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Interview Hindi

There is a lesson to be learnt in how Rajendra Kumar struggled, fell, and came up, says Seema Sonik Alimchand

The author of the late actor’s biography,  Jubilee Kumar: The Life and Times of a Superstar shares her experiences of writing the book.

Sonal Pandya

Some actors in Hindi cinema have acquired special monikers that have come to define their careers. So, Amitabh Bachchan became the ‘Angry Young Man’ with the kind of films he headlined in the 1970s and 1980s, Shah Rukh Khan became ‘King Khan’ in the late 1990s and the 2000s for his dominance at the global Hindi box-office, and Akshay Kumar became 'Khiladi' with his action films in the 1990s. But before all these came to prominence, there was ‘Jubilee Kumar’, the name given to actor Rajendra Kumar.

The nickname was a nod to Rajendra Kumar's astounding success at the box office, when successive films of his ran for over 25 weeks (silver jubilee) and 50 weeks (golden jubilee).

It is also the name of the latest book on the veteran actor by author Seema Sonik Alimchand. Jubilee Kumar: The Life and Times of a Superstar, published by Hachette India, takes you on a journey of the star’s life, from his childhood in Sialkot, before Partition, his struggle to make it in the movies, and his eventual stardom.

In a conversation that occurred before the lockdown, Alimchand spoke with Cinestaan.com about the life and career of the actor and also her own writing process. Prior to this biography, she had written Deedara aka Dara Singh!, on the champion wrestler who made a name for himself in cinema as well.

The opportunity to write Rajendra Kumar’s biography first emerged at the Pune Literary Festival three years ago, where Alimchand’s name was suggested to the late actor’s daughter, Dimple. Once they connected, a lot of similarities popped up. Both were from Punjabi families, with fathers originally from Sialkot, and, of course, there was the shared love for music and cinema. Alimchand is also the daughter of the late music composer Master Sonik of the Sonik-Omi duo.

Once she got the offer to write the book, Alimchand took up the challenge. “They [Dimple and her brother Kumar Gaurav] read Deedara, of course, first,” she said. “Then they called me home and spoke to me and said go ahead with it. It just started from there, the research, and over a month I started interviewing [Rajendra’s wife Shukla]. That’s how it took off.”

For the book Jubilee Kumar, Alimchand spoke to his family, including the actor’s younger brother, and created a story of his life, from the family’s roots in West Punjab, now in Pakistan, moving to Delhi, India, during Partition, and his gradual rise from assistant director to a star actor.

Alimchand also focused on another important aspect. The actor’s films, from Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) and Mere Mehboob (1963) to Arzoo (1965) and Talash (1969), all had memorable music. “The music was so beautiful in all his movies, and that is something I’m obviously very attached to, so I incorporated that in the story, because it took the story forward with his music,” the author said.

She also spoke to industry folks, screenwriter Salim Khan, actor Manoj Kumar and frequent co-star Asha Parekh, who knew about the actor’s highs and lows. Prem Sagar and Randhir Kapoor also shared the working relationship between Rajendra Kumar and their fathers, Ramanand Sagar and Raj Kapoor, respectively. David Dhawan, who edited Kumar Gaurav's debut film Love Story (1981), also shared his experiences with Rajendra Kumar as producer.

Besides all these people, Alimchand had the voice of Rajendra Kumar himself, speaking about himself, in a way he never had before.

“Two years before he passed away, his daughter had filmed him talking about his life,” she said. “There were some ten 12-hour CDs which I sat down and listened to and went through and put them in the book. You see [it in the book in] italics, which is his own voice. It was in Hindi, some of it, I [translated it]. It’s like he was talking to me. I could get it first-hand.”

Growing up, Alimchand and her family watched Hindi films and listened to the music regularly, but during the process of writing a book on the actor, she came upon more facets of the star.

“For me, Rajendra Kumar was Rajendra Kumar, I knew a lot about him, but there are things that I discovered. First of all, he was a jubilee star; at one time, his movies were running in all the theatres, and he was the highest paid actor. He was a little underrated, I don’t know why.”

Rajendra Kumar with Saira Banu in a still from Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968)

“Even today, if you talk about old stars, Dharmendra comes up, Rajesh Khanna will come up, Dilip Kumar will come up, Manoj Kumar may also come up, but Rajendra Kumar doesn’t come up so much. He has contributed so much to the film industry, not only as an actor but also as a producer. And the way he has selected his films, his directors, he had a good knack of recognizing what is a successful movie,” she continued.

Apart from his success in films, the book shares hitherto unknown details of his life. Jubilee Kumar begins with a life-threatening incident in 1940 when the teenage Rajendra Kumar almost lost his mother while travelling to the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir. In the book, the episode becomes a sort of starting point for the young man. Alimchand recreates the event with “added dialogues” for “dramatic and narrative purposes”, along with the help of the late actor’s family and his own recordings.

Asked what was the most challenging portion of the process, Alimchand replied, “I wrote the book in such a way that it will appeal to the younger generation also because there is a lesson to be learnt as well, how he struggled, fell, came up. That was the challenge, to keep it correct, but still not take away from the struggle, and the ups and downs of his life.”