The Ashok Kumar you didn't know
Dadamoni would have been 100 today. He was a man of many talents -- actor, singer, homoeopathy doctor and a man with a great zest for living.
He was known to be a simple man who went out of his way to help people. Elder brother to the eccentric Kishore Kumar, he was the head of the family and obviously took his duties seriously, once even calling up the Inspector General of Police to find out what sort of man his daughter's boyfriend was!
Seeing humour in every situation was his way of life. He promptly named his brother Kishore 'Mohabbat Khan' when he came home with his third bride. He thought nothing of singing all the way from Breach Candy, in South Mumbai, to his grandson Rahul's home while giving a lift to Rahul's wife Kiran.
Image: Ashok Kumar with his great grandchild
He called up IG of police to inquire about his daughter's boyfriend
He left behind three daughters, a son, grandchildren and millions of fans around the globe. Dadamoni was a star among stars. He was a leading man, and then a character actor. He could be a villain and also a joker. He was versatile.
We spoke to his kith and kin who revealed facets to his character that we never knew.
Rahul Patel is one of Mumbai's top fashion photographers. He is the eldest son of Ashok Kumar's elder daughter Bharati. His father, Dr Veerendra Patel, was one of Mumbai's top orthodontists.
Rahul remembers Ashok Kumar from the time when he was two years old. His grandfather had promised to take him to Delhi and the plan got cancelled. They had to go to Chennai instead. Rahul kept crying that he wanted to go to Delhi. They flew in a Caravelle and Rahul remembers that the aircraft had two jets in its tail fin and he watched the sun set from the air while seated on his grandfather's lap.
Image: Ashok Kumar at grandson Rahul Patel's wedding
He named Kishore Kumar Mohabbat Khan after his third marriage
Ashok Kumar was an indulgent grandfather. "He had a caravan in his garden. As I was crazy about photography, he let me turn that caravan into a dark room to develop my photos. He gifted me my first Leica camera which was very famous in those days."
Rahul spent all his weekends at his grandparents' home in Chembur. "After the success of Victoria 203, they had a party to celebrate the film's success. Nana was wearing a silk lungi and kurta. I saw Navin Nishchol, Saira Banu and Helen at that party. Helen did not act in that movie but she came for the party."
Rahul recalls a day when he had gone for a film shoot with his Nana. "One of the actors who had to play the part of a police inspector did not come, so Nana made his man Friday, Khurshid, do it! Khurshid played the part of the inspector very well."
Image: Ashok Kumar with daughter Bharti Jaffrey and grand daughter-in-law Kiran Patel
'He danced at all the functions at my wedding'
"I always called him Nana, outsiders called him Dadamoni, but not the family," Rahul says.
"In his bungalow he had a room at the top which had a lot of audio equipment. Kishore Kumar and Nana always went to that room and used to sing together and I used to sit and listen.
"His house was full of homoeopathy medicines. They were there in every room, in every cupboard and every nook and corner of the house. People used to come to him for treatment. They even came from out of town. He used to do it for free. He was not a certified doctor but he knew everything. He had learnt it because he loved homoeopathy. I loved tasting those medicines as most of them were sweet," Rahul said.
"When I got married, he was there through the day. He danced at all the functions."
Image: Ashok Kumar with Suresh Agerwala (Kiran's father)
'People from out of town would come to him for homeopathy treatment'
He was doing a photography shoot when he received the call that his Nana had passed away. "I went to Chembur. The place was packed. There was an inspector from the local police station who was in charge of security. He came near Nana and saluted. He told us, 'I am also from Khandwa (Ashok Kumar's hometown in Madhya Pradesh) and my name is Ashok Kumar.' He was obviously named after my grandpa, who had brought fame to Khandwa.
"Nana loved my father Viru very much. My mother was his patient. But when he realised they liked each other, Nana did not support them. He called up his IG friend Jimmy Nagarwalla and asked him to make enquiries about Dr Veerendra Patel. Nagarwalla's reply sealed the matter: "Dr Veerendra Patel is my godson."
Image: Rahul Patel with sister Anuradha Patel
'He sat with his hands around his driver and his man Friday, singing songs'
Kiran, Rahul's wife is a linguist, has her own firm, Lingua International which specialises in translation. She is fluent in five languages. She recalls her first meetings with her future grandfather-in-law.
