For an actor who excelled at playing elderly characters, Sanjeev Kumar died way too early at 47. Kumar (born on July 9, 1938, as Harihar Jariwala) excelled in every type of film, whatever the size of the role. A Bhimsingh’s Naya Din Nai Raat gave him a platform to display his formidable skills like no other film – he plays nine roles that represent the nine rasas (love, joy, disgust, fury, compassion, heroism, horror, astonishment and compassion).
The roles were initially offered to Dilip Kumar, who suggested the name of his co-actor in Sunghursh (1968) instead. Naya Din Nai Raat was a remake of the Tamil film Navarathri (1964), starring Sivaji Ganesan. Two years later, Navarathri was remade in Telugu with the same title, with Akkineni Nageswara Rao stepping into Ganesan’s shoes. Both the films and the actors were critically acclaimed, as was the Hindi remake and Sanjeev Kumar’s performance.
Kumar lays out one after the other a cigar-chomping wealthy widower, an alcoholic boor who frequents brothels in search of love, an elderly psychiatrist, a fugitive, a fake godman, a rich man turned leper, an effeminate theatre actor, a valiant hunter and finally, the heroine Sushma’s lover.
The roles are set up as nine different men whom Sushma (Jaya Bachchan) meets after running away from a forced marriage. The movie is more of a comedy than a serious character study, and some of the performances are hit-and-miss. The three roles in which Kumar is particularly effective are the vengeful fugitive, the cheating godman and the theatre artist. As the fugitive, Sanjeev Kumar, with blackface, curly hair and a thick moustache, looks suitably menacing as he growls and thunders while describing how his erstwhile boss killed his brother who fell in love with the boss’s daughter. He is at his best when he switches from godman to thief. Finally, as the theatre artist, Sanjeev Kumar gives a two-in-one treat as an effete man of the arts in one moment and a prodigal gambler on stage in the next.