Sanjeev Kumar was born as Harihar Jethalal Jariwala (also referred to as Haribhai) in Surat, Gujarat, to a Gujarati Leuva Patel family and spent his early years in Surat. His family eventually settled in Mumbai. A stint in a film school led him to Bollywood, where he eventually became an accomplished actor. Kumar had two younger brothers and one sister.
Kumar started his acting career as a stage actor, starting with IPTA in Mumbai and later joining the Indian National Theatre. Even as a stage actor, he had a penchant for playing older roles; at age 22, he played an old man in an adaptation of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.
Kumar made his film debut with a small role in Hum Hindustani in 1960. His first film as a protagonist was in Nishan (1965). In 1968, he acted alongside a famous actor of that time, Dilip Kumar, in Sangharsh.
The 1966 Gujarati film Kalapi is based on the poet Kalapi's life, with Kumar playing the titular role, Padmarani playing the role of his wife, Rama, and Aruna Irani as the love interest. The film was directed by Manhar Raskapur.Aruna Irani was paired opposite Sanjeev in another Gujarati film, Mare Javun Pele Par (1968).
In 1970, the movie Khilona brought Kumar recognition. In 1972, he played in an Indo-Iranian film, Subah aur Shaam. This was when director Gulzar first spotted him; later he cast Kumar in the roles of older men in Koshish (1973), Aandhi (1975) and Mausam (1975).
In the following year, in the play Damru directed by AK Hangal, Kumar again played the role of a 60-year-old with six children. He went on to star in the box office hits Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Manchali (1973) and Aap Ki Kasam (1974). In 1973, he made a guest appearance during a song in a Tamil movie, Bharatha Vilas (1973). In the early 1970s he started working with Gulzar, a well-known director. He performed in nine movies with Gulzar, including Koshish (1973), Aandhi (1975), Mausam (1975), Angoor (1981) and Namkeen (1982). Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed him in Arjun Pandit.
Kumar won the BFJA Awards for Best Actor (Hindi) for his exemplary portrayal of a deaf and mute person in Koshish, in which the female lead was played by Jaya Bhaduri, who acted as his deaf and mute wife and was herself nominated for Best Actor award by Filmfare for the same role.
The producers and directors of the South wanted to remake their Tamil and Telugu films in Hindi with either Kumar or Rajesh Khanna in lead. It was these Hindi film remakes which elevated him to a great actor. The film Khilona and its Tamil version Engirundho Vandhaal were made simultaneously. Kumar reprised the role played by Thengai Srinivasan in Yehi Hai Zindagi which was a remake of Kaliyuga Kannan. He played the role which N.T. Rama Rao did originally in Devina Chesina Manushulu, in its Hindi version Takkar. He starred as lead in the film Shaandaar in 1974 which was a remake of Kasturi Nivasa which had Kannada actor Rajkumar in the lead. Tayaramma Bangarayya was remade as Shriman Shrimati, Navarathri was remade as Naya Din Naya Raat, Raman Ethanai Ramanadi was remade as Raam Kitne Tere Naam and Gnana Oli was remade as Devata. Kumar reprised the role played by R.Muthuraman in Alukuoru Aasai in its Hindi remake Itni Si Baat. He enacted the role played by AVM Rajan in Anadhai Aanandhan, in its Hindi version Chand Aur Bijli. He also acted in the Telugu remake of Swargam Narakam, as Swarg Narak (1978). Sivaji Ganesan gave Kumar a role in his home production Gauri (1968), which was a remake of Shanti (1965). The role played by S.S.Rajendran in Shanti was re-enacted by Kumar in Gauri.
Sanjeev Kumar's excellent comic timing entertained audiences in films like Seeta Aur Geeta, Biwi O Biwi (1981), Pati, Patni Aur Woh, Angoor (1982) and Hero (1983). He made guest appearances in two Tamil filmsm Bharata Vilas and Uyirandhavargal (a remake of Koshish).
His performances in films like Charitraheen, Angaare, Grihapravesh, Chehre Pe Chehra, Sawaal and Yaadgaar, though they became-box office flops, were appreciated by critics and during their subsequent screening on television. Kumar always demonstrated a willingness to take on unconventional roles that challenged him as an actor. His role as Mirza Sajjad Ali, a chess-obsessed Lucknowi (citizen of Lucknow), in Satyajit Ray's classic Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) exemplified that aspect. Perhaps his best remembered roles were in the blockbuster films Sholay (1975) and Trishul (1978). His portrayal of the character Thakur, from Sholay, released in August 1975 was one of his stellar performances. In Naya Din Nayi Raat (1974), Sanjeev Kumar reprised the nine-role epic performance by Sivaji Ganesan in Navarathri (Tamil; 1964), which was also previously reprised by Akkineni Nageswara Rao in Navarathri (Telugu; 1966). This film enhanced his status and reputation as a serious player in Bollywood. He stood his ground against leading superstars such as Rajesh Khanna in Bandhan and Aap Ki Kasam; Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in the Yash Chopra multi-star cast film Trishul (1978) and Dilip Kumar in the Subhash Ghai film Vidhaata (1982).
