Do you know why actor Sanjeev Kumar adopted his screen name? While he himself thought his real name Harihar Jethalal Jariwala was not befitting for an aspiring actor, renowned director Kamal Amrohi suggested he should have a unique and an impressive screen identity.
Actor-playwright Hanif Zaveri and insolvency lawyer Sumant Batra have come out with an authorised biography of the two-time National Award-winning actor titled "An Actor's Actor" in which they provide several such interesting anecdotes about him.
During his initial days, Jariwala would often say his name was "not befitting for an aspiring actor" and discuss with his friends the various possible names he could adopt.
"He decided that it should begin with the letter 'S', as his mother's name began with an 'S' (Shantaben), and should end with 'Kumar' as most actors' names ended with 'Kumar'. After a gruelling debate and discussion, the name 'Sanjay Kumar' received unanimous approval, and Hari was credited in both 'Ramat Ramade Ram' and 'Aao Pyar Karen' by this name," the book, published by Penguin Random House, says.
While Jariwala was shooting for "Nishan", he met the versatile writer-producer-director Amrohi, who asked him to come over to Filmistan Studio Goregaon the following day to discuss two new films he was currently working on - "Aakhri Din Pehli Raat" and "Shankar Hussain" (1977).
"Shankar Hussain" was to be Jariwala's next project.
"When Hari went to meet Amrohi he was told to do a screen test with a few difficult dialogues in Urdu. The ever-diligent Hari delivered the dialogues in four different ways. Thoroughly impressed with Hari's confidence, Amrohi suggested that Hari work with his assistant Baqar to fine-tune his Urdu," the authors say.
The hiccup with Jariwala's name came up again with Amrohi.
The director told him that his name was not impressive enough for an actor and decided to change Jariwala's screen name to Gautam Rajvansh and Vidya Manjrekar's (who initially played the protagonist's sister and later played the lead) to Al-Saheba, the book says.
Both the actors accepted Amrohi's suggestion, and Jariwala refrained from telling him that he had already decided on Sanjay Kumar as his screen name, it says.
"Unfortunately, a day before the shooting was to start, the lead actress withdrew from shooting. Extremely caught up with 'Pakeezah' (1972), in which his wife Meena Kumari was playing a pivotal role, Amrohi shelved 'Shankar Hussain' after just a few shots with Vidya as the new lead."
Both "Badal" and "Nishan" were on the floor when Sanjay Khan's superhit film "Dosti" (1964) released and he instantly became a household name. Jariwala was in a dilemma yet again, since two Sanjays could not rule the screen at the same time.
"Aspi Irani advised him to alter his name once again. Hari was reluctant because two of his films had already been released as Sanjay Kumar. However, 'Aao Pyar Karen' focused on Joy Mukherjee, and 'Ramat Ramade Ram' was a regional film. He decided to take his chances, and Sanjeev Kumar was born," the authors write.
Now that his name was fixed, the only other thing that needed fixing was his appearance. Jariwala put away his trademark kurta pyjama and bought a red T-shirt and a pair of white trousers for interviews with directors and producers.
The authors also mention how Jariwala knew his destiny was irrevocably tied to Indian cinema, but many hurdles stood between him and his goal. "Overcoming most of them required divine intervention, but some, like his voice, he believed he could work on."
According to his guide C H Intwala, Jariwala was worried about his "weak voice".
Jariwala worked hard on his dialogue delivery, practising the same lines in various pitches and tones and modulating them with different hues of emotional intensity. Intwala would supervise his dialogue-reading sessions every evening.
"At the time, Hari had no idea that the voice he was striving to alter would one day help him carve a niche for himself in the world of cinema, and, later, would become a staple for mimicry artists, although they would find it near impossible to reproduce the various nuances that affected his tone," the book says.
It also describes Kumar's first role in "Hum Hindustani" (1960), starring Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh.
"Upon being approached, Hari immediately accepted the offer of playing a police inspector for Rs 12 per shift. Hari's role had no dialogues, but he gave it his hundred per cent; this was the first time he was facing the camera after all," the book says.
"Rs 12 per shift was a good sum of money for Hari. He was proud of what he had earned and was elated at handing over his hard-earned money to his mother. Her approval mattered the most to him. Delighted, Shantaben took Hari to Mumba Devi's temple at Zaveri Bazaar and donated a part of his earnings to the temple's fund," it says.
The book has a foreword by actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha.