Art's loss, cinema's gain
The current generation of filmgoers know Ashok Kumar as the legend who dominated the silver screen in the 1940s and 50s.
But what they might not know about him was that he was a painter as well, earning praise from even late MF Hussain for some of his creations. His daughter, Bharti Jaffrey set up a foundation in his memory to promote the arts in 2003. Ten years later, Bharti’s paying a tribute to her father with an art exhibition by artist Jagganath Paul. Bharti spoke to CS about Dadamoni’s many passions, including art and poetry:
Cinema: The complete art form
My father was a lawyer by profession, but he wanted to go to Italy to study art. Then he happened to watch a Bengali film with his mother. When he saw cinema he felt that it was a complete art form, encompassing literature, communication, music, art, cinematography, mythology, make-up, costume among others. He decided to become a director, so he came to Mumbai and started assisting Himanshu Roy. One day, the lead hero went missing and he was dragged into acting. I call him ‘the reluctant debutante’! (laughs). Slowly, he started taking an interest in acting. At that time, because he didn’t have anything to go by, he would watch world cinema, and learn about other cultures. Gaining knowledge was very important for him.
He only used watercolour to paint. He had read in an art book that there is a painter near a village in Madras called Paul Raj who knows some interesting painting technique. He had gone for shooting to Madras when he managed to get two days off. He went to that village, found the artist and learnt the technique from him. That’s called passion! When MF Hussain saw a painting of horses that papa had made, he said these are not the strokes of an amateur.
Through this foundation, I think we have to share whatever he’s taught us with people who have got talent. I remember, when a middle-aged postman, who came to deliver a letter, recognised a Paul Raj painting in my house. I was amazed. He told me that he was a student of the JJ School of Arts but could not afford the fee. I realised then how privileged we are and I felt that we have to nurture talent. The foundation puts up plays, raises funds for the girl child’s education, film screenings, dance programmes among other things. I would like to do as much as I can in papa’s memory. He had these qualities in him, so why not carry on his legacy?