5 Roles That Could’ve Changed Sanjeev Kumar’s Destiny as an Actor

Roles we missed the legendary Sanjeev Kumar in.

4 min read

In a galaxy of stars, Sanjeev Kumar was an actor. He not only defied the conventions of Hindi film heroes, he also made them a case study of success. His all-inclusive range added depth to low-budget films, and nuance and impulsiveness to big budget vehicles. With an oeuvre of diverse roles in a short lifespan, his versatile, volatile talent was an integral part of sense and sensibility in mainstream Hindi cinema.

Here’s a look at roles he would have taken if fate had different plans.

Mirza Ghalib in Mirza Ghalib (1988)

Roles we missed the legendary Sanjeev Kumar in.
Naseeruddin Shah played Mirza Ghalib in the TV series Mirza Ghalib (1988). Gulzar was planning to cast Sanjeev Kumar in the role but Shah convinced him not to.

In the ‘70s, Gulzar was planning to make a biopic on Mirza Ghalib, and he was planning to cast his long time collaborator, Sanjeev Kumar, in the role of the great Urdu poet. But the project never worked out. Almost a decade later, Gulzar realised his long cherished dream, and made it into a TV series with Naseeruddin Shah playing the lead.

Naseeruddin Shah has a very interesting story to tell about it.

“I had seen the (1954) movie on Ghalib with Mr. Bharat Bhushan as Mirza Ghalib and then I heard in the 1970s that Gulzar Bhai was planning to make a movie on Ghalib and that he had cast Sanjeev Kumar in the lead and I wrote him a registered letter to say that he couldn’t do that. Anyone who has seen [acclaimed director Satyajit Ray’s 1977 movie] Shatranj ke Khilari (1977) will attest to that.”

“He (Sanjeev Kumar) was all wrong for that role, I mean he was a Gujarati, how can you cast him for a role like that? I should have been in that role. So I wrote to Gulzar Bhai saying he couldn’t cast Sanjeev Kumar for that role, he needed to cast me and of course I never heard back, this was when I was still relatively unknown and later Gulzar Bhai told me he never got the letter which was probably just as well.”
Naseeruddin Shah (as reported by

BV Pradhan in Saaransh (1984)

Roles we missed the legendary Sanjeev Kumar in.
Anupam Kher played a 65 year old man when he was only 28 in Saaransh (1984). Sanjeev Kumar was also being considered for the role.

Anupam Kher played the role of a 65-year-old man when he was just 28 years old, thus proving his mettle as an actor of substance. However, very few know that Sanjeev Kumar was in serious consideration for the role of B V Pradhan. The production house, Rajshri Productions, wanted a safer bet to spearhead the cast, and Sanjeev had been a veteran playing old characters. But Anupam went out of his way to make sure that he got this role, and managed to convince director Mahesh Bhatt that he would be the best choice. When the film saw the light of the day, Anupam was so good that he managed to elicit praise from Sanjeev Kumar himself.

Jailer Raghvir Singh in Kaalia (1981)

Roles we missed the legendary Sanjeev Kumar in.
Pran played Jailer Raghvir Singh in Kaalia (1981). Sanjeev Kumar was the original choice for the part.

The original choice for the jailor’s role was Sanjeev Kumar. But a disagreement occurred with director Tinnu Anand because of an advertisement. It was a full page ad that appeared in a city newspaper which announced that Amitabh Bachchan would be the lead. The role later went to Pran.

Gabbar/Veeru in Sholay (1975)

Roles we missed the legendary Sanjeev Kumar in.
Amjad Khan played Gabbar in Sholay (1975), a role that Sanjeev Kumar had been eyeing.

When the writer duo Salim-Javed narrated Sholay (1975) to Sanjeev Kumar, the actor was stunned by the violence. Though he had agreed to do the film, but after hearing the crackling dialogues, he realised that Gabbar had the best role in the film. He wanted the role because it really caught his fancy. But he didn’t persist for long. After all, Gabbar was a criminal and the cruelty troubled Sanjeev. This is not all. Dharmendra on the other hand, wanted to play Thakur’s role after hearing the final script. He knew Thakur and Gabbar were central to the story. Director Ramesh Sippy though, cleverly convinced Dharmendra to play Veeru. He explained that if the roles were swapped, Sanjeev Kumar would get Hema Malini at the end. Around that time Sanjeev Kumar had proposed to Hema Malini. All doubts vanished for Dharmendra, and he accepted Veeru’s role.

Rana Bhojraj in Meera (1979)

Roles we missed the legendary Sanjeev Kumar in.
Vinod Khanna played Rana Bhojraj in Gluzar’s Meera (1979)
“Gulzar wanted me for a major role in Meera but I turned it down. At the time, there was some tension between the heroine and me. Hema (Malini) you know. So I turned the film down. Now of course, there is nothing between us.”
Sanjeev Kumar (according to an interview published in Filmfare in 1978)

Can you guess which role it was? It’s the character of Rana Bhojraj, Meera’s husband, played by Vinod Khanna in the film.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. His Twitter handle is: @RanjibMazumder)

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 6 November 2016. It is being republished to mark Sanjeev Kumar’s birth anniversary.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More