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Kishore Kumar


Dinesh Raheja

Blessed are those who have one exceptional talent. The eccentric Kishore Kumar had several.

Kishore's antics were the raison d'etre behind some huge hits (New Delhi, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi). He also lent his voice to innumerable hit songs for superstars like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan.

To label this maverick as an actor-singer would only tell part of the story. Kishore was also a composer who created some gracious notes in Koi humdum na raha and Thandi hawa yeh chaandni suhani. He was also a director with an eye for the unusual, the absurd and the sensitive.

There's more. Kishore was a delightful stage performer who often made other celebrities sharing space with him seem like part of the stage furniture.

Kishore Kumar sings for Kishore Kumar
Song Film
 Nakhrewaali  New Delhi
 Eena meena deeka  Asha
 C-A-T cat, cat maane bili  Delhi Ka Thug
 Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si  Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi
 Mere mehboob qayamat hogi  Mr X In Bombay

The most easily-recalled image of Kishore Kumar is of him smiling with his eyes. But to assume that he sailed through life with a song on his lips and that grin on his face would be erroneous. There was a mysterious stillness beneath the madcap facade.

He did become popular for his comedies. But when he made his own films he repeatedly (especially in his first three films), spun such sedately insightful songs as Aa chal ke tujhe main le ke chalu, Panthi hoon main us path ka and Koi lauta de mere beete huey din --- a paradox worth examining.

At 18, Abhas Kumar Ganguly set off for Mumbai from his native Khandwa with a bag of clothes, an untrained voice and a passion for singing. His brother Ashok Kumar --- older by 18 years --- was the reigning star and a bigshot at Bombay Talkies. Ashok Kumar launched Abhas Kumar with a Khemchand Prakash-composed song for Ziddi.

Those who have heard Marne ki duaayen claim you don't have to be a connoisseur of music to realise that Kishore Kumar idolised K L Saigal. Dev Anand's career got a much-needed lift with Ziddi. But neither the song nor changing his screen name to Kishore Kumar could really establish Kishore.

An unwilling Kishore was pushed into acting. He paid his apprenticeship dues in a string of small roles, even played the lead in the near-anonymous Andolan. Relying on music directors like S D Burman to give him a mike, he finally got a hit number in Qusoor aapka (Bahaar,1951). Not content with being a playback singer in this Vyjayanthimala starrer, Kishore catapulted to being her hero in the hit AVM production, Ladki (1953).

Kishore Kumar's popular films
Year Film Heroine
 1956  New Delhi  Vyjayanthimala Bali
 1956  Bhai Bhai  Nimmi
 1957  Asha  Vyjayanthimala Bali
 1958  Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi  Madhubala
 1958  Delhi Ka Thug  Nutan

Kishore Kumar, who disliked crowds, soon became a crowd-puller. He was now doing films with Meena Kumari (Ilzaam). He did six films with the actress. By the time the big hits like New Delhi (1956) and Asha (1957) were released, people had come to expect hilarity from Kishore. He didn't disappoint, delivering the punches with panache and yodelling numbers like Eena meena deeka.

In an era when genuine wit was rare and comedy the domain of the hero's sidekick, Kishore was the only comic hero.

Acting assignments piled up. Kishore won success as a playback singer with hits like Hum hai rahi pyar ke and Chhod do aanchal for Dev Anand. But his increasing workload demanded that he concentrate on his acting. So much so that Kishore had to let Mohammed Rafi playback for him for the song Ajab hai dastaan teri in Shararat.

In 1958, Ashok, Kishore and Anup Kumar teamed up to do a zany comedy. The story, like the 1928 Chevrolet in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, ran amok, accommodating songs and Chaplinesque chortle-raisers at will. The lead duo, Kishore and Madhubala, were a treat on screen. And soon, a married couple off-screen, too.

With Jhumroo (1961), Kishore added director and music composer to his resume. He then switched gears to make Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein (