The Kumar Brothers: The Actors that Changed Indian Cinemas in 50’s

The fact is that, my father shared some resemblance with Ashok Kumar, at least, in my opinion. So, as like every father’s daughter, I gravitated towards watching Ashok Kumar’s movies. I still remember the first time I saw him in the movie Ek Choti si Baat where he acted as a love guru, something like Matthew Hussey. In that movie, he was teaching the immature protagonist (Amol Palekar) various ways to impress a girl. The first thought that came to my mind was ‘That guy looks exactly like my father’, and the second thought was ‘I love the love guru character’. Back then, my concept of an actor and his character was not that clear, but now when I look back, I can clearly see that I was impressed with the way he acted and portrayed the character. On the other hand, the first time I got to know about Kishore Kumar was in the movie Padosan where he was acting as a music teacher and helping the protagonist (Sunil Dutt) to impress a girl who lived next to his house. Yes, both the roles that I saw them perform, were in a supporting one, but then I thought if they were so good at being supporting actors what would they be like in a lead role? How were the Kumar brothers when they were in their prime?

The Indian cinema that we all so love and cherish would not have been the same without the Kumar brothers: Ashok Kumar, Kishor Kumar and Anoop Kumar. They have shaped and changed the Indian audience’s taste for music and film. The best part is that all of the Kumar brothers contributed to the same industry but in such a distinct and varied way from one another that it brought variety and diversity into the Indian cinema.

I believe that the Kumar brothers are like an artist meter: normal to crazy. What I mean is that when one looks at Ashok Kumar, they would see how he has picked up roles that are ideal and deemed highly in the eyes of the audience. Whereas Kishor Kumar played roles that were quirky, goofy, eccentric and crazy, and if you look at Anoop Kumar’s roles, one will see how he played characters that balanced and supported the roles that his two extremist brothers played. The best example of their acting style and relationship towards the industry is seen in the movie Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

To say the truth, I being a member of Millennials don’t only connect to the art that they presented, but also relate to the generation that they belonged to which is the same as my father’s. The point is that the political, social, economic, and technological environment that these people survived through was quite tougher than ours. So, they technically built everything from the ground. They taught themselves how to survive, and the most commendable thing of all is that they created an environment for themselves where they can survive. Like my father created a sturdy environment for me today; the Kumar brothers created it for today’s artists and the upcoming artists.

Ashok Kumar was born on 13th October 1911, when India still had not seen the independent sky, and the concept of films was nothing more than just mere silent pictures in motion. It is in that era where a brave boy stood up and claimed the artist and the actor within him. Listen to his story from his own mouth in the following documentary:

Documentary Part-1
Documentary Part-2

As I am writing about Ashok Kumar, it seems I am also making a tribute to my father who too had made a difference in his field, in his time, which was engineering, not quite a profession that attracts fame. However, if I do have an eye to appreciate the bravery in Ashok Kumar, I cannot close them when it comes to appreciating the bravery in another man who happened to be my father. I am also sure that many of you too have such a figure in your life whose life story inspires you, and has acted as a base story to yours. I am also sure that you must have such a brave figure in your life who contributed to building India post independence.

On the point of a base story, Ashok Kumar not only paves the way for the actors today; he had taken up that responsibility after he started to become successful in his career. He started right at his house. Seeing the notoriousness and the interest of this youngest brother in music, Kishore Kumar, Ashok Kumar practically dragged him to the set and made him an actor. In his book Kishore Kumar– Method in Madness, Derek Bose points out how Ashok Kumar thought that he could have his way with the impressionable teenager, Kishore who was barely 19 then, and ironically, for that film named Ziddi (produced by Bombay Talkies): “One day, the actor who was to play the role of gardener did not turn up. I asked Kishore to do that role. He panicked at the thought of facing the camera. But later on, he came around. In utter trepidation, he gave the first shot. But due to some mistake, the director (Shaheed Latif) decided to take the shot all over again. On hearing this, Kishore just ran away from the sets at jet speed and was nowhere to be found. Finally, after two hours, he was tracked down and the shooting was completed.”

Kishore Kumar’s first appearance on screen in the movie Ziddi

However, once he got comfortable in front of the camera, there was no way for anyone to stop him. In fact, he was quite famous for his pranking and eccentric nature off-screen as much as on screen. He was criticized by some critiques for his close relationship between his off-screen character and on-screen character. But I agree with Ashok Kumar when he said, “He is so natural.” I think Kishore Kumar was like Johnny Depp of that era: versatile, quirky and unconventional. Derek Bose quotes Hrishikesh Mukherji, director of Kishore Kumar’s debut film Musafir, in his book Kishore Kumar– Method in Madness, “You cannot compel Kishore to act if he does not want to. That would have an adverse effect on his performance. He does not even stick to the script. You would either force him to do what you want, in which case you simply got a bad performance, or else, you should interact with his abilities, even to the extent of improvising.”

Kishore Kumar’s acting skills got more highlighted when he acted with Madhubala. Her skills added extra oomph to Kishore Kumar’s crazy roles and slapstick comedy. Her on-screen chemistry with Kishore Kumar could be seen in its brightest in the movies like Half Ticket and Jhumroo.

The problem was that Kishor Kumar’s heart was not always completely into acting. He considered acting to be fake and once said, ‘Acting is fake. Music is real as it comes from the heart. Only that which emanates from the heart can reach the hearts of others.’ He says the same on his last interview with Lata, click here to see the interview.

Kishore Kumar had been a true entertainer who enjoyed entertaining people with his singing. Here is a live show where he performed some of his most loved songs.

Kishor Kumar’s live performance at Doordarshan

Even though Anoop Kumar too was a great actor and have performed in more than seventy-five films, his works didn’t achieve as much fame and success as his brothers. However, few movies that he acted in wouldn’t have remained the same without his acting like Chelti Ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabhi Roya and Kashmir Ki Kali.

The fact is if I truly get down to capture all the great works that these brothers did, I have to end up writing a book. This platform is way too small to grasp their achievements. However, all I attempted to do is to give you an essence of who these great actors, singers and artists were.

Hope you enjoyed, and to know such genius artists, keep following Movie Anatomie.

Writer: Deepika Bhaduri
About: Movie Anatomie

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