As an actor and pioneer of early Indian cinema, Kumar inspired and mentored many personalities along the way. On his 105th birth anniversary today (13 October), we take a look a few lives and careers that he changed.
How Ashok Kumar helped many find their footing in Hindi cinema
Mumbai - 13 Oct 2016 10:51 IST
Kumudlal Kanjilal Ganguly’s father wanted him to become a lawyer, possibly even the chief justice of India. But Ganguly came to Mumbai (then Bombay) instead where his brother-in-law, Sasadhar Mukherjee was working at the Bombay Talkies studios in Malad. He started out as lab assistant but was handpicked by studio founder, Himanshu Rai, to star in Jeevan Naiya (1936) opposite his wife, Devika Rani.
Rai rechristened Ganguly as Ashok Kumar and the pair of Rani and Kumar clicked. Many other hits followed and Ashok Kumar was well on his way to become a star. And just as Rai helped Ashok find his bearings, so did Kumar help others out early on in their careers.
Even though he wasn’t a natural actor initially, Kumar worked hard on his craft, watching his Hollywood counterparts and trying to improve himself with every film. Other upcoming actors watched him for guidance, including a young man named Dilip Kumar.
Dilip started out at Bombay Talkies as well, beginning with Amiya Chakravarthy’s Jwar Bhata (1944). This time, Dilip was chosen as an actor by the other founder of Bombay Talkies, Devika Rani to star in the studio’s film.
Dilip would often go to Ashok for advice on how to act his scenes with his heroines. Ashok got him a three-picture deal at Filmistan, the studio he set up with S Mukherjee when they split from Bombay Talkies. The two even acted together in Nitin Bose’s Deedar (1951) in a love triangle with Nargis. But then, Dilip was much more comfortable in his skin as an actor.
Besides Dilip, Ashok gave another young actor an opportunity to star in an upcoming Bombay Talkies film. Directed by Shaheed Latif and written by his wife Ismat Chughtai, Ziddi (1948) was envisaged as a project for the leading man of Bombay Talkies, Ashok, opposite Kamini Kaushal. But Ashok insisted on casting the young actor with potential, Dev Anand instead of him after a chance encounter at the garden in Bombay Talkies.
Ziddi was Anand’s big breakthrough and even gave Ashok's younger brother Kishore an opportunity to sing for the actor under music composer Khemchand Prakash with the song ‘Marne Ki Duayen Kyon Mangu’. Kishore Kumar got many such opportunities to sing for Anand that his voice became synonymous with the actor.
It wasn’t just actors and the new star system that Ashok helped introduce. Ashok even gave new directors a chance to prove themselves by acting in their first films. In 1949, he gave Kamal Amrohi a shot to direct Mahal, after witnessing a ghostly encounter himself at Jeejeehoy House. He worked on the story idea with Amrohi and cast a young child artiste-turned-actress Madhubala in the lead role. The film, buoyed by Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition of ‘Aayega Aanewala’ became a grand success.
Two years later, a young film journalist by the name of BR Chopra directed Ashok in his first film, Afsana. The film starred Ashok in a double role as twin brothers who get lost in a fair. When the two grow up, one is accused of murder, while the other is a saintly judge. Afsana, written by IS Johar, was a hit and set Chopra’s career rolling.
Ashok was also instrumental in convincing composer SD Burman to remain in Mumbai and give the film industry a go instead of packing up and moving back to Kolkata. Burman composed the music for two Filmistan movies, Shikari (1946) and Eight Days (1946). Ashok also actually directed the latter, but it was esteemed editor Dattaram Pai who wound up getting credit for the film.
Burman wasn't feeling satisfied enough and decided to give up the music business in Mumbai. During the making of Mashaal (1950), Ashok begged him to compose the score. At Ashok's insistence, Burman stayed and it was Hindi cinema’s good fortune that he did.
It was with good reason that the Hindi film industry called Ashok 'Dadamoni' because like an elder brother, he had a guiding hand in the careers of so many in the industry.