It has been 22 years since the famous Indian cinema actor Ashok Kumar alias Dadamuni left this world, but if we talk to any cinema lover, it does not seem that he has not been among us for so long.
The only reason for this is that whenever you try to watch any old film, you see Ashok Kumar somewhere in every other film.
In a career spanning six decades, he worked in around 300 films. He embodied such characters on screen, which are not easy to forget.
He started working before the formation of the trio of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Devanand and continued working till Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan became superstars.
In this sense, Ashok Kumar can be considered the first superstar of Indian films. He gave seven superhit films one after the other.
His films continued to create earning records from 1936 to 1955. During this period he worked in 47 films.
Of these, three dozen films were considered hits at the box office. Ashok Kumar’s journey, which started with ‘Achhoot Kanya’, was followed by ‘Naya Sansar’, ‘Vachan’, ‘Bandhan’, ‘Kismat’, ‘Mahal’, ‘Tamasha’, ‘Mashal’, ‘Khiladi’, ‘Parineeta’, ‘ Films like ‘Deedar’ and ‘Bandish’ gave new heights.
‘Kismat’, released in 1943, created a stir at the box office. In terms of earnings, it proved to be the first Hindi film to touch the peak of Rs 1 crore. Ashok Kumar had a negative role in this film. It was a big risk at that time, but Ashok Kumar accepted the challenge.
The result was that the film continued to earn money at the box office for 186 weeks. In terms of initial earnings, the record of this film was finally broken by ‘Sholay’.
Ashok Kumar’s stardom
This was the period of Ashok Kumar’s film career, where only Ashok Kumar was seen. Ashok Kumar alone.
No one is visible in front of him. Incidentally, in these films of Ashok Kumar, who came into film acting, his discomfort, weaknesses and clumsiness are also clearly visible. But his stardom remained astonishing.
The second phase of Ashok Kumar’s career as an actor was more powerful. In this, he appears on screen with his expert skills and method acting skills. Looks amazing in that.
In 1956, he was seen in police uniform in Shakti Samant’s ‘Inspector’.
This was the first time in the history of Hindi cinema, when the hero of the film was seen in police uniform. After this, Ashok Kumar appeared in many films as a cigarette-smoking criminal or police inspector. It was later adopted extensively by Hindi cinema.
In this period, ‘Shatranj’, ‘Ek Hi Raasta’, ‘Aarti’, ‘Howrah Bridge’, ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’, ‘Grihasthi’, ‘Sevra’, ‘Gumrah’, ‘Bandini’, ‘Mere Mehboobat,’ Ashok Kumar was surprising the fans as well as the critics with films like ‘Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke’, ‘Deedar’, ‘Kangan’, ‘Akashdeep’, ‘Kalpana’, ‘Unche Log’.
In these films, he shed the garb of heroism and was seen as a completely mature actor. He was seen creating new dimensions of acting in every new film.
This was a period of Ashok Kumar as an actor, where he was portraying the most difficult roles on screen with depth and ease. Today, if we look at the films of that era, it is clear that this character was not made for Ashok Kumar, but Ashok Kumar was made for that particular character.
But Ashok Kumar did not stop here. In the third phase of his career, he emerges as a more experienced actor. As a complete character actor, Ashok Kumar makes a series of experiments.
The list of films of this period is long. ‘Grandma’, ‘Aashirvad’, ‘Jewel Thief’, ‘Victoria No. 203’, ‘Bhai’, ‘Satyakaam’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Paqeeja’, ‘Safar’, ‘Prem Nagar’, ‘Mili’, There are dozens of films like ‘Anand’, ‘Shaukeen’, ‘Chhoti Si Baat’, ‘Aapke Deewane’, where you get an idea of the range of acting of Ashok Kumar. It seems as if every part of his body wants to act. This was the period when one take of Ashok Kumar was enough, he did not need a retake to do any scene.
Ashok Kumar’s acting style
During such a long and diverse career, Ashok Kumar never fell victim to loud or over acting while playing his characters.
