Ashok Kumar
Kumar c. 1957
Kumudlal Ganguly

(1911-10-13)13 October 1911
Died10 December 2001(2001-12-10) (aged 90)
Other namesDadamoni
Occupation(s)Actor, producer, painter, singer
Years active1934–1997
Shobha Devi
(m. 1935)
Children4, including Preeti Ganguly
RelativesSee Ganguly family
See Mukherjee-Samarth family

Ashok Kumar (born Kumudlal Ganguly; 13 October 1911 – 10 December 2001), was an Indian actor who attained iconic status in Indian cinema. He was considered the first big star of Hindi cinema as well as the first lead actor to play an anti-hero.[1][2] He also became the first star to reinvent himself, enjoying a long and hugely successful career as a character actor.[3] He was a member of the cinematic Ganguly family.[4] He was honoured in 1988 with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest national award for cinema artists,[5] by the Government of India. He also received the Padma Bhushan in 1999 for his contributions to Indian cinema.[5]

Background and personal life

Ashok Kumar was born Kumudlal Ganguly to a Hindu Bengali Brahmin family in Bhagalpur, Bengal Presidency, British India (present-day Bihar, India).[6] His father, Kunjlal Ganguly, was a lawyer while his mother, Gouri Devi, was a housewife. Kumudlal was the eldest of four children. His only sister, Sati Devi, a few years younger than him, was married at a very young age to Sashadhar Mukherjee and became the matriarch of a large "film family". Next was his brother, Kalyan, 16 years younger (b.1927), who later took the screen name Anoop Kumar. Youngest of all was Abhas (b.1929), whose screen name was Kishore Kumar, who became a phenomenally successful playback singer in Hindi films. Although the eldest by several years, Kumudlal outlived all his siblings. In fact, he stopped celebrating his birthday after his youngest brother, Kishore, died on that day in 1987.

While still a teenager and well before he had even given thought to a career in films, the young Kumudlal was married to Shobha (a first cousin of actress Chhaya Devi), a girl of his own Bengali Brahmin community and similar family background, in a match arranged by their parents in the usual Indian way.[7] Their lifelong marriage was a harmonious and conventional one, and despite his film career, the couple retained a very middle-class outlook and value system, bringing up their children with traditional values in a remarkably simple home. They were the parents of one son, Aroop Ganguly, and three daughters named Bharati Patel, Rupa Verma and Preeti Ganguly. Aroop Kumar Ganguly worked in only one film, appearing as a hero in Bezubaan (1962), which flopped at the box office. He then made a career in the corporate world. The eldest daughter, Bharati Patel, is the mother of the actress Anuradha Patel. His second eldest daughter, Rupa Ganguly, is a former actress and widow of actor-comedian Deven Verma.[8] The youngest daughter, Preeti Ganguly acted as a comedienne in several Hindi films during the 1970s and 1980s and died unmarried in 2012.[9]

Kumudlal's daughter Bharati married twice. Her first marriage was to Dr. Veerendra Patel, a Gujarati doctor. Through this marriage, she had two sons, Rahul and Rohit, and one daughter, the actress Anuradha Patel, who is married to the actor Kanwaljit Singh. Later, and much against the wishes of all her relatives, Bharati married Hameed Jaffrey, a Muslim, the brother of the actor Saeed Jaffrey.[10] By this second marriage, Bharati had one son, Saahil, and also acquired step-daughters, Geneviève and Shaheen, who were Hameed's daughters by his first wife Valerie Salway, a woman of Scottish, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish heritage.[11] Geneviève married a Sindhi businessman named Jagdeep Advani. Their daughter is actress Kiara Advani.[12] Thus, Ashok Kumar has no blood relationship with Kiara Advani but he is related to her in her family tree. In all, Kumar had eight biological grandchildren - Bharati's four children Rahul, Rohit, Anuradha and Saahil, and Aroop's four children Rishi, Mihir, Tushar and Somdatta (from his marriage to Nirupama Ganguly), in addition to his step-granddaughters Geneviève and Shaheen.

