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.
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.
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.
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.
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