Acclaimed Indian thesp Ashok Kumar died Dec. 10 in Bombay of a heart attack. He was 90.
Born Kumudlal Kanjilal Ganguly in Bhagalpur, he studied to be a lawyer, but instead found himself working behind the camera. When the star of the 1936 silent “Jeevan Naiya” quit, he was persuaded to take over — persuaded because he did it with reluctance, fearing for his reputation, as acting in films was considered something only unsavory characters did.
Yet his career went on to span the first five decades of India’s pic biz, beginning with the silents.
He acted in nearly 300 pics, from thrillers to comedies and social dramas touching on such then-taboo subjects as the Hindu caste system in “Achhut kanya” (Untouchable Girl).
Dadamoni, as he was affectionately known by the Hindi film industry, sang with a beautiful baritone until Indian pics started to use playback singers for stars’ tracks.
He made his mark in the Bombay film industry with pics such as “Kismet” (which ran in Calcutta for three years), “Parineeta,” “Bandini,” “Howrah Bridge,” “Kanoon” and “Satyakam.”
He starred with pretty much a who’s who of Indian film thesps, ranging from Devika Rani in “Achhut Kanya” to Rekha in “Khubsoorat.”
Some of his child co-stars grew up to act as his leading ladies as adults. He worked with such famous Indian directors as Bimal Roy, S. Mukherjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee (no relation).
A versatile man, he produced under the banner of Bombay Talkies and later Ashok Kumar Prods. In the 1980s, he acted in the small screen in the soap “Hum log.” He was also a painter, and when he developed asthma he studied homeopathy in search of a cure.
His became a family of actors: His brothers Kishore Kumar and Anup Kumar also made their mark, although neither became as famous. The three made a comedy together called “Chalti ka naam gaadi.”
The Indian government awarded him its most prestigious kudo, the Dada Saheb Phalke Award (named for the founder of the Indian film industry) in 1969.
His wife, Shobha, preceded him in death. Survivors include a son, two daughters and a granddaughter.