Kumar in the 1943 film Kismet
|Born||Kumudlal Kunjilal Ganguly
13 October 1911
Bhagalpur, Bihar, British India
|Died||10 December 2001
Mumbai, Maharastra, India
Cause of death
|Residence||Chembur, Mumbai, India|
Ashok Kumar, Dadamoni, Kumudlal Ganguly
|Relatives||Anoop Kumar, Kishore Kumar(Brothers), Sati Devi (Sister)|
Ashok Kumar (Bengali: অশোক কুমার গাঙ্গুলী) (13 October 1911 – 10 December 2001), Born Kumudlal Ganguly (Bengali: কুমুদলাল গাঙ্গুলী) and also fondly called Dadamoni, (Bengali: দাদামণি) was an Indian film actor who attained iconic status in Indian cinema. He was honoured in 1988 with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest national award for cinema artists, by the Government of India and also received the Padma Bhushan the same year in 1998 for his contributions to Indian cinema.
Ashok Kumar was born Kumudlal Ganguly in Bhagalpur, then in the Bengal Presidency and now lying in Bihar, into a Bengali Brahmin family. His father, Kunjlal Ganguly, was a lawyer while his mother, Gouri Devi, was a home-maker. Kumudlal (as he was then known) was the eldest of four children. A couple of years younger to him was his only sister, Sati Devi, who was married at a very young age to Sashadhar Mukherjee and became the matriarch of a large "film family". More than fourteen years younger than Kumudlal was his next brother, Kalyan (b.1926), who later took the screen name Anoop Kumar, and youngest of all was Abhas (b.1929), whose screen name was Kishore Kumar and who became a phenomenally successful playback singer of Hindi films. The three actor brothers, Ashok, Anoop and Kishore, worked together in the comedies Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi. Ashok, though the eldest of the three by a large margin, survived all his siblings. In fact, he stopped celebrating his birthday after his youngest brother, Kishore, died on that very day (Ashok's birthday) in 1987.
While yet a teenager, the young Kumudlal was married to Shobha in a match arranged by their parents. Their lifelong marriage was a harmonious and conventional one, and despite his film career, the couple retained a middle-class outlook and value system, bringing up their children in a remarkably simple home. They were the parents of one son named Aroop Ganguly and three daughters named Bharati Patel, Rupa Verma and Preeti Ganguly. His eldest daughter, Bharati Patel, is the mother of the actress Anuradha Patel. His second daughter, Rupa Verma, is the wife of the actor and comedian Deven Verma. His youngest daughter, Preeti Ganguly, was the only one of his children to enter the film industry. She acted as a comedienne in several Hindi films during the 1970s, and died unmarried in 2012.
Early years (1936-42)
Reverently called Dadamoni (affectionate term for elder brother), he was born in Bhagalpur and educated at Presidency College of the University of Calcutta, Kolkata. He started his career in the city of Bombay (Mumbai) in the mid 30s as a laboratory assistant in Bombay Talkies, one of the biggest film studios of that era.
His acting career started, purely by accident, with the Bombay Talkies production Jeevan Naiya in 1936. The male lead, Najmul Hassan, eloped with his co star Devika Rani, the director's wife who returned later on. The director and studio head, Himanshu Rai, in retaliation dismissed the hero and called upon his laboratory assistant Ashok Kumar to replace him. His subsequent venture with Devika Rani in Achhut Kanya the same year was one of the early blockbusters of Hindi cinema. Like several movies of that era Achhut Kanya was a reformist piece featuring a Brahmin boy falling in love with a girl from the so-called untouchables in Indian society. The runaway success of Achhut Kanya cemented Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani as the most popular on-screen couple of that era.
Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar did a string of films thereafter, including Izzat (1937), Savitri (1937) and 'Nirmala' (1938). All through, Devika Rani was the bigger star with Ashok Kumar working in her shadow. He started emerging from her considerable shadow owing to pairing opposite Leela Chitnis. Back to back successes with Kangan (1939), Bandhan (1940), Azad (1940) and Jhoola (1941) saw Ashok Kumar emerge as a star in his own right.
The Gyan Mukherjee directed 1943 movie Kismet, featuring Ashok Kumar as the first anti-hero in Indian Cinema smashed all existing box office records, becoming the first Hindi movie to gross 1 crore at the box office. The success of Kismet made Ashok Kumar the first superstar of Indian cinema. Such was his popularity at the time that (in the words of Manto) "Ashok’s popularity grew each passing day. He seldom ventured out, but wherever he was spotted, he was mobbed. Traffic would come to a stop and often the police would have to use lathis to disperse his fans."
Post Kismet, Ashok Kumar became the most bankable star of the era, delivering a succession of box office successes with movies like Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944), Shikari (1946), Saajan (1947), Mahal (1949), Sangram (1950) and Samadhi (1950).
He produced several films for Bombay Talkies during the final years of the company including Ziddi (1947), which established the careers of Dev Anand and Pran, Neelkamal (1947), which marked the debut of Raj Kapoor, and the famous Mahal in 1949 in which he co-starred with Madhubala.
In the 1950s, he played the suave cigarette-smoking criminal or police officer in several films of what was the Indian film-noir movement. In the late 1960s he switched to character roles playing the parent, grandparent, dirty old man and suave criminal, being careful never to be typecast. He paired up 20 times with the 'queen of tragedy' Meena Kumari, in films such as Parineeta, Bahu Begum, Pakeezah, Ek Hi Raasta, Bandish and Aarti and Chitralekha (1964).
In the 1960s, Kumar played many older roles from fathers to lawyers and elder husbands in films such as Kanoon (1960), Dharamputra (1961), Rakhi (1962), Gumraah (1963), Bandini (1963), Chitralekha (1964), Aashirwad (1968), Intaquam (1969). He received the Filmfare Award for Best Actor in 1962 and 1968 for Rakhi and Aashirwad. In Aashirwad, he played a father who journeys through life to find his daughter and reunite with her.
Later career and death
He acted in fewer films in the 1980s and 1990s and occasionally appeared on television, most famously anchoring the first Indian soap opera Hum Log and appearing as the title character in the unforgettable Bahadur Shah Zafar. His last film role was in Aankhon Mein Tum Ho in 1997. Besides acting, he was an avid painter and a practitioner of homeopathy. Altogether, he starred in over 275 films. He has done more than 30 Bengali dramas in Dhakuria.
Ashok Kumar died at the age of 90 in Mumbai on 10 December 2001 of heart failure at his residence in Chembur. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee described him as "an inspiration... for many generations of aspiring actors."
Awards and recognition
- 1959 - Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
- 1962 - Filmfare Best Actor Award, Rakhi
- 1963 - Bengal Film Journalists' Association - Best Actor Award (Hindi), Gumrah
- 1966 - Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award, Afsana
- 1969 - Filmfare Best Actor Award, Aashirwaad
- 1969 - National Film Awards for Best Actor, Aashirwaad
- 1969 - Bengal Film Journalists' Association - Best Actor Award (Hindi), Aashirwaad
- 1988 - Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest award for cinematic excellence
- 1994 - Star Screen Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1995 - Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1998 - Padma Bhushan
- 2001 - Awadh Samman by the Government of Uttar Pradesh
- 2007 - "Special Award" by Star Screen Awards
Some of his most popular films include:
- Achhut Kanya (1936)
- Janmabhoomi (1936)
- Bandhan (1940)
- Anjaan (1941)
- Kismet (1943)
- Mahal (1949)
- Parineeta (1953)
- Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
- Howrah Bridge (1958)
- Dharmputra (1961)
- Gumraah (1963)
- Chitralekha (1964)
- Hatey Bazarey (1967)
- Jewel Thief (1967)
- Aabroo (1968)
- Aashirwad (1968)
- Intaquam (1969)
- Victoria No. 203 (1972)
- Choti Si Baat (1975)
- Mili (1975)
- Khoobsurat (1980)
- Khatta Meetha (1978)
- Shaukeen (1982)
- Mr. India (1987)
- Sangram (1993)
- Bhago Bhut Aaya (1985)
- Valicha, Kishore (1996). Dadamoni: the authorized biography of Ashok Kumar. Viking.
- Burra, Rani (1990). Ashok Kumar, Green to Evergreen. Directorate of Film Festivals, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India.
- Patel, Bhaichand (2012). Bollywood's Top 20: Superstars of Indian Cinema. Penguin Books India. pp. 28–39. ISBN 978-0-670-08572-9.
- Ashok Kumar at the Internet Movie Database
- India Times article by Anuradha Choudhary
- Complete list of Ashok Kumar Movies (over 250)