He is known for acting in and directing films with patriotic themes, and has been given the nickname Bharat Kumar.
It was Manoj Kumar who stirred this nationalism in public consciousness. He sold patriotism at the box office in a poetic fashion.
Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri after the 1965 war advised Manoj Kumar to make a film highlighting the ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ slogan. The idea of making Upkar initiated in that meeting with Shastri Ji. He produced and directed the film.
In it, he played both a soldier and a farmer. The film was also noted for the famous song "Mere Desh Ki Dharti", written by Gulshan Bawra, composed by Kalyanji-Anandji and sung by Mahendra Kapoor. Upkaar was a hit and won Kumar his first Filmfare Best Director Award.
The success of the film encouraged him to make more films on this subject.
Manoj returned to patriotic themes in Purab Aur Paschim (1970), in which life in the East and West are juxtaposed.
He made Roti Kapda Aur Makan (1974) which was a social commentary, featuring an all-star cast including Zeenat Aman, Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan. He won his second Filmfare Award for Best Director for the film Roti Kapda Makan.
In 1981, Kumar reached the peak of his career when he got the opportunity to direct his idol, Dilip Kumar, as well as to star in Kranti, a story about the struggle for Indian independence in the 19th century. Kranti was the last notable successful Hindi film in his career. He also starred in the hit.
After Kranti in 1981, Kumar's career began to decline, when the films he did with him in lead role like Kalyug Aur Ramayan in 1987 and later Clerk in 1989 failed at the box office. In 1989, he cast Pakistani actors Mohammad Aliand Zeba in his film Clerk.
For him songs were always integral to the story and conveyed what dialogues could not. “Songs like ‘Kasme Vaade Pyaar Wafa’, ‘Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai’ or ‘Jab Koi Tumhara Hriday Tod De’ add depth to the narrative and this was possible because he himself was involved in the process. Kalyanji-Anandji always acknowledged his contribution.
He was born on 24 July 1937 in Abbottabad, a town in the North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan.His family had to migrate from Jandiala Sher Khan to Delhi due to the Partition.After graduating from Hindu College, University of Delhi, he decided to enter the film industry.He made his début in Fashion in 1957.
He is remembered for his versatile performances in films like Hariyali Aur Raasta, Woh Kaun Thi?, Himalaya Ki God Mein, Do Badan, Upkar, Patthar Ke Sanam, Neel Kamal, Purab Aur Paschim, Beimaan, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Dus Numbri, Sanyasi and Kranti.