How did a superstar provoke the break-up?
50 years later, the truth can finally be told.
A revealing excerpt from Hanif Zaveri and Sumant Batra's An Actor's Actor: An Authorized Biography of Sanjeev Kumar.
When Ramesh Sippy narrated the script for Seeta Aur Geeta to Hema Malini, she was not convinced that she could do justice to a role similar to what had been done by the legendary Dilip Kumar.
Mindful of the divide between male and female stars in the industry, Sippy assured her that the audience would never compare her acting prowess to his.
The only obstacle that remained was finding actors to play the twins's love interests, and this was solved when Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar agreed to play the parts. Although they were both stars in their own right, they had fewer, albeit powerful, scenes in the film.
Sanjeev Kumar and Hema Malini became acquainted with each other while shooting for the song Hawa ke saath saath, in which they had to skate through the picturesque roads of Mahabaleshwar.
Since both actors were novice skaters, they fell an umpteen number of times. Ramesh Sippy, however, kept all the shots where they tripped, adding them to the song sequence to make it look natural. Eventually, a contraption in the form of a low trolley supported by sticks was devised to make it seem like they were whizzing through the valley.
In one terrifying moment, the trolley came loose while Hema and Sanjeev were on it and veered towards a cliff. Luckily, the road bent inwards and both the actors fell away from the treacherous precipice. They escaped with minor cuts and bruises.
This brush with death brought them closer.
The moment they recovered from the accident, they were more concerned about each other than their own well-being. Many believe that this was the moment they began developing feelings for each other.
In love once again, Sanjeev was determined to marry Hema.
Once again, he faced resistance from his mother.
Shantaben did not want an actress as a daughter-in-law. Her rejection disheartened Hema enormously. Belonging to a tight-knight family, she could not imagine tying the knot without the whole-hearted approval of both families.
Sanjeev consoled her, telling her that Shantaben would come around to the union eventually. True to his word, Hema won Shantaben's heart.
A humble woman despite her immense success, Hema always covered her head with her pallu and touched Shantaben's feet every time they met. She gradually became one of the Jariwala household.
(Actress) Tarla Mehta fondly remembers the closeness between Sanjeev and Hema. Members of the same peer group at work, the two seemed destined to be together.
On her birthday, Hema called Shantaben from Madras (now Chennai) and said, 'Mataji, aaj mera janamdin hai -- aap mujhe aashirwaad deejiye. (Mother, it's my birthday today, please grant me your blessings.)' They ended up speaking on the phone for hours.
Gayatri Patel (Sanjeev Kumar's sister) says Hema held immense respect for Shantaben and the Jariwalas: 'Whenever she went abroad, she brought something for my mom. Whenever they visited Madras, she took great care of the family.'
Contrary to all expectations, Hema Malini became the only actress Shantaben was ready to accept as her daughter-in-law.
Expressive in front of the camera, in real life Sanjeev was awkward and shy. This lack of communication caused misunderstandings between the pair.
Gayatri remembers one such occasion when there was some friction between the lovers. Although Sanjeev refused to talk about it, his sister could tell that something was amiss. He was not speaking to Hema.
When Gayatri and her husband were leaving to attend Hema's dance show, Sanjeev refused to accompany them.
After the show, a distressed Hema called Gayatri to ask what was wrong because she had no clue as to why Sanjeev was not speaking to her. She appealed to Gayatri to intervene, but his sister was helpless too because Sanjeev would not discuss his relationship with her.
Eventually, the Jariwalas decided to visit Hema's family in Madras and ask for her hand.
Sanjeev, Hema and Shantaben planned the visit, fixed a date and got their tickets. As was customary, Shantaben arrived at Hema's home with boxes of sweets, and Hema Malini's mother, Jaya Chakravarthy, was happy to meet Sanjeev's family.
The cultural differences did not pose a hurdle, but Hema Malini's film career became a bone of contention.
As Hema Malini told veteran journalist Bhawana Somaaya later, 'My mother's ambition was to give me all that she couldn't have for herself. In her case, giving did not include small worldly comforts but big dreams, big aspirations. She had wanted to be a dancer, but couldn't. She learnt music, though reared in an orthodox Iyengar family. Making me an artiste was like bhakti or tapasya for her.'
