Her father’s daughter!

What was it like being Ashok Kumar’s daughter? PREETI GANGOLY tells VICKEY LALWANI all about it.

YOU will scarcely believe this, but on Monday, December 10, I had obtained permission from this newspaper to try and do an interview with Ashok Kumar... whom I have greatly admired for his performances in Hindi films down the years. My reason for wanting to do this is that Ashok Kumar had been ailing for some time. But my joy at the assignment was shortlived. For when I reached home, I learnt that the living legend of Hindi cinema had just passed away. I resolved to meet his daughter, Preeti Gangoly then. Anything to try and keep my date with destiny and the great man. Preeti is understanding. She greets me warmly in the midst of conducting her acting classes. And 20 minutes later, we are sitting before a huge garlanded photograph of her father talking.

She has taken his passing away calmly. “Actually, Dad practised a lot of detachment. He was always preparing us for this. He kept telling us that he isn’t here forever. Importantly, he always propagated that life must go on, and hence I resumed my work of teaching in our acting academy from the fourth day. He used to teach these students towards the end of their course,” she says. She cannot recall her earliest memories of her father. “Difficult to go back, but I think a scene he was shooting for Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi below his building at Kala Ghoda. I asked my mother what he was doing. And she said that my father is an actor. I was too young to know what she meant. We (Bharti, Rupa, Arup and I) were brought up in a very simple environment, never treated as a celebrity’s children. Slowly I began to hear a lot in school about him, and only then I understood what he did for profession,” she mentions.

Seeing as how the strongest criticism for a man’s work comes from home, did Preeti ever criticise Ashok Kumar’s work? She laughs. “Several times. If he was melodramatic, I told him straight. If he was brilliant, I was the first one to praise him. Remember Victoria No. 203,” she asks. “I had just come out of my training from the film institute and saw a few rushes of the film. I told Dad that it would be a big hit at the box office. He personally thought it was a C-grade film. But I was convinced people would love him as a alcoholic and womaniser, no lakdi and shawl,” she continues.

What kind of relationship existed between the father and daughter? “A beautiful relationship which had its fair share of differences and fights. You know I used to move out for months with bag and baggage vowing to never return, but every time I realised my mistake, he welcomed me with open arms,” she replies. “He was a very traditional man, but at the same time, he was very unconventional and he never believed in rituals. He believed that girls need not pursue higher studies but rather settle down in marriage quickly. Bharti and Rupa did their graduation after marriage,” she reveals.

She herself, the youngest darling of the family, was a very unconventional girl and was dead certain that she did not ever want to get married. “I did my graduation without telling him! Mummy kept it as a secret. And then, I fell in love when I was nearing 40!” And then? “Nothing. I was back to where I belonged in six months flat. Dad had warned me that I was making a wrong choice, but you know how love is...” she trails off. Trying to cheer her up, I ask her whether Daddy had seen Adnan Sami’s Lift Kara De wherein Johnny Lever does a wonderful take-off on him. “Sure. He used to see a lot of television. He used to be aware of all the songs much before us. You know when Aati Kya Khandala? was aired, he shut off the TV, called me and asked “Aati Kya Khandala?”. I could not make head or tail of what he meant!”

Who was his closest friend in the film industry? “Iftikhar”. Her favourite films of her dad? Kanoon, Aashirwad and Meri Surat Teri Aankhen. And the most recent memory of her dad which will keep dancing before her eyes? “The standing ovation he got when he walked up to receive the Screen Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.” She describes his end: “He had an asthma problem for the last four years but he wasn’t critical on that day as such. It was a normal morning for all of us. In the afternoon, he was sitting up and watching TV. Suddenly he shut off the TV, picked up a torch to focus it at a clock and said ‘Oh, it’s 2.30’ and sank into the chair.”

I ask: “Did Daddy put off the torch?” “Yes he did,” says Preeti. And I realise that the lights in the Indian film industry have become dim.