By Rajesh V. Gaur and Suneel V. Gaur
December 10 is the death anniversary of the doyen of Hindi films, Ashok Kumar. Fondly called Dada Moni, he was a doyen in the true sense of the word. With his penchant for blending into every character and merging with the role, Kumar was addictive to filmmakers and audiences alike. For more than six decades, it is often said that he never acted, but became whatever character he played.
Kumar’s first hit was ‘Achyut Kanya’ but what won him mass adulation was the trio of successful films opposite Leela Chitnis – ‘Kangan’ (1939), ‘Bandhan’ (1940) and ‘Jhoola’ (1941). These were followed by Gyan Mukherji’s ‘Kismat’, which ran for a record breaking five years at a single theatre in Kolkata, and the superhits ‘Sangram’, ‘Kafila’, ‘Shatranj’, ‘Shamsheer’ and Bimal Roy’s ‘Parineeta’.
Kumar ushered in a more natural style of acting as compared to the prevailing style that followed theatrical trends and therefore laid emphasis on dialogue to help make his performances extraordinary.
The 1950s saw Kumar shine in a series of crime films, with his trademark cigarette – ‘Sangram’ (1950) where he played the anti-hero for the first time in Bollywood, ‘Sitaron se Aage’ (1958), ‘Howrah Bridge’ (1958), and others. This, balanced with the sensitive ‘Parineeta’ (1953), and the comedy ‘Chalti ka Naam Gaadi ‘(1958) ensured that he was the one actor who effortlessly withstood the stardom of Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor.
His success continued into the 1960s with strong performances in ‘Aashirwad’, ‘Gumrah’, and ‘Bandini’.
In the late 1960s he settled down to playing character roles and was seen portraying a variety of characters in films like ‘Jewel Thief’, ‘Victoria no. 203’, ‘Anuraag’ and others. However, age and health issues required him to slowly cut down on all work. Kumar finally received the prestigious Dada Sahab Phalke Award in 1988 for his contribution to Indian cinema.