lasted for more than thirty minutes. Recalling their last conversation, Gayatri couldn’t hold back tears:
He was so emotional; he advised me to take care of my health and my family. He told me not to depend on others, since no one knows when the time will come to face the world all alone. At that time, I didn’t understand what he wanted to say.
Dinesh Hingoo, Sanjeev’s friend and co-star, was about to leave for Muscat but he had a gut feeling about meeting Sanjeev:
Before going to Muscat with Amjad Khan and Kalyanji–Anandji, I had a feeling that I must meet Sanjeev personally. My soul forced me to see him, for two days after I reached Muscat, he was no more.
Sanjeev spent the entire day of 5 November dubbing for R.K. Nayyar’s Qatl at Sumit Dubbing Theatre, Juhu. He met Prakash Mehra and discussed his film Insaan Ki Aulaad. It was 10.30 p.m. by the time he finished dubbing; his last line was:
Qabr ke sirane kabhi ghans nahi ugti, barkhurdar (grass doesn’t grow near a headstone).
Leaving the dubbing theatre, he said to R.K. Nayyar:
Tomorrow is my mother’s death anniversary, so I will stay at home.
He was supposed to leave for London on 7 November 1985; and 6 November 1985 arrived with a tinge of sadness. Sanjeev was lost in his thoughts, reminiscing about the days of his childhood, thinking about his mother, longing for the feel of her fingers running through his hair. He was up at 7 a.m. but felt no urge to eat. Pandit, who had worked for him since 1968, kept insisting that he shouldn’t starve and, after a lot of coaxing, was able to make Sanjeev take a sip of tea with some biscuits. The day brightened up momentarily when his mentor P.D. Shenoy came to return some money and Subhash Ghai dropped by to check on him. He sat and chatted with Ghai for a while.
After Ghai left, Sanjeev discussed how things would be when he left for London and offered Pandit Rs 2000 to see them through his absence, but Pandit refused the money since he already had enough. Hardly was the conversation over when Sanjeev complained of feeling nauseous. At about 12.30 p.m., Sanjeev vomited and an anxious Jamnadas made a frantic call to Dr Gandhi, asking him to come at once.
Sanjeev kept insisting that he was all right, that it was nothing and that all he wanted was to take a bath and get dressed because he was expecting Sachin over at any moment. He went into his bedroom, while Jamnadas and Pandit waited anxiously for Dr Gandhi to arrive. Sachin arrived with director Satpal and Dr Gandhi soon followed. Sachin, Satpal, Jamnadas, Dr Gandhi and Pandit were all eagerly waiting for Sanjeev to emerge from his bedroom. It had been more than forty-five minutes and there was no sign of him. Seriously worried by now, they decided to go in and see if he was all right. They found the bedroom door unlocked. (Sanjeev had been instructed to not lock bedroom and bathroom doors in case of an emergency.) Sachin pushed the door open and loudly exclaimed, ‘Oh my God!’
Sanjeev Kumar was lying on the floor, immobile. He looked so peaceful, he could have been asleep.
It was a Wednesday. According to the doctor, Sanjeev must have suffered a fatal heart attack trying to get up from the sofa to go to the bathroom. Since the exact time of his death was unknown, it was assumed to be sometime between 1.45 and 2 p.m. He was only forty-seven years old.
Jamnadas informed Jyoti’s brother and he arranged for their tickets back home the very next morning, without telling them the entire truth. Jyoti only knew that Sanjeev had been hospitalized because his health had deteriorated.
His brother Kishore and sister-in-law Prafulla were alerted as well. Prafulla recalls:
Kishore was crying like a child.
Tarla Joshi took the responsibility of breaking this dreadful news to his sister Gayatri.
In Bombay, the entire film industry came to a standstill. All shooting, recording, dubbing, post-production work got cancelled. Everyone was calling each other to notify them about Sanjeev’s passing. Kishore Kumar wept with grief and disbelief. Rajesh Khanna and Ravi Tandon were shooting for Nazrana and they cancelled the shoot in honour of Sanjeev Kumar. Sudhir Dalvi was shooting with the Ramsay Brothers for Saya. He too cancelled the shoot.
A.K. Hangal recalled mournfully:
I never cried even when I lost my own family. But I could not control my tears when I found out that Hari was no more. I was sitting at the dining table and before I could eat, an army officer informed me about Hari’s death. I could not eat and I could not even shoot.
Amjad Khan was in Muscat when he found out about Sanjeev’s death but he thought that it was just a rumour, so he asked his wife to go to Parin Villa and see how he was doing. Shaila Khan recalls:
When he [Amjad] called me, I was not aware about Sanjeev’s death. I visited Parin Villa. I found a huge crowd outside and I understood what it meant. I went back home and called Amjad to confirm that what he’d heard was in fact true.
Actor Dinesh Hingoo remembers the sad day:
While Amjad Khan was speaking to his wife, I was standing next to him. Amjad cried like a lost child, and he was not in a position to perform on stage.
This was confirmed by producer Vinay Sinha. Remembering Sanjeev, Dilip Kumar said:
Sanjeev was a great actor and a great man; he could have achieved so much more, but destiny didn’t support him. He never changed, I knew him since he was struggling. After taking a course in acting, he worked with me and became successful, but success never changed him. Weak people cannot digest their success but he was strong.
His sister was on her way from the US, and it was decided that his funeral would take place on 8 November, only after she arrived, so his remains were placed in a glass coffin. Shatrughan Sinha stood sentinel beside Sanjeev’s coffin for two days. Sinha stated:
I know many people will speak a lot about him now because he is not here to justify himself. I am not going to say how great an actor he was or how the film industry is going to lose one of its biggest assets because this is already a fact. His death is a personal loss for me and it goes deeper than our film background. I have lost a great friend. He was my best friend. I shared a great rapport with him. During any crisis, when I needed him he was always there for me, lending me his support. I am proud to call him my friend. If I asked him what his last wish was, he would have said, ‘I don’t want to die.’ After the death of his younger brother his responsibilities had increased drastically, especially towards Nikul’s children. These three children meant everything to him, and he wished to live for their future.
This excerpt from ‘An Actor’s Actor’ by Hanif Zaveri and Sumant Batra has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.