Et tu, Dadamoni? How Ashok Kumar fell from grace in Suraiya’s eyes

Ashok Kumar with Suraiya

There are a lot of distractions while reading eBooks on the phone and Twitter is one. As I was swiping through the pages of Raju Bharatan’s A Journey Down Melody Lane: The Making of a Hindi Film Song on my phone, I occasionally switched to the Twitter app to follow what’s tweeting. In a strange coincidence, as the first tweet about the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case appeared on my stream, I was simultaneously reading the singer-actress Suraiya’s account of Ashok Kumar’s un-Dadamoni-like behaviour with her.

Here’s what Suraiya is quoted as saying in Raju Bharatan’s fascinating book about Hindi film music (and much more):

I found Dev to be the perfect gentleman compared to Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Why, once, even the highly respected Ashok Kumar shocked me out of my wits by studiedly letting his evidently adroit hand, ever so lightly, graze… I just can’t bring myself to utter the word! It was some time in 1950, I think, while we were shooting for Khiladi. Some Khiladi I discovered Ashok Kumar to be at his age! Instinctively I said: “et tu, Dadamoni?” Whereupon Ashok Kumar just smiled knowingly, almost suggesting that, in films, I should be taking such things in my stride. Well, I was one heroine who would take it only in my decent stride. How Ashok Kumar fell from grace in my eyes that day!

I was taken a little aback by this account (no too much though). The legendary short story writer Saadat Hassan Manto was a good friend of Ashok Kumar and in his unabashed style described Ashok Kumar as someone certainly lacking in courage when it came to women but noted that that didn’t stop the revered actor from staring.

An excerpt from the Ashok Kumar chapter in Saadat Hasan Manto’s Stars from Another Sky:

Ashok was not a professional lover but he liked to watch women, as most men do. He was not even averse to staring at them, especially at those areas of their anatomy that men find attractive. Off and on, he would even discuss these things with friends. Sometimes he would experience a strong urge to make love to a woman but he would never step forward. Instead he would say something like, ‘Yaar Manto… I just do not have the courage.’ Courage he certainly lacked, which was a good thing for his marriage. I am sure his wife, Shobha, was happy about her husband’s timidity, praying that he would never lose it. I always found it odd that Ashok should be scared of women when hundreds of them were willing to jump if he told them to jump.