Birth: 13-10-1911, Bhagalpur, Bengal Presidency, British India
Ashok Kumar was an Indian film actor. Born as Kumudlal Ganguly in Bhagalpur, Bengal Presidency he attained iconic status in Indian cinema. He broke from the theatrical style then common in Indian film towards a more naturalistic method. Given his versatility and proven brilliance over five decades, he is considered by many to be one of the finest ever Indian actors.
Reverently called Dadamoni (affectionate term for elder brother), he was born in Bhagalpur and educated at Presidency College of the University of Calcutta (now Presidency University, Kolkata).
He started his career in Bombay (Mumbai), albeit accidentally, with the Bombay Talkies production Jeevan Naiya in 1936.
Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar did a string of films like Izzat (1937), Savitri (1937) and Nirmala (1938). But she was the bigger star and Ashok Kumar was definitely in her shadow. He came into his own with three films opposite Leela Chitnis: KanGan (1939), Bandhan (1940), Jhoola (1941), singing his own songs as was the custom then. He acquitted himself creditably and came away with several hits including most famously Main Ban ka Panchhi.
Traditional theatrical acting style had developed his own more natural style. He was also not afraid to take risks and was one of the first anti-heroes of Indian Cinema with his role in Kismet in 1943. This movie went on to create a record for the highest grossing film in India at the time of its release.
He produced several films for Bombay Talkies during the final years of the company including the famous Mahal in 1949 in which he co-starred with Madhubala. In the 1950s, he played the suave cigarette-smoking criminal or police officer in several films of what was the Indian film-noir movement. In the late 1960s he switched to character roles playing the parent, grandparent, dirty old man and suave criminal, being careful never to be typecast. He paired up 20 times with the popularly known as 'queen of tragedy' Meena Kumari, in films such as Parineeta, Bahu Begum, Pakeezah, Ek Hi Raasta, Bandish, Aarti and more.
He acted in fewer films in the 1980s and 1990s and occasionally appeared on television, most famously anchoring the first Indian soap opera Hum Log and appearing as the title character in the unforgettable Bahadur Shah Zafar.
His last film role was in Aankhon Mein Tum Ho in 1997.Altogether, he starred in over 275 films. He has done more than 30 Bengali dramas in Dhakuria.
Ashok Kumar died at the age of 90 in Mumbai on 10 December 2001 of heart failure at his residence in central Mumbai suburbs of Chembur. The then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee described him as "an inspiration... for many generations of aspiring actors."