Ashok Kumar was one of the first stars of Indian cinema. Born in Bhagalpur, Bihar, Kumar’s given name was Kumudlal Kunjilal Ganguly. The son of a lawyer and deputy magistrate, Kumar briefly studied law in Calcutta and then joined mentor and future brother-in-law, S. Mukherji, at Bombay Talkies, initially as a lab assistant. He got his first break by being cast opposite Devika Rani, the leading star and later, head of Bombay Talkies, in Jeevan Naiya (New Life) and Achhut Kanya. Kumar had a trio of successes with Kangan, Bandhan, and Jhoola.
His most famous role was in the crime thriller Kismet, which changed his image from a clean-cut, romantic ideal type to a cocky, chain-smoking, morally ambiguous anti-hero. Kumar’s way of holding a cigarette in Kismet became a trademark. He left Bombay Talkies to set up a rival studio, Filmistan, with S. Mukherjee, but later returned as production chief and even directed some of their films, though he never took official credit. Kumar acted with his younger brothers Kishore and Anoop, in some classic comedies of the 1950s like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.
From the 1960s, Kumar started acting in character roles, frequently playing the sympathetic parent or avuncular neighbor. He anchored the television serial, Hum Log (We the People) and appeared in many others. Acting in hundreds of films in a career that spanned over six decades, Ashok Kumar was the first to bring a more natural and less theatrical style of acting to the screen, one incorporating an everyday manner of speaking and behaving. In 1988, he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to Indian cinema, and in 1999, he received the Padma Bhushan – the country’s third highest civilian honor – Tejaswini Ganti