'Our father Ashok Kumar really left a mark on our lives'
One of Hindi cinema's most popular actors Ashok Kumar would have turned 100 on October 13. We celebrate his birth centenary in the first part of this special by speaking to his daughters Bharti Jaffrey and Preeti Gangoly.
Having acquired the image of a serious actor, one who would go to any lengths to get his shots right, Ashok Kumar, in private life, had a wacky sense of humour. The much-loved superstar kept everyone in the family in splits with his jokes.
Says his daughter, actress Preeti Gangoly: "When I was nine, he used to eat paan and I would tell him, 'Papa, please don't eat paan. You look ugly.' To irritate me, he would kiss me every night and leave the red marks of the paan on my cheek. He did indeed leave a mark on our lives."
Dadamoni's impish side has been captured in films such as Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Khubsoorat, Victoria No 203 and Shaukeen. Here, his daughters, Bharti Jaffrey and Preeti Gangoly remember their father as a "gentleman", a family man who brought them up with "care and love."
'Mom's world revolved around him'
Dadamoni showed great interest in family life and brought up his three daughters and son with care and love. "His values have guided us through life. He used to tell me, 'Always be on time.' He should be remembered as a gentleman," says Preeti.
Dadamoni had a long and fulfilling career and when he aged, he seamlessly moved to character roles. Along the way, he lost his wife Shobha and earlier his younger brothers, Anup and Kishore, but he didn't let loneliness and loss engulf his life. "He was saddened by my mother's death because she looked after him for so many years," says his eldest daughter, Bharti.
The marriage between Dadamoni and Shobha was arranged by their families and despite the difference in their ages and personalities, the two got along well. "My mother was a very simple woman. Her world revolved around him. She used to bring him food on the sets and was concerned about his health all the time," says Bharti.
From left to right, bottom row: Great grandsons: Varun Patel, Sidhartha Singh, Aditya Singh. Middle Row: Grandson Rahul, Ashok Kumar, granddaughter Anuradha Patel. Top Row: Son-in-law Hameed Jaffrey, daughter Bharati Jaffrey, grandson Rohit Patel and granddaughter-in-law Kiran.
Image: Ashok Kumar on his 90th birthday with his extended family
'He treated Kishore kaka like a child'
Since there was an age difference of over 18 years between Dadamoni and Kishore, the kids shared a friendly bond with the latter. "Whenever Kishore would come over, it was great fun. Once papa left the room, Kishore kaka and us kids would be like friends. Papa himself treated him like a child," says Preeti.
She recalls how he first settled Kishore and his parents in his home in Worli, in South Mumbai, before moving to his new address in Kala Ghoda. "Papa was very concerned about his brothers, but he never pushed their careers because he wanted them to make it on merit."
When Kishore and Anup died, Dadamoni couldn't bear to step into the crematorium. "He was like a father figure to them. He used to say, 'Mere bachche mere se pehle chale gaye.' (My kids left before me).
Their deaths affected him deeply but fortunately he had so many interests which he pursued from time to time." Other than being an actor, he was an active painter, voracious reader, linguist, astrologer and homeopath.
Image: Anoop Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Kishore Kumar in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi
'He stayed in a room with 10-15 people'
Dadamoni's father, grandfathers and uncles were lawyers and he was expected to follow in their footsteps. He studied law for a while and one day, without telling his father, boarded a train to Bombay.
"He was afraid of his father," says Preeti, "I think he didn't set out with the idea of becoming anything. He wanted to be a technician. Sashadhar Mukherjee, who was already working at Bombay Talkies, had asked him to come down."
When he came to Bombay, he stayed with "10-15 people in a room at Noble House, Parel." In an incredible story of success and glory, he joined Bombay Talkies as a lab assistant, shifted to the camera department, was accidentally discovered and replaced as a hero for Jeevan Naiya and went on to own Bombay Talkies.
Image: Ashok Kumar with son Arup Gangoly, son-in-law Hameed Jaffrey and son-in-law Deven Verma
'Dilip Kumar and Dadamoni respected each other'
Despite talk of their rivalry, Dadamoni and Dilip Kumar were good friends. It was Dilip Kumar who taught Dadamoni Urdu. "They respected each other immensely," says Bharti. At times, they would help each other out with friendly advice. For instance, in Deedar (1951), Dadamoni helped Dilip Kumar prepare for the role of a blind man.
Recollects Bharti, "When Dilipsaab told papa he didn't know how to play that role, papa suggested he observe a blind beggar at Dhobi Ghat near Mahalaxmi." In the end, Dadamoni, who plays a doctor in the film, restores Dilip's sight.
Interestingly, Bharti's son Sahil Jaffrey was immediately hired by Dilip Kumar for his first Bhojpuri film Ab To Banja Sajanwa Hamaar when he got to know he was Dadamoni's grandson.
"He took care of me and kept talking to me about nana. Imagine, here was this legend talking about another legend, and he was telling all this to me, a nobody, a speck as it were. I realised both nana and Dilipsaab were incredibly humble," says Sahil.
Image: Ashok Kumar with Anuradha Patel's baby
'Jaya Bachchan was close to him'
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Dadamoni earned the respect of his colleagues and friends.
Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan were very close to him and used to drop into his Chembur bungalow quite often. Big B acted with Dadamoni in Mili and Chhoti Si Baat (their chemistry is striking even in a single scene in which Bachchan, playing himself, consults Dadamoni) while he played Jaya's father in Mili.
"Jaya, I believe, was close to him. He always thought of her as a daughter," says Bharti.
Image: Jaya Bhaduri and Ashok Kumar in Mili
Photographs: rediff archives
'He had a beautifully easy style'
Trained as a natural actor, Dadamoni created a different acting style from that of Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. They were also his juniors and respected him as a founding father of their medium.
"He had a beautifully easy style," says Preeti. He would prepare doggedly for his role. "I often wondered why he laughed all the time in Bandini (he plays a revolutionary). Later, when I read the book, I realised the character Bikash was like that -- he talked and laughed. So, papa used to study his roles deeply," says Bharti.
Interestingly, Dadamoni suggested to director Bimal Roy that he change the ending of the classic. "Papa told Bimalda that if Nutan goes to Dharmendra, the film will fall."
Image: Ashok Kumar with Nutan in Bandini