Kumar was educated at Presidency College of the University of Calcutta, Kolkata, where he studied to become a lawyer. However, his heart was not in his law studies. Ganguly was more interested in cinema, in which he dreamt of working as a technician.


Debut and breakthrough (1936–1942)

Kumar reluctantly made his debut in the year 1936 with Franz Osten's Jeevan Naiya alongside Devika Rani.[13]

With Devika Rani in Achhut Kanya (1936)

His breakthrough came the same year with another Franz Osten's film Achhut Kannya which was a reformist piece featuring a Brahmin boy falling in love with a girl from the so-called untouchables in Indian society.[14]

Kumar in Naya Sansar (1941)

After the success of Achhut Kanya, he delivered a hat-trick of silver jubilee hits with Kangan (1939), Bandhan (1940) and Jhoola (1941), all opposite Leela Chitnis.[15]

Stardom (1943-1959)

Ashok Kumar in the 1943 film Kismet

In 1943, Ashok Kumar played the lead role in Gyan Mukherjee's drama film Kismet opposite Mumtaz Shanti.[16] It became the first film to present the main lead as an anti-hero as well as an unmarried girl getting pregnant.[17] Despite having themes considered way ahead of times, Kismet became the first Indian film to do a nett business of 10 million (US$120,000) and emerged an All Time Blockbuster at the box office.[18] It ran in Kolkata's Roxy Cinema for 184 weeks, a record which remains unbroken till date.[19] Kismet also got the tag of being the first true blue mega blockbuster in the history of Indian cinema.[20] Its music, especially the patriotic song "Aaj Himalay Ki Choti Se" written by Kavi Pradeep was highly successful and played big role in making Kismet a box office sensation.[21] The mass hysteria created by Kismet made Kumar the first big star of Indian cinema.[22] Such was his popularity at the time that, in the words of Manṭo, "Ashok's popularity grew each passing day. He seldom ventured out, but wherever he was spotted, he was mobbed. Traffic would come to a stop and often the police would have to use lathis to disperse his fans."[23]

In spite of the huge success of Kismet, Kumar suffered a career setback from 1944 to 1948 as almost all his films in these years failed to do well commercially, with Gyan Mukherjee's Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944) and Mehboob Khan's Humayun (1945) being the major exceptions.[24][25] After a brief period of decline, Kumar returned to the big league in 1949 with Kamal Amrohi's horror film Mahal.[26] It took 3rd spot at the box office that year and proved to be a blockbuster.[27] Recalled as Bollywood's first horror film, Mahal not only marked the comeback of Kumar, but also made Madhubala an overnight star.[28][29] Its soundtrack composed by Khemchand Prakash was also well-received and established the career of Lata Mangeshkar who sang the superhit song "Aayega Aanewala".[30]

The early 50s saw the rise of younger crop of stars like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, but Ashok Kumar remained rock-steady and continued to deliver huge hits throughout the decade.[22] In 1950, Kumar delivered a blockbuster and highest earning film of the year with Ramesh Saigal's Samadhi opposite Nalini Jaywant.[31] That same year, he reunited with Jaywant and Gyan Mukherjee for Sangram.[32] After Kismet, Kumar again donned the hat of anti-hero for Sangram, in turn adding another major hit in his kitty.[33] In 1951, he starred in B. R. Chopra's crime drama film Afsana and Nitin Bose's romantic musical Deedar.[34][35] Afsana in which Kumar played a double role was the first hit of Chopra as a filmmaker and made him a notable name in the industry while Deedar co-starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis also emerged a hit at the box office.[36][37] Kumar's only notable release of 1952 was M. L. Anand's romantic drama Bewafa which also had Nargis and Raj Kapoor in the lead.[38] It performed moderately well and attained average verdict by the end of its run.[39]

with Meena Kumari in Parineeta (1953)