Firm in her ambitions for her daughter, Jaya Chakravarthy declared to Shantaben, 'It is my pleasure that you have agreed to accept my daughter Hema as your daughter-in-law. But my only condition is that she continues her career as an actress after her marriage.'
For the Jariwala family, this was a difficult condition to accept.
Shantaben and Sanjeev were clear from the start that they would not allow Hema to act in films after marriage.
According to Gayatri Patel, Hema herself had promised Sanjeev that she would complete only her pending assignments before bidding farewell to the film world.
Hema, however, could not withstand her mother's iron will. She was one of the highest-paid actresses of her time; she could understand the reason behind her mother's decision.
Hema was hopeful that Sanjeev would eventually come around and allow her to carry on with her career. Sanjeev remained hopeful that Hema would convince her mother, and he stayed in touch with her.
It became increasingly difficult for Sanjeev to understand Hema.
Trapped between her mother and Sanjeev, she wavered irresolutely, going this way one day and the other, the next.
She asked Sanjeev to let her continue with her acting career for a while.
As soon as the film-makers heard of their marriage, they would stop casting her, and she would be able to settle down at home with him and his family. But Sanjeev was not ready to compromise.
Rajesh Khanna knew about Hema and Sanjeev's differences.
When Damu Jhaveri, the general secretary of INT (Indian National Theatre), organised a premiere show for a Hollywood film at Sterling Cinema, Bombay, as a fundraiser, both Rajesh Khanna and Sanjeev Kumar were invited.
INT Producer Bachoo Sampat recalls the organisers asking Rajesh to bring Sharmila Tagore with him, since they were shooting together, and asking Sanjeev Kumar to bring Hema Malini.
Both agreed to attend the premiere.
Rajesh Khanna knew that Sanjeev was invited, but Sanjeev did not know that Rajesh Khanna was coming.
Sanjeev arrived early and, at the request of the announcer, straightaway sat in his designated chair on stage.
No sooner had everyone settled down than, suddenly, heads whipped around and hushed whispers rippled across the auditorium.
Sanjeev looked up to see what the commotion was about and was shocked to see Rajesh Khanna walking down the carpeted aisle, holding hands with Hema Malini.
Both of them walked to the front row of the cinema hall and sat down as part of the audience.
Sanjeev was humiliated and hurt. Hema was equally shocked to see him.
She had merely accompanied Rajesh Khanna at his insistence and did not know of the animosity that existed between the two.
Although she could gauge to some extent the damage she had unwittingly inflicted, she did not dare confront Rajesh Khanna.
Sanjeev Kumar stepped down from the stage and joined the audience in a different row, far away from them. None of them spoke to each other during the show.
Sanjeev's friends tried to explain to him that Rajesh Khanna had done it on purpose to humiliate him and that Hema was innocent. But Sanjeev took this insult to heart.
He spent a sleepless night nursing a troubled mind and grieving heart.
The next morning, he was to shoot for Raghunath Jhalani's film Anamika with Jaya Bhaduri at S D Burman's bungalow. The song Baahon mein chale aao was being filmed.
Sanjeev delivered every shot perfectly but, as soon as each shot was done, his face darkened. It was plain to all that he was trying to stem the flow of tears.
Jaya could sense her co-star was upset. Later, in one of her interviews, she mused on that day, saying she tried to make him laugh but failed and he tried to distract himself but could not.
At last, during the lunch break, he told her what had happened. She was shocked.
How had he been working all day in such emotional turmoil? After their lunch, even Jaya could not perform, so moved was she by his troubles. He told her to set it aside.
As artists, their first duty was to perform their given character, and the audience had nothing to do with their personal lives.
It was the first glimpse she had into his dedication to his work.
Sanjeev was avoiding Hema Malini's calls, but she was not easily deterred. She went to Parin Villa to speak to him directly. They had a row about their career, marriage and the Rajesh Khanna incident then and there.
After going round in circles, when he asked her for a definitive answer about her intention to work in films after marriage, she said that she wasn't ready to give it up. He asked her to leave him forever and then walked out of the room.
Hema couldn't believe that this was the end, just like that.
She sat there stupefied, and, when it finally dawned on her that there was nothing more to be done, she left as well.
Excerpted from An Actor's Actor: An Authorized Biography of Sanjeev Kumar, by Hanif Zaveri and Sumant Batra, with the kind permission of the publishers, Penguin Random House India.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com