Ashok Kumar (1911-2001), fondly known as Dadamoni, is one of the great icons of Hindi cinema. This warm and intimate biography by another great of Indian cinema-traces his remarkable journey, from reluctant actor to Bollywood's first superstar and, in his later years, a much-loved presence on national television.
Born in Bhagalpur (then in the Bengal Presidency), Ashok Kumar was enthralled by the 'bioscope' as a child. In his twenties, he quit his law studies and came to Bombay to become a film director. But life rather, Himanshu Rai, the founder of Bombay Talkies had different plans for him. Despite director Franz Osten's reservations, he was cast in the lead role opposite Devika Rani in the 1936 film Jeevan Naiya when the original hero went missing The same year, Ashok Kumar was paired with Devika Rani again in Achhut Kanya, which was a blockbuster. The transformation of the accidental hero, nervous and timorous, into a charismatic star-actor had begun. Over the next six decades, he proved himself to be a master of the craft, playing cop and thief, genial grandfather and sly matchmaker; villain and hero; heartbroken lover and suave rake with equal case in numerous films, including Kismet, Mahal, Parineeta, Kanoon, Gumrah, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Aashirwad, Mamta, Jewel Thief, Khoobsurat and Khatta Meetha. But as Nabendu Ghosh writes, Ashok Kumar's world was much larger he was also a charming conversationalist, mentor, homeopath, astrologer, painter, linguist, limericist and, above all, loyal friend and devoted husband and father.
In addition to being a portrait of an extraordinary actor, this wonderful book is also an impressionistic mini-history of the early decades of Bombay's Hindustani cinema, and its pages are rich with little anecdotes featuring legends like besides Devika Rani Saadat Hasan Manto, Bimal Roy, Sashadhar Mukherjee, Leela Chitnis, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari and B.R. Chopra. Sarojini Naidu and Jawaharlal Nehru make brief appearances too, as does Morarji Desai.
NABENDU GHOSH (1917-2007) was a dancer, novelist, short-story writer, film director, actor and screenwriter. His oeuvre of work includes thirty novels and fifteen collections of short stories, including That Bird Called Happiness: Stories edited by Ratnottama Sengupta (Speaking Tiger, 2018) and Mistress of Melodies edited by Ratnottama Sengupta (Speaking Tiger, 2020). As scriptwriter, he penned cinematic classics such as Devdas, Bandini, Sujata, Parineeta, Majhli Didi and Abhimaan. And, as part of a team of iconic film directors and actors, he was instrumental in shaping an entire age of Indian cinema. p>
He was the recipient of numerous literary and film awards, including the Bankim Puraskar, the Bibhuti Bhushan Sahitya Arghya, the Filmfare Best Screenplay Award and the National Film Award for Best First Film of a Director.
Ashok Kumar. The name epitomises the very best in the craft of acting, From a young romantic to the matured hero, to an ageing character actor-Ashok Kumar has played every role to perfection.
More importantly, Ashok Kumar was instrumental in liberating Hindi commercial cinema from theatricality. He continues to do so. Earning sobriquets like evergreen, veteran, thespian.
8 February 1951. I shall remember the date forever. The
place: a palatial building at Worli Seaface. When my turn
came, Bimalda-the peerless director-introduced me to the
inimitable hero: 'And Mr this is Shri Nabendu Ghosh,
a renowned young progressive Bengali writer.'
'Progressive! That's a good word,' said Ashok Kumar with a kind smile. 'Welcome Nabendu Babu."
I bowed and shyly muttered: "Thank you but don't call me Babu."
With a twinkle in his eyes, he said: 'Don't you worry, I shall soon throw away the unnecessary nouns and adjectives."
Everyone laughed along with me and looking at Ashok Kumar
in flesh and blood, memories took me back in time.
The year was 1936. I was then in Patna, studying for my BA exams. The ideals of Ramayan were still active in Hindu society, that is why the tragic figure of Devdas seemed acceptable to us, for few young men of the period would revolt against their parents who would not let them marry the girls they loved. Theatres and 'bioscopes-as movies were then termed were also prohibited for most of us. But of course we had been tasting those 'forbidden fruits' every now and then.
Then suddenly we came alive to the name of a new Hindi film that was all around us. It was being uttered by viewers, discussed in the dailies, reviewed by the magazines-the name was Achbut Kanya, the new film from Bombay Talkies, directed by a German director, Franz Osten and produced by one Himanshu Rai. The heroine was Devika Rani, a relation of Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore and wife of Himanshu Rai, the proprietor of Bombay Talkies. The hero was a new actor named Ashok Kumar. Both the hero and heroine were charming, and the film was a super hit.
As I sit down to pen these lines, I marvel at the fact that you, my father, were the first superstar of Indian cinema-for seven continuous years Roxy Cinema at Churni Road, Mumbai, showed. only Ashok Kumar films. But more importantly, you were one of the pioneers who laid the foundation of what we call Bollywood today. So, it amazes me that you started as a most unwilling, reluctant actor!
To encapsulate sixty-four years of experience and 350 films an average of six films every year-in a couple of thousand words is a daunting task, but I must try as that alone can give an idea of your achievement to a generation that came into the world after you exited it.
13 October 1911-110 years ago you were born in Bhagalpur and grew up in Khandwa. And like your father and others in his family, you too took to studying law once you completed your BSc in Calcutta. There you came under the spell of movies and decided that five lawyers were enough in one family, so you decided to become a director! But being the sensitive person that you were, you had a vision for films: because it is such a powerful medium, you wanted to educate people even as they were entertained.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
North Indian Music (289)
Original Texts (60)
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