In 1953, he produced and starred in Bimal Roy's romantic drama Parineeta alongside Meena Kumari.[40] Based upon the 1914 Bengali novel of the same name by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, it proved to be a critical and commercial success.[41] Post-Parineeta, Kumar had a string of flops with Baadbaan (1954), Sardar (1955) and Bandish (1955), but this changed with a blockbuster in B.R. Chopra's family drama film Ek Hi Raasta (1956), acting alongside Meena Kumari and Sunil Dutt.[42] He also had hits in M. V. Raman's Bhai-Bhai and Shakti Samanta's Inspector, the same year.[43] After scoring another major success with Ek Saal in 1957, he added one more blockbuster in his kitty with Satyen Bose's musical comedy Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), which had his brothers Anoop Kumar and Kishore Kumar in the lead.[44][45] The film gained cult status in later years and got remade twice in Hindi and once in Marathi.[46] Its soundtrack composed by S. D. Burman was highly successful with a number of hit songs, including "Babu Samjho Ishaare", "Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si", "Hum The Woh Thi Aur Sama Rangeen" and "Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka".[47][48][49] Kumar's last notable film in his prime came the same year with Shakti Samanta's crime thriller Howrah Bridge which again had Madhubala opposite him.[50] Howrah Bridge opened to positive response from critics and proved to be a superhit.[51] Its dance numbers - "Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu" sung by Geeta Dutt which brought fame to Helen and "Aaiye Meharban" sung by Asha Bhosle were hugely popular among the masses and are considered well ahead of their times.[52]

Continued critical and commercial success (1960-1985)

With the beginning of new decade, Ashok Kumar opened to all kind of roles, be it main lead, second lead or a character role.[53] This saved him from ever getting type-cast and he continued to receive critical and commercial acclaim for his work.[54]

It started with B.R. Chopra's courtroom drama Kanoon (1960) which also had Rajendra Kumar and Nanda in the lead.[55] Despite not having any songs and other gimmicks required in a commercial Hindi film, Kanoon emerged a hit and went on to win National Film Award for Best Feature Film (Hindi).[56] After playing a brief role in Yash Chopra's critically acclaimed partition drama Dharmputra (1961), the following year, he did lead roles in A. Bhimsingh's Rakhi and Phani Majumdar's Aarti.[57][58] Both Rakhi and Aarti received critical acclaim and proved to be box office hits.[59] Kumar received his first Filmfare Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a doting brother in Rakhi.[60]

1963 proved to be a hugely successful year for Kumar with many hits.[61] He first collaborated with B.R. Chopra for the romantic thriller Gumrah co-starring Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha, Shashikala and Nirupa Roy.[62] Gumrah did very well at the box office and proved to be a superhit.[63] For his performance in the film, Kumar received another nomination in the Filmfare Award for Best Actor category and won his first BFJA Award for Best Actor (Hindi).[64] It also won National Film Award for Third Best Feature Film in Hindi.[65] He followed it with Bimal Roy's critically and commercially successful drama film Bandini.[66] Bandini was the last feature film directed by Roy and won him his final Filmfare Award for Best Director alongwith National Film Award for Best Feature Film (Hindi) as well as Filmfare Award for Best Film.[65]

Ashok Kumar with Sadhana in an emotional scene of Mere Mehboob (1963)

Before the end of year, he co-starred alongside Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana in H. S. Rawail's muslim social Mere Mehboob.[67] The film topped box office chart in 1963 and emerged an All Time Blockbuster.[68] Its music composed by Naushad dominated the musical charts and was the second best-selling Hindi film album of the 1960s.[69]

