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How Sanjay Khan survived an accident, but his career did not

A potential star who never reached the level of his brother Feroz Khan, Sanjay Khan nevertheless found fame with his television career, including his role as the great Tipu Sultan.

Shriram Iyengar

In an interview last year, Sanjay Khan said, "Tipu Sultan earned me a lot of respect. I will always be remembered as Tipu Sultan."

The actor-director was not off the mark. Known as a talented artiste, probably more so than brother Feroz, Sanjay Khan, however, never reached the heights that he was supposed to.

Born Abbas Khan, he took on the screen name Sanjay. Making his debut in the Rajshri production, Dosti (1964), Sanjay made an impact with his limited time on screen. He followed the superhit with another good performance in Chetan Anand's war film Haqeeqat (1964).

As an actor, Sanjay Khan's filmography seems scant. He lacked the stylish screen presence of Feroz Khan, or the radical choices. 

Sanjay Khan (left) and Feroz Khan (right)

From Ek Phool Do Maali (1969) and Inteqam (1969) to Dhund (1973) and Abdullah (1980), Sanjay Khan wandered in the shadows of his more stylish elder brother. As he admitted, "Feroz is more flamboyant: Even as a child, Feroz was fond of defying authority. He was about to go to Germany to study engineering when he was spotted in a restaurant by a filmmaker. He appeared in the movies before I did, but we are beyond sibling rivalry." 

Yet, to deem Sanjay Khan a talent wasted would be an error. His name shines brightly on the small screen, particularly in the golden age of Indian television. An ambitious director, his epic historical serial The Sword Of Tipu Sultan was one of the great period dramas that enhanced Indian television in the 1990s.

With Zeenat Aman in Abdullah (1980)

Based on the novel of the same name by Bhagwan S Gidwani, The Sword Of Tipu Sultan belonged to the same bracket as BR Chopra's Mahabharata or Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan. With its high production values, historical accuracy and ambitious scale of production, the series set the tone for a new age of television in the country.

Khan recalled, "We shot mostly at the Samode Palace Hotel in Jaipur and its surrounding areas to capture the royalty of palaces." Shot at an initial budget of Rs8 lakh an episode, the serial's quality ensured that funding was soon doubled. It reportedly commanded Rs1.25 lakh for a ten-second ad spot at a time when television advertising in India was still in its infancy.

Though popular, the series was one of the more risky ventures of Sanjay Khan. A raging fire on the set proved near-fatal for the actor-director who suffered 62% third-degree burns. The incident was an eye-opener to the risks authenticity brought with it. Yet, Khan stuck it out and returned to the schedule soon after recovery. He completed the series, but never really broke through with another film. It would be his last summer on screen. 

Marked out as a talent to watch, Sanjay Khan's lack of enduring success on the big screen remains a regret. He said, "I regret not taking my acting career seriously. I did not make use of my talent and go all the way to the top. I realize that I never took my acting career seriously, probably because my focus was on direction — my first love." 

Unsurprisingly, the director is still involved with various facets of filmmaking, except not as an actor.