Among the Bollywood actors of his generation, Sanjeev Kumar (born Harihar Jethalal Jariwala 9 July 1938 6 November 1985) was one of the harder ones to pigeonhole. When he started out in the mid-sixties, he was a pudgy, physically awkward young man with a solid reputation in regional theater. Naturally, he was promptly cast in lead roles in b-grade Swashbucklers and two-fisted cop stories, with a lot of help from stuntmen. His theatrical background allowed him to ham his way through these films in style, and he became fairly popular, on the strength of his toothy grin and puppy-dog eyes. While these films were paying the bills, he started taking on supporting roles in bigger movies, and by the early seventies he was alternating between acclaimed arthouse roles in movies like Koshish, sappy family dramas, comedies like Manoranjan and Seeta Aur Geeta, and romances like Anamika, plus supporting roles in whatever interested him. He started aging early in life, due to his love of food, booze and cigarettes, and a genetic predisposition to heart troubles. His greatest success was as Thakur in Sholay, but he had his first heart attack only a year or two later, in his early forties, which limited his ability to capitalize on this success. His health problems and status as an outsider with no family connections in Bollywood, gradually pushed him out of the upper tiers of stardom.
He was often acclaimed for his sensitive, naturalistic performances in arty films such as Koshish and Mausam, but the majority of his mainstream films had him playing a Large Ham in a World of Ham, engaged in Ham-to-Ham Combat with his peers. In such movies he was basically skating by on sheer Narm Charm. He was fascinated with makeup effects and with trying on new personas, which led to him playing the Jekyll and Hyde analogues in Chehre Peh Chehra, a So OK, It's Average remake of the Rouben Mammoulian Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).
He had often claimed that no male in his family had ever reached the age of fifty, and he and his two younger brothers pretty much upheld the family tradition. Sanjeev died of a heart attack in late 1985, at age 45, about six months after the death of his youngest brother. The other brother passed away less than a year later. Sanjeev had continued to work whenever his health permitted it, with the result that his death left a number of his film projects in a partially finished state. A surprising number of these, perhaps ten or twelve, were finished and released after his death.
He had never married, which was the cause of much speculation in Bollywood. Theories ranged from him being concerned about dying of a heart attack and leaving his hypothetical wife a widow at too early an age (Widowhood being Serious Business in the more conservative parts of India), to him being too attached to his booze, food and cigarettes to allow a wife to tell him what to do. The most popular theory claims that, after a couple of infatuations with women who were either way out of his league or otherwise unattainable, he became obsessed with Hema Malini, who was really out of his league. She did not return his love, and although he pursued other women, the story goes that he never found anyone who impressed him as deeply as Hema, which led to his perma-bachelor status.