In 1964, Kumar saw semi-hits in A. Bhimsingh's Pooja Ke Phool and Inder Raj Anand's Phoolon Ki Sej which had Dharmendra and Manoj Kumar in the lead respectively, but his other releases, such as Chitralekha and Benazir flopped at the box office.[70] In 1965, he had a hit in Bheegi Raat and a moderate success in Oonche Log.[71] The hit streak continued in 1966 with Asit Sen's Mamta which again had Dharmendra in the lead alongwith Suchitra Sen who played a double role.[72] It was a successful venture domestically, but an All Time Blockbuster in overseas markets.[73][74] The same year, Kumar also appeared in Brij Sadanah's Afsana which was a box office failure, but won him Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor.[75] 1967 was a notable year for him as he starred in two of the biggest hits of the year - Vijay Anand's spy heist thriller Jewel Thief and A. Bhimsingh's light hearted drama film Mehrban.[76][77] Both the films proved to be critical and commercial successes with Kumar getting applauded for his performances in them and receiving a nomination in the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor category for the latter.[78][79]

In 1968, he played the lead role in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's social drama Aashirwad.[80] Although the film didnt do well at the box office, it was a huge critical success, winning National Film Award for Best Feature Film (Hindi).[81] Kumar's portrayal of a loving father was very well received and won him all the major accolades that year, such as National Film Award for Best Actor, Filmfare Award for Best Actor and BFJA Award for Best Actor (Hindi).[82][83] One of its song "Rail Gaadi Chhuk Chhuk Chhuk Chhuk" sung by Kumar himself is considered the first rap song of Indian cinema.[84] Kumar ended the decade on a high. He co-starred alongside Sanjay Khan and Sadhana in R.K. Nayyar's mystery thriller Intaqam which went on to become a superhit at the box office.[85] He then did a guest appearance in Samanta's romantic blockbuster Aradhana which made Rajesh Khanna a superstar.[86] Kumar also reunited with Hrishikesh Mukherjee for drama film Satyakam which like their previous collaboration Aashirwad met with immense acclaim and won National Film Award for Best Feature Film (Hindi).[87][88]

70s saw the domination of whole new generation of stars, including Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor.[89] Kumar worked with all of them in various successful and acclaimed films.[90] In 1970, he played important roles in two directional ventures of Asit Sen, which were - Sharafat co-starring Dharmendra, Hema Malini and Safar which also had Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Feroz Khan in the lead.[91][92] Both the films emerged superhits and received big thumbs from reviewers, especially Safar which won Sen his first Filmfare Award for Best Director.[93] He also collaborated with Manoj Kumar for his second directional, the patriotic drama Purab Aur Paschim which proved to be a blockbuster in India as well as overseas.[94][95] The following year, he had a hit in Naya Zamana and a flop in Adhikar.[96] In 1972, he starred in Kamal Amrohi's magnum opus Pakeezah which had Meena Kumari as the eponymous lead, alongside Raaj Kumar.[97] Despite getting mixed reviews and being a slow starter, it went on to become a massive blockbuster and also the final film appearance of Kumari who passed away few weeks after its release.[98] Kumar then played the role of a doting grandfather in Samanta's Anuraag and a crook in Sadanah's Victoria No. 203.[99][100] Anuraag emerged a blockbuster as well running for 28 weeks in Kolkata's Jyoti Cinema while Victoria No. 203 proved to be a superhit with Kumar again getting nominated in the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor category.[101][19] The same year, he reunited with Rajesh Khanna for Maalik and Dil Daulat Duniya, but contrary to expectations, both the films flopped commercially.[102][103]

