Sujit Kumar – Memories
I never imagined I would get into films. No one in my family has even the slightest link to films. I belong to a family of farmers and my forefathers have a lot of land near Benaras. I was planning to go to London, to do my MBA. I was also very fond of cricket. Meanwhile, I decided to do law. While I was doing law in 1960, I took part in a play in the inter-collegiate competition, which was selected for the finals. Those days, eminent film personalities were invited to judge these competitions. That year, Phani Majumdar was selected to do so. Luckily, I was judged the best actor. Soon after the play, Phaniji came up to me and said, ‘You act well and you don’t look bad either, why don’t you try films’? Though I was hesitant initially, my friends goaded me on. They said it was a wonderful opportunity which I shouldn’t let go of. Besides, my parents didn’t have any objection. Even if they did, they didn’t make it obvious. Since I am the only offspring, they were perhaps more concerned about my happiness than anything else.
Phaniji was then making a film called Akash Deep with Dharmendra and Nanda. Dharmendra had also just joined the industry. Phaniji told me, ‘You assist me in direction and if possible, I will take you in my next film’. Unfortunately, Akash Deep flopped and Phaniji was in no position to make another film with a newcomer. I didn’t know where to go so I started visiting producers’ offices for work. Just imagine, I was doing law and planning to go to London for further studies, and here I was running around for work. At this time, I was introduced to Shakti Samanta who in turn introduced me to his one-time assistant, Jimmy Nerula. Nerula was then doing a film called Apna Bana Ke Dekko. He took me in as the assistant director. Then I came in contact with Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein, where again I was the assistant to the director. This film was in its final stages, when Bhojpuri films were starting to be made. The first was Ganga Maiyan Ki God Mein, which was a super hit. By now, everyone knew that I wanted to be an actor but I wasn’t getting any offers. One day, Mr. Bachubhai Shah came to meet me and after the initial talks, he signed me for his next film, Bidesiya. Naaz was the heroine of the film and it went on to become a big hit. Since then, there has been no looking back.
The producer, Nasir Husain and the director, Kundan Shah of the hit Bhojpuri film Ganga Maiyan… wanted to do their next film with me. Aseem Kumar was the hero of their first film. They even signed me and I was thrilled. I was eagerly waiting for the shooting to commence and even my clothes were ready. But just two days before, I was told that I was not in the film anymore and I had been replaced by Aseem Kumar! Here I was, thinking that all my troubles were over and I would not have to struggle any more, and then I get this news! I wept bitterly for hours together! I asked the director what the problem was. He said they didn’t have any problems but the heroine of the film, Kum Kum, wanted Aseem Kumar in the film. Kum Kum was an established actress then and they couldn’t afford to anger her. Then I got to know that Aseem Kumar had gone to Kum Kum’s house and begged to get me replaced. Whatever the problem was, it was a very bad experience for me and for months together, I was not able to forget the humiliation I felt.
I was so sad that I didn’t even get out of the PG place I was staying in. Just two days after this incident, the producers of Bidesiya approached me. They wanted to sign me and I said, ‘I just don’t want to work in any film. You might be wanting to sign me but the heroine will refuse to act with me and you will come and tell me you have a problem. Sorry sir, I don’t want to go through this all over again. I am not handsome and I know that’. Naaz was supposed to be the heroine and Bachubhai said, ‘Don’t worry, if Naaz rejects you, I will reject her’. He convinced me. He was a very decent man and to me he was like God because he introduced me with so much confidence. He took me to Naaz’s house. She was already a star and was living like one. Bachubhai told her of my fears and she laughed, ‘If the director thinks you suit the role, who am I to think otherwise’? When Bidesiya became a hit, I got many offers. I did about four or five films with Naaz. I even did films with Kum Kum! When I was offered another film with Kum Kum, I initially refused. But later, I was persuaded to do the film.
Consequently, Hindi film producers started signing me. Not many of my Hindi films have been hits, except for B.K. Adarsh’s Putli Bai and Lal Bangla. My first Hindi film was Ek Saal Pehle with Sayeeda Khan, which was a major flop. Then I started accepting second hero projects, like Aradhana,Aankhen, etc. Once I started doing these kind of roles, I got many offers. I started charging more than what I used to, when I was a hero. After the success of Aradhana and Amar Prem, I was teamed with Rajesh Khanna. During this period, I did Mehbooba, Haathi Mere Saathi, etc. My last film with Rajesh was Avtaar.
Now I have become a full time producer. The first film I produced was in Bhojpuri and I have also made about four or five films in Hindi. My first Hindi film was Anubhav. I also made films like Aasman Se Ooncha and Khel. The last film I produced was Daraar. I have never stopped being an actor. but producers don’t approach me because they think that since I have become a producer myself, I wouldn’t be interested in acting. Now I am acting in a TV serial by Partho Ghosh.
Those days, the personal lives of stars were not written about much because there were not many magazines. Quite a few affairs and relationships were taking place but they weren’t written about. When good looking men and women get together, affairs are bound to happen. I couldn’t have any affairs because I was busy struggling. Then I met the sister of a friend and I married her. There was no scope and more importantly, no time to fall in love with any of my colleagues. Though I had many female friends, like Mumtaz and Sayeeda Khan. Mumtaz was a very decent lady.
During my younger days, my actor friends and I had formed a group. We have still maintained that friendship and we meet as often as possible. The group consists of Jeetendra, Raakesh Roshan and Prem Chopra. Manmohan, Nitin Manmohan’s father, was also a part of the group until his sad demise. Luckily, our wives are good friends too and they fix picnics and other outings. We meet at least once a fortnight. Those days, we couldn’t actually enjoy picnics and parties since we were too busy. We could only meet when we were shooting together. Premieres were great events and we would dress in our best to attend these. Nowadays, everything has become so professional. Nothing is important any more. I wonder if the stars of today can actually be friendly with each other. They all pretend to be very warm and friendly but in their hearts, they don’t really feel the affection. They don’t know how to respect their elders or their producers. People are becoming more liberal but at the same time, basic culture is missing. At any awards function abroad, when a big star comes on stage, he gets a standing ovation. But here, when a senior star comes on stage, half the people stand up while the other half are coolly seated, as if it’s below their dignity to stand.
Once, we went to Beirut for the shooting of a film. We met a few Lebanese people in the lobby of the five-star hotel we were staying at and they asked us, ‘You actor, India? We know one actor in India, Shammi Kupar’. Such was the popularity of Shammi Kapoor ! He was a star in the real sense. This hotel was the best in Beirut and the boys there told us that Shammi had stayed in the biggest suite they had. ‘The same suite that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton shared!’ they informed us. Shammiji loved luxury.
He would live in style but he never did so at the producer’s expense. If the producer has booked a room for him, worth Rs. 1000 he would add Rs. 4000 more and book the entire suite! He was a hero in real life too and very generous too.
Those were the stars! Today, if a star has to be taken outdoors, his make-up man, his assistant, his wife, kids, secretary and everyone possible goes along, at the producer’s expense of course! The star takes as much advantage of the producer as possible. Can you imagine, sometimes, even the star secretary’s wife comes along? We were also actors, but we never made unreasonable demands like the stars of today do. At the most, a makeup man would accompany us on our trips abroad. A producer cannot even complain because it has become a trend. Today’s stars walk out of a film for the flimsiest possible reasons. There is no sense of commitment anymore. They take their own sweet time to come and disappear at their own sweet will. These things definitely get on a producer’s nerves. That basic respect is missing. Even if an actor has acted in just one film, he behaves like a king. (As told to Shubha Shetty in 1997).