To an entire generation of Hindi film viewers, Ashok Kumar, must now be a fading memory. If the retro section of music channels on TV were to play a song from 1980 Rekha starrer Khubsoorat, it might bring back some images of the man. Perhaps a mention of Doordarshan’s teleserial Hum Log (in which he would deliver a commentary at the end of every episode) by elders might ring a bell. Ashok Kumar was, and will, remain much more than that.
Born on October 13, 1911, Kumudlal Ganguly was the elder brother of legendary singer Kishore Kumar. Ashok went on to become a colossus in the Hindi film industry. Having begun his career as an actor in 1936 with Jeevan Naiya, the veteran excelled as lead actor, antagonist to character role with equal panache. He starred in some of the most iconic Hindi films ever including Achut Kanya (1936), Bandhan (1939), Kismet (1943), Mahal (1949), Parineeta (1953), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Howrah Bridge (1958), Bandini (1963) Mamta (1966), Jewel Thief (1967), Chhoti Si Baat (1975), Mili (1975) and Khoobsurat (1980). As hero, he romanced the top leading ladies of the era – from Devika Rani to Meena Kumari, Madhubala to Nutan. In time, he graduated to doing character roles and excelled in them too.
There is one incident from his life, which is connected with another legendary actor Raj Kapoor. In 1946, when Raj Kapoor married Krishna Malhotra, Ashok was the reigning star. Ashok, who had been invited, went up to the stage to congratulate the couple. On seeing him, Krishna had reportedly lifted her veil. Narrating the incident was Bharti Jaffery, the eldest daughter of Ashok and mother of actor Anuradha Patel. Speaking to veteran film critic Khalid Mohammad, for The Quint, Bharti had said: “Papa was there, of course. And when he went up to congratulate the couple, the bride, Krishnaji, lifted up her ghunghat to gasp, ‘Oh it’s Ashok Kumar. I’m so happy!’ Raj Kapoor never forgave him for upstaging him at his own wedding.”
Ashok Kumar, fondly called dadamoni (elder brother who is a rare jewel), died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 90. apart from being an ace actor, Ashok Kumar was a talented singer and a painter. Reportedly, he had even made an ink portrait of his wife Shobha Devi in the nude when she was not watching. The veteran actor was also a practised hand at homeopathy and had reportedly cured a teenaged girl from getting her leg amputated.
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