Kumar played small roles in both of his major releases of 1973 and 1974 which were - Dhund and Prem Nagar respectively.[104][105] In 1975, he had a superhit in Chori Mera Kaam co-starring Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman.[106] He also appeared alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan in Mili.[107] It did average business, but won massive acclaim and is now considered a film ahead of its times.[108] Kumar delivered back-to-back successes in 1976 with Chhoti Si Baat, Shankar Dada and Aap Beati.[109] He received another nomination in the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor category for his heartfelt portrayal of a retired colonel in Chhoti Si Baat.[110] In 1977, he starred in hit film Dream Girl which had Hema Malini in the title role, alongside Dharmendra, but his other releases that year, including Hira Aur Patthar, Anand Ashram and Anurodh proved to be commercially unsuccessful ventures.[73] In 1978, he starred in K. Bapayya's Dil Aur Deewaar, a remake of Telugu film Jeevana Tarangalu and Basu Chatterjee's Khatta Meetha.[111][112] Both the films were critically and commercially successful.[113] After not having any noteworthy release in 1979, Kumar began the next decade with supporting role in five hit films, including Khubsoorat, Jyoti Bane Jwala, Sau Din Saas Ke, Judaai and Takkar.[114] In 1981, he had two more commercial successes with Shibu Mitra's Maan Gaye Ustaad and Pramod Chakravarty's Jyoti.[115] The next year, he played the lead role in Basu Chatterjee's comedy drama Shaukeen, which was a box office as well as critical success and is now considered a cult classic.[116] In 1983, he appeared in another of Basu Chatterjee's acclaimed venture Pasand Apni Apni which was a remake of the British film Happy Go Lovely.[117] The following year, he co-starred alongside Dilip Kumar and Rishi Kapoor in Ramesh Talwar's action drama film Duniya and made his television debut with the soap opera Hum Log.[118][119] In 1985, he played supporting roles in B.R. Chopra's drama film Tawaif and Shibu Mitra's mystery thriller Durgaa.[120][121] While Tawaif opened to positive response from reviewers and emerged a commercial hit, the latter proved to be an average fare.[122]

Final works (1986-1997)

Towards the late 1980s, Kumar's workload slowed due to declining health. In 1986, he played the title role in the highly acclaimed and successful tv show Bahadur Shah Zafar.[119] In 1987, he played supporting roles in three hits - Watan Ke Rakhwale, Mr. India and Jawab Hum Denge.[123][124] He then appeared in films, such as Inteqam (1988), Clerk (1989), Majboor (1990), Begunaah (1991), Humlaa (1992), Aasoo Bane Angaarey (1993) and Return of Jewel Thief (1996), all of which underperformed critically as well as commercially.[125][126]

During this period of time, success came with the TV shows - Bheem-Bhavani (1990) and Tehkikaat (1994).[119] In 1996, Kumar received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award.[127]

He quit acting after making an appearance in Ashim Samanta's romantic drama Ankhon Mein Tum Ho (1997) starring Sharad Kapoor, Suman Ranganathan and Rohit Roy.[128] The film opened to negative reviews from critics and flopped at the box office.[129]


Ashok Kumar died at the age of 90 in Mumbai on 10 December 2001 of heart failure at his residence in Chembur. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee described him as "an inspiration... for many generations of aspiring actors.[53]

Artistry and legacy

Ashok Kumar on a 2013 stamp of India

Kumar is regarded as one of the greatest actors of Indian cinema.[130] He was a pioneering actor who introduced natural acting to Hindi cinema and the distinctive style and mannerisms that he adopted in his later career still remain extremely popular among mimicry artists.[131]

Kumar had an eye for talent and helped several up-and-coming artists get a break. He groomed Hrishikesh Mukherjee during the director's association with Bombay Talkies.[132] The filmmaker went on to helm movies, such as Anari (1959), Asli-Naqli (1962), Aashirwad (1968), Satyakam (1969), Anand (1971), Chupke Chupke (1975) and Khubsoorat (1980).[133][134][135] He produced Neel Kamal (1947), Ziddi (1948) and Mahal (1949) which launched the careers of Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Madhubala respectively.[136][137][138] He also collaborated with Shakti Samanta for Inspector (1956) and Howrah Bridge (1958), which proved to be game-changers for the then struggling filmmaker.[139]

He inspired many of his younger contemporaries, including Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Uttam Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Raaj Kumar among others.[140][141]

One of the most successful actors of 1940s and 1950s, Kumar appeared in Box Office India's "Top Actors" list eight times, (1940-1945, 1949-1950).[22]

In 2022, he was placed in Outlook India's "75 Best Bollywood Actors" list.[142]

Awards and recognition


Main article: Ashok Kumar filmography


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