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I Believe I Managed To Tap Into The Hidden Emotions In Rajendra Kumar’s Videos, His Wife’s Candidness, And His Son’s Bittersweet Memories: Seema Sonik Alimchand On Writing ‘Jubilee Kumar’

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Seema Sonik Alimchand’s new book Jubilee Kumar The Life and Times of a Superstar, the biography of Bollywood actor Rajendra Kumar, published Hachette India, offers a rare inside peek at the life of a little-known big star.

In conversation with Silverscreen India, Seema talks about the process of writing about Rajendra Kumar, her insights on the actor, what his life was like, and more.

In her foreword to the book, Dimple Rajendra Patel. Rajendra Kumar’s daughter says, somewhat wistfully that not much is remembered by the young today of the man once called Jubilee Kumar. When you began work on the book, how interested were you in the life of the actor and how much did you know?

Born in a film family and due to my mother’s love for films, I had watched most films including those that starred Rajendra Kumar. I knew of Rajendraji’s basic life story, and of a few rumors. Also, I remember seeing him on a flight to the USA in the late 1990s, and was thrilled when he returned my greeting. Little did I know that one day I’d write his biography.

Thereafter, often times the thought came to mind that I should approach his family but I let it slip until Dimple herself contacted me in 2017 and a story revealed itself from within the simplicity of his life journey. Jubilee Kumar-Rajendra Kumar’s struggle to get a foothold in the film industry, his resilience, his gratitude, his stardom, his knack of recognising winners and, his playing to the audience as the good son the good husband, the good doctor made for an inspiring biography.

You have written two other biographies, what were you able to channel from those experiences here? While authorised biographies come with the blessings of the person being written about or their family, they have their own restrictions. For instance, about the somewhat controversial things? How do you deal with this?
Rajendra Kumar with wife Shukla Tuli in their first apartment in 1959

There was a common thread in all. The families, especially the children seemed extra cautious, often exchanging warning looks during the interviews. But surprisingly in both Deedara and Jubilee Kumar, Mrs Dara Singh and Mrs Rajendra Kumar were very forthcoming. There seemed to be a comfort level, and a trust factor with me. It was only ethical then that keeping in mind their sentiments and angst (perhaps) I state the truth in as subtle a manner as possible.

Rajendra Kumar’s quote in the book about acting out romance scenes with beautiful women is a rare peek into the actor’s mind, something stars don’t talk about often. (“Imagine when two young people sigh and their breaths merge, when they embrace and feel each other’s heartbeats… For me too, it was a delicate moment. It made me very weak, actually, and almost broke down my defences”) It’s candid and vulnerable…

Yes it is. Watching the videos of Rajendra Kumar talking about his life, one could sense, his honesty, confidence, and his awareness. Vulnerability like he depicted in most of his films might have been a part of his persona too.

Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar, Sridhar
You write about the morbidity and melancholy that had steeped in, while he played the doctor in Sridhar’s Dil Ek Mandir. The man he recommended for the role went on to win a Filmfare, while he told himself, he was happy with Yousuf saab’s compliments. Was the film hard on him?

He was a star and one of the highest-paid actors at the time. He must have been used to the brickbats along with the bouquets. When Rajendrji was talking about the above incident I saw only matter-of-fact confidence visible on his face. However, actors, I feel choose to act unaffected although in reality, they might be highly sensitive with, fragile ego’s.

Rajendra Kumar’s lines after the song ‘Dost Dost Na Raha’ in Sangam about suffering in silence, written by himself, are a peek into an actor who seemed to care about his role and that character’s image in the audience’s mind, in some deeper manner. Was that the sense you got as well while writing about him? We don’t usually get to see these things about actors who work in commercial cinema.

I think other than the commercials, quality work was of utmost importance to Rajendraji, but he respected his audiences and therefore his image. When working on his biography, Rajendra Kumar’s videos and his family interviews suggested that he was happy and lived the good life. But like leading man Ranbir Kapoor had said on Koffee with Karan, all actors are melancholic.

When we think of stars, we think of the glamour, the popularity, the wealth. The book recasts them, from the Saira Banu issue to his son’s acting career and struggle with health in the later years. How difficult was it for the family to talk about this? A biography, in that sense, makes and unmakes the myth of an actor, doesn’t it?

Yes it does. Like I said earlier, the family was quite forthcoming even when speaking of Sairaji. Also I believe I managed to tap into the hidden emotions and the unsaid words in Rajendra Kumar’s videos, his wife’s candidness, and his son’s bittersweet memories. You are right when you talk of the fame, wealth, and glamour and having it all, but apart from these Rajendra Kumar the star, like any other human being was made up of his struggles, his deprivations, disillusionments, and weaknesses. In the book, his introspection, his morbidity, his self-belief, his climatic decline, and his bouncing back are his reality too.

All photos courtesy: From the personal archives of the family of Rajendra Kumar

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