About Ashok Kumar
His father Kunjalal Ganguly was a lawyer and his mother Gouri Devi came from a wealthy Bengali family. His family was based in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. His brothers Anoop Kumar and Kishore Kumar also acted in films. The three brothers worked together in the comedies Chalti Ka Naam Gaadiand Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi. Ashok, though the eldest of the three by quite a margin, survived them both. In fact, he stopped celebrating his birthday after the youngest brother, Kishore, died on that day in 1987. His sister, Sati Devi, was married to Sashadhar Mukherjee of the Mukherjee-Samarth family.
Ashok Kumar married Shobha. They had a troubled marriage due to his wife being an alcoholic.
Reverently called Dadamoni (affectionate term for elder brother), he was born in Bhagalpur and educated at Presidency College of the University of Calcutta , Kolkata). He started his career in Bombay (Mumbai), albeit accidentally, with the Bombay Talkies production Jeevan Naiya in 1936. The male lead, Najam-ul-Hussain, went absconding with the heroine Devika Rani, the director's wife who returned later on. The director and studio head, Himanshu Rai, in retaliation dismissed the hero and called upon his laboratory assistant Ashok Kumar to take the part and thus began a six-decade-long acting career. However, it was his subsequent venture with Devika Rani in Achhut Kanya in the same year that set him up for the big league. The movie itself stands out as one of the heralding social dramas of pre-independence Indian film. It was the story of a Brahmin boy falling in love with a girl from the so-called untouchables in Indian society. It was a big hit and started the trend of socially committed films.
Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar in Achhut Kanya, 1936
Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar did a string of films after this including 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 came away with several hits including most famously Main Ban ka Panchhi.
He 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 'queen of tragedy' Meena Kumari, in films such as Parineeta, Bahu Begum, Pakeezah, Ek Hi Raasta, Bandish and Aarti.