During the early 1980s, Sanjeev Kumar took to acting primarily in supporting roles. In 1980, he starred in the Punjabi movie Fauji Chacha.
He did three films opposite Tamil actress L. Vijaya Lakshmi, including Husn Aur Ishq and Badal which became hits. Their first film was Alibaba Aur 40 Chor which was unsuccessful. His Raja Aur Runk, released in 1968, was a great success. He did Kangan, Rivaaz, Zindagi, Beraham, Archana and Do Ladkiyan opposite Mala Sinha. He did Priya, Anubhav, Gustaaki Maaf, Bachpan and Khud-Daar with Tanuja. He was paired with Rakhee in Angaare, Paras, Trishna, Shriman Shrimati and Hamare Tumhare. His hits with Leena Chandavarkar included Apne Rang Hazar, Manchali and Anhonee. He was paired regularly with Sulakshana Pandit in films such as Uljhan and Waqt Ki Deewar and with Moushmi Chatterjee in Itni Si Baat and Daasi.
He has done many regional films in different languages including Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Sindhi and his mother tongue Gujarati.
Kumar remained single all his life. He had proposed to Hema Malini in 1973 and they remained in touch even after he suffered his first heart attack in 1976. Later he was involved with actress Sulakshana Pandit, but both of them remained unmarried. Kumar refused to marry her, as a result of which Sulakshana vowed to never marry anyone.
His closest friends from the film industry were Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Tanuja, Deven Varma, Sivaji Ganesan and B. Nagi Reddy. Among his juniors he was a very good friend of actor, producer, and director Sachin Pilgaonkar and actress Sarika.
Kumar was born with a congenital heart condition, and many members of his family had not lived past 50. After his first heart attack, he underwent a bypass in the US. However, on 6 November 1985, at the age of 47, he suffered a massive heart attack, which resulted in his death. His younger brother Nikul died before him, while his other brother Kishore died six months later. Ironically for an actor who had played many elderly roles, he died at less than 50 years of age.
Over ten movies starring Sanjeev Kumar were released after his death, with the last one, Professor Ki Padosan, released in 1993. At the time of his death, only about three-fourths of this movie was complete, and it was eventually decided to alter the story line in the second half to explain the absence of Kumar's character.National Film Award for Best Actor – Won
1971 Dastak – Hamid
1973 Koshish – Haricharan
Sanjeev Kumar was nominated for 14 Filmfare Awards, thrice as Best Supporting Actor and the remaining as Best Actor. He won the awards twice as Best Actor and once as Best Supporting Actor, as shown below.Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Won
1976 Aandhi – J.K.
1977 Arjun Pandit – Arjun Pandit
Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor – Won
1969 Shikar – Inspector Rai
Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Nominated
1971 Khilona – Vijaykamal S. Singh
1974 Koshish – Hari Charan Mathur
1976 Sholay – Thakur Baldev Singh
1977 Mausam – Dr. Amarnath Gill
1978 Yehi Hai Zindagi – Anand Narayan
1978 Zindagi – Raghu Shukla
1979 Devata – Tony/Tarun Kumar Gupta
1979 Pati Patni Aur Woh – Ranjeet Chhadha
1983 Angoor – Ashok R. Tilak
Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor – Nominated
1979 Trishul – Raj Kumar 'R.K.' Gupta
1983 Vidhaata – Abu Baba
1974 - BFJA Best Actor for Koshish
1969 - Naval Stars Awards, Shanoo Varun Trophy by S.M. Nanda
1971 - Surat Jilla Leuva Patidar Gnyati.
1975 - Cinegoers Council (Delhi) film Awards
1976 - Lion Club of North Calcutta Actor of the year for Mousam
1984 - Maratha Seva Sangh Dist Khed
Award for best actor (stage) for the Gujarati play Koi no Ladakh Vayo
Uttar Pradesh film Patraka Sangh
Kalashri Art & Network "Lifetime Achievement Millenium 2000 Award" at Surat
18th National Award "Bharat Puraskar" by Information & Broadcast State Minister Mrs. Nandini Satapthi at Shanmukhanand Hall (Mumbai)
Army Officers Voice Association Trophy
Andhra Pradesh Film Journalist Award
Chitralok Cine Serjak Award (Ahemdabad)
A road has been named after him in Surat, Gujarat as Sanjeev Kumar Marg, which was inaugurated by Sunil Dutt.
A school has been named after him in his home town Surat, Gujarat, and was inaugurated by the then Mayor Kadir K Pirzada.
A postage stamp bearing his likeness was released by India Post to honour him on 3 May 2013.
An auditorium was opened in his home town Surat by the Gujarat State at the cost of 108cr, named Sanjeev Kumar Auditorium, which was inaugurated on 14 February 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was then the CM of Gujarat. He is the first and only (as of 2014) Indian film actor to have an auditorium named after him.
The Sanjeev Kumar Foundation is a national level development organisation (NGO) directly benefiting children and their families every year, mainly focusing on education, healthcare, environment, culture and nutrition. From 2015 onwards the foundation has also been the sponsor of the annual Sanjeev Kumar Drama Competition held by the Surat Municipal Corporation. The awards and cash prizes are given in memory of Sanjeev Kumar to the best actor, actress, director and backstage technician every year.