Sanjeev Kumar was born as Harihar Jethalal Jariwala (also referred to as Haribhai in Surat, Gujrat. His family eventually settled in Mumbai. Kumar started his acting career as a stage actor, starting with IPTA in Mumbai and later joining the Indian National Theatre. Even as a stage actor, he had a penchant for playing older roles; at age 22, he played an old man in an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. In the following year, in the play Damru directed by A.K.Hangal, Kumar again played the role of a 60-year-old with six children.
Kumar made his film debut with a small role in Hum Hindustani in 1960. His first film as a protagonist was in Nishan(1965). In 1968, he acted alongside the famous actor of that time, Dilip Kumar in Sangharh.
He starred in the 1966 Gujrati film Kalapi, which was based on the poet Kalapi’s life, with Kumar playing the titular role. In 1970, the movie Khilona, which was a remake of Tamil film Engerindho Vandhaal, brought Kumar national recognition. In 1972, he played in an Indo-Iranian film, Subah Aur Shaam. This was when director Gulzar first spotted him. Later he cast Kumar in the roles of older men in 4 films Parichay, Koshish (1973), Andhi (1975) and Mausam (1975). Gulzar cast Kumar in the role of young man in the films Angoor (1981) and Namkeen (1982). He went on to star in the box office hit Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Manchali(1973) and Aap Ki Kasam (1974). He performed in nine movies directed by Gulzar. Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed him in Arjun Pandit, for which he won the Filmfare Best Actor Award. Kumar remained single all his life. He had proposed to Hema Malini in 1973 and they remained in touch even after he suffered his first heart attack in 1976.
He did three films opposite famous Tamil actress L. Vijaya Lakshmi, including Husn Aur Ishq and Badal which became hits. He was paired with Rakhee in Angaare, Paras, Trishna, Shriman Shrimati and Hamare Tumhare. He was paired regularly with Sulakshana Pandit in films such as Uljhan and Waqt Ki Deewar. He was involved with actress Sulakhshana Pandit, but both of them remained unmarried. Kumar refused to marry her, as a result of which Sulakshana vowed to never marry anyone.
The producers and directors of the South wanted to remake their Tamil and Telugu films in Hindi with either Kumar or Rajesh Khanna in lead. It was these Hindi film remakes which elevated him to a great actor. The film Khilona and its Tamil version Engirundho Vandhaal were made simultaneously. Navarathri was remade as Naya Din Naya Raat. Kumar reprised the role played by Thengai Srinivasan in Yehi Hai Zindagi which was a remake of Kaliyuga Kannan. He has done many regional films in different languages including Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Sindhi and Gujarati.
Kumar was born with a Congenital Heart Condition and many members of his family had not lived past 50. After his first heart attack, he underwent a bypass in the US. However, on 6 November 1985, at the age of 47, he suffered a massive heart attack, which resulted in his death. His younger brother Nikul died before him, while his other brother Kishore died six months later. Although he was an actor who had played many elderly roles, he died before he reached 50 years of age. More than ten movies starring Sanjeev Kumar were released after his death.
His few hit songs are –
Khush rahe tu sada ye dua hai meri……. (Movie : Khilona)
O sathi chal…… (Movie : Seeta aur Geeta)
Dil dhoondtha hai fir wahi fursat k raat din….. (movie : Aandhi)