It is also noteworthy here that Ashok Kumar was the first actor who freed Hindi films from the loud style that came to Hindi cinema from Parsi theatre. Taught to speak dialogues easily and simply.
Recently, film journalist and cine critic Pratap Singh’s comparative book on the acting of Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar, ‘Do Aasmaan-Door Aur Paas’ has been published.
In this book, he has discussed the contribution of Ashok Kumar in freeing Hindi cinema from the style of Parsi theatre. He has written that the fundamental change in Hindi films was initiated by Ashok Kumar, who created magic by reducing the high-pitched tone in his dialogues.
This increased the popularity of Hindi cinema. This style was later adopted by actors like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Devanand, Balraj Sahni, Sanjeev Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah, Ompuri and Pankaj Kapoor.
Ashok Kumar used to enter the homes of the audience through his films. He was a little different in this matter. Dilip Kumar was known for working in very few films.
Raj Kapoor and Devanand were so busy in putting their imaginations on screen that the roles involving common people were left behind.
Ashok Kumar continued playing everyday roles of common people for six decades. Motilal, Balraj Sahni and Pran were famous for playing different roles adeptly but none of them could match Ashok Kumar.
Where was Ashok Kumar born
The story of the screen name of Ashok Kumar, born on October 13, 1911 in Bhagalpur, Bihar, was also famous, after all, he was the first Kumar to create a stir in the film world. Interesting thing is that his real name was Ashok Kumar.
Ashok Kumar himself has told this in an interview given to Doordarshan, but his father changed his name to Kashi Vishweshwar Ganguly to keep the name of Gemini zodiac sign.
After this his name became Kumud Kumar Ganguly. This name remained for a long time but in the end he again became Ashok Kumar for his screen name.
He had a family of lawyers but he was not interested in this family profession. Brother-in-law Shashadhar Mukherjee was a very successful person in the film world. But Ashok Kumar had no interest in acting either.
Being a science graduate, Ashok Kumar became a lab assistant. Then the process of learning started – editing, screenplay, singing and direction. Ashok Kumar had become expert in everything except acting. But fate had something else in store.
Himanshu Rai was the owner of Bombay Talkies. Shashadhar Mukherjee was his assistant. Devika Rani was the wife of Himanshu Rai. Devika Rani used to be the heroine of Himanshu Rai’s films.
Himanshu Rai got irritated with Nazmul Hassan, the hero of the film ‘Jeevan Naiya’. The idea of removing him and making Ashok Kumar a hero came to his mind. When Ashok Kumar was getting this opportunity, he had said that he would not be able to speak the dialogues. But Himanshu Rai was also adamant that he will become a hero after learning everything.
Journey from film to TV
What started by chance continued successfully for six decades. During this period, his pairing with actresses like Devika Rani, Leela Chitnis, Nirupa Rai, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant, Madhubala and Meena Kumari was very much liked. At one time, the story of his affair with Nalini Jaywant was also much discussed.
Ashok Kumar had told in an interview given to Doordarshan in 1988 that when he entered films, the career of any film star was considered to be of 10 to 15 years.
He considered his own career to last only five years. In this he says, “I was thinking of doing business by earning some money but he kept getting films and his car kept running.”
Apart from acting in films, in his early career, Ashok Kumar also sang the songs of his films himself. When television came to India, Ashok Kumar surprised the audience as the host of the first soap opera ‘Humlog’. He used to tickle the audience with his role of just a few minutes. After this he also worked in many television serials.
He died on December 10, 2001 at the age of 90. Till then he remained Dada Muni of Indian cinema.
As an actor, he received the country’s top ‘Dada Saheb Phalke’ award in 1988. He received the Padma Bhushan award in 1999. In 1969, he also received the National Award for Best Actor for ‘Aashirvaad’. He was also chosen Best Actor twice by Filmfare. The government also issued a postage stamp on him in 2013.