"There was a party at home as my marriage had been fixed. He came and met my dad. They hit it off very well. He was distinguished and a real gentleman," she recalls.
"I had gone to visit my mother-in-law Bharati in hospital, and Ashok Kumar who was there offered to drop me home. He got into the front seat of his car along with his man Friday Khursheed and the driver. He was sitting in the middle with one arm around Khursheed and the other around the driver. The three of them sang all the way to my house! I was sitting alone on the back seat and highly amused," she said.
"When we reached my home in Walkeshwar (South Mumbai), he came in for tea. From the car to the lift must be only three paces, but I don't know how many people came up to him in that short time."
Image: Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar in Achhut Kanya
'He tap-danced with his walking stick at 80'
"We sat down for tea and suddenly I noticed that every window that could see into our living room was packed with people. People were hanging out of their windows trying to get a glimpse of him. He was 70 at that time and still so popular. That was the first time I realised what a big star he was. For me, he had always been my husband's grandfather.
"He was down to earth. No airs about him. Never tried to impress anyone. He did not look like a star or behave like one. At the wedding of another grandson he suddenly started to tap dance all by himself. He was 80 then. He danced with his walking stick.
"On his 90th birthday, Johnny Lever was invited to perform. We had a party at the Willingdon Club, which did not allow entry to film stars after some star misbehaved there one time. So they had to get Ashok Kumar in through a side door and make sure he did not enter the main building of the club. He was unlike any star I had ever met. He was humility personified."
Image: Ashok Kumar in Aashirwad
'He was a good boxer'
Anooradha is Bharati's daughter. She is now married to (actor) Kanwaljeet Singh and they have two sons. Mini (her pet name) recalls her grandpa with fondness. "Nana was the greatest. I spent all my holidays with him. He used to call me Nani as I used to wear my grandmother's sari and work in the kitchen. I also used to tell him that I wanted to marry him. Before I married Kanwaljeet, we went to Nana for his blessings and he said, 'You were supposed to marry me!'
"He was very modern in his thinking, a very balanced person. He kept his interests alive till the end. He was always doing something new.
"He was interested in art, choreography, boxing -- he was a good boxer -- he used to go up to his den at his home in Chembur and record songs.
"When I used to go on shoots with him he used to say, 'one day you will make me proud, you will also act'. But he never allowed his own daughters to act in films. His son Arup acted in one movie."
Image: A still from Mr India
'He was modern in his thinking'
"I have acted in two scenes with him. Love in Goa in which I acted, he did a guest role. When I enacted my role he said, 'I never knew you acted so well'. He used to spoil me. He used to slip me a Rs 100 note, which was a big amount those days, and say, 'don't tell anyone'.
When my grandmother expired, Nana was very upset. Kishore Kumar sang to console him. He sang continuously for two hours till his elder brother calmed down.
"He was very fond of my husband Kanwaljeet. They both had asthma. One day Nana had forgotten his pump and he needed one. We were not married at the time and Kanwaljeet gave him his pump. Nana immediately said, 'Approved!'" she exclaimed.
Image: A still from Khoobsurat
'He was an indulgent grandfather'
"He always ate properly. He had a balanced diet. Once I was very ill for one month. I had severe bronchitis and the doctors were pumping me with antibiotics which my body was rejecting. I was fed up. He heard about it and gave me a homoeopathy medicine and I was cured in 24 hours. I still use it. I give it to my kids.
"When we celebrated his 90th birthday, the whole family was there. He knew that he was going to pass away. The nurse who was looking after him was pregnant and he used to tell her, 'I will not be around to see your baby'.
"He used to say I have seen everything in my life. I am satisfied. I have lived like a king. The only thing I regret in my life is the fact that I smoked. He expired on December 10 and the nurse delivered the next day," she said.
Ashok Kumar died peacefully. He was sitting in his chair. He had just finished eating his lunch. He asked the nurse what the time was in Bengali. She said it was 2 o'clock. He said in Bengali, 'I am going to sleep now'. He closed his eyes. His chin dropped and he was gone.
Image: Ashok Kumar and Kishore Kumar in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi