Kumar – Interview
A VETERAN film critic once dubbed film-actor Kumar as “the Gary Cooper of the Indian screen.” However, Kumar himself likes to be identified with the great lover of the screen, Rudolph Valentino, from whom, he says, he learned how to be a “dashing” hero and make effective screen entrances.
A veteran who has played romantic leading roles for nearly two decades, Kumar is, to this day, among the most good-looking of the old-timers. A fez cap conceals his balding pate, and he compels attention with his tall and strapping figure and his handsome, aristocratic features.
Kumar’s success story is a publicity agent’s dream come true. Brought up in luxury in his native Lucknow, Syed Hasan Ali (that’s his real name) began his film career as an “extra” in the Kohinoor United Artistes company on the munificent salary of Rs. 30 per month!
Although Kumar says that his love of acting brought him to Bombay to try his luck in films, his star wife Pramilla impishly insists that he became an actor solely because of the lovely actress Sulochana (Ruby Myers) whom he adored.
With New Theatres’ Pooran Bhagat” came the break that every screen aspirant fervently prays for. Kumar’s magnificent performance in this picture catapulted him to stardom. Subsequent films established him as the most successful leading-man of his day and his roles in those hits of yesteryear—”Watan,” “Yahudi-ki-Ladki,” “Judgment of Allah,” “Nadi Kinare,” “Thokar” and “Najma”—made him the idol of millions all over the country.
Yet, even as he rose to fame, Kumar had some hard knocks in his screen life which left him bitter against certain-elements in the film industry. These later were mainly responsible for his decision to start producing his own pictures.
Surprising as it may sound, Kumar was often served with a 24-hour notice to quit, almost in the wake of the release of some of his most successful pictures! Or else, immediately after winning laurels as a young hero in one film, he would be required to play the role of an old man in the next. This sort of thing began to occur early in his career.
After “Pooran Bhagat,” in which he scored his greatest triumph, the handsome Kumar played a wizened old character in “Yahudi-ki-Ladki”. Yet, nothing daunted, Kumar went ahead to prove his versatility and emerged as a character-actor who could always be depended upon to give a sterling portrayal.
On the last day of this year (195$), Kumar will celebrate his twenty- fifth year in films. During this long and fruitful span of time, he has made fifty films, of which forty- one have been successful at the box-office.
One of the finest gentlemen in the industry today, the epitome of courtesy and gentility, Kumar’s fiftieth picture will be—of all titles!— “Shri 420”, in which he plays an important role.
Kumar is never so happy as when he is acting, but finding a strange lack of appreciation early in his screen career, on the part of the very persons for whom he made successful, films, he decided a few years ago to start his own production concern, Silver Films.
With his clever and go-getting star wife Pramilla to help and inspire him, Kumar has produced such well-liked and popular films as “Bare Nawab Saheb,” “Bhalai”, “Devar” and “Jhankar”, which with an all-star cast was the forerunner of the “star system” in our films.
Greatly preferring to remain the actor that he always has been, Producer Kumar encouraged fresh talent in his unit, giving the young men working under him an opportunity to wield the megaphone from time to time.
It was only in 1951, when “Dhoon” went on the sets, that Kumar himself began to direct. In his own films, Kumar plays small roles, wryly explaining, “I have to conserve my energy for the usual quota of producer’s worries.”
He continues to act under other directors and will soon be seen in important roles in Daryani’s “Doosri Shadi” and “Chandni Chowk”, directed by B. R. Chopra.
In spite of his immense knowledge of matters filmic, gleaned from years of experience, Kumar still remains an avid student of the motion picture, ever receptive to advice and suggestions. Kumar feels that, considering the various limitations—occasioned by lack of finance and good cinematic equipment and the non-uniformity in language—which restrict motion picture making here, Indian films can at any time, be favorably compared with Hollywood’s products.
However, he does see and admire American films and among his favorite screen personalities are Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Akim Tamiroff and the late Wallace Beery—a distinct pointer to Kumar’s good taste and his preference for things of lasting value, rather than for transitory glamour.
Kumar and Pramilla, who were married in 1942, first met on the sets of “Maha Maya”, made by the Imperial Film Company, the cradle of most of our old-timers. “We fell in love right away,” they both concur happily. They are a Well-matched couple, Pramilla’s breezy enthusiasm complementing Kumar’s sober and dignified outlook on life.
Among Kumar’s dearest friends in the film industry was the late Chandramohan, another good actor who felt the same lack of appreciation in his associates that Kumar did.
Oddly enough, it was only financial stress that brought these two together. As long as they were “in the money”, each, went his own way. But, like the unforgettable characters in “City Lights”, empty pockets made them seek each other’s company—so much so, that whenever the two screen stalwarts were seen together, those in the know would whisper: “They must be broke!”
Kumar’s hobbies are restricted to billiards and swimming. Always impeccably dressed, he bears out what his wife proudly says: “He was known as the best-dressed film star of his day.”
Tall and athletic, Kumar is fond of dancing and photography, but, since becoming a producer, he says he has new one: “Worrying”! (This interview was conducted in 1954).