One would be at a loss, wondering where to start when writing about a film legend like
Ashok Kumar. After all, he is considered to be one of Indian film industry’s greatest actors, who has performed as the romantic hero, antagonist as well as in various other shades of character roles with equal aplomb. Ashok Kumar really was witness to a very important evolutionary phase of the Indian film industry, and has spread across generations his genius as an actor. From very unpretentious beginnings, having been born as Kumudlal Ganguly in a Bengali family living outside Bengal, he seemed destined to take up a legal profession, having completed his law course from the prestigious Presidency College of Kolkata. But his heart was in the world of cinema, but strangely he did not want to be an actor, but thought of becoming a technician. He probably got interested in this line after hearing about film making techniques from his brother in law Sashadhar Mukherjee, who at that time was one of the big shots of the then famous production house,
Bombay Talkies. It is he who made it possible for young Kumud to start working there as a laboratory assistant from the mid 1930s.
Strangely, Kumud moved into acting purely as a coincidence. He was literally catapulted into the under production 1936 movie “Jeevan Naiya” which ran into trouble due to the elopement of the lead actor with the leading lady, Devika Rani, who also was the wife of
, the director. More out of spite than any acting traits, Rai put Kumud in the lead role, re-christening him Ashok Kumar. The rest, as they say is history, with Ashok Kumar starring in a series of 10 films with leading lady Devika Rani for the remaining of the 1930s decade, with almost all of them becoming remarkable hits, making this screen pair one of the most popular ones of all times. Besides “Jeevan Naiya”, the more famous ones where they appeared were “Achhut Kanya” which immediately followed their first film and “
” in 1938.
Moving out of the Devika Rani shadow, Ashok Kumar established his own credentials in subsequent movies like “
” and “
” both in 1940, starring with
another leading lady of those days. But it was the 1943 movie “Kismet” which really broke all records at the box office, achieving the distinction of becoming the first Hindi movie to gross 1 crore. Ashok Kumar had established himself not only as most bankable leading actor of the period, but also through his “anti-hero” role in the film, demonstrated his versatility as an actor. The 1950s era, however, saw Ashok Kumar moving mostly into mature character roles, leaving the romantic hero’s slot to the trio of
. Passing into the 1960s, he continued playing roles matching his age, shuttling between the roles of a judge in “
”, a freedom fighter in “
” and that of a vicious zamindar in “Jawaab”. The notable films of his later years were the period film “
” in 1972; the
movie “Purab Aur Paschim” in 1970; the family comedy “Khoobsoorat” in 1980 and the adult comedy “Shaukeen” in 1982.
Interestingly, like his younger brother
, he too had started as a singing star, but gave up after a few films. Besides being the eldest of the Ganguly clan, he was widely regarded and loved in the industry for his amiable manners and humility, being referred to as Dadamoni (loving elder brother in Bengali). With his death in 2001, the industry really lost one of its steady stars who had spanned it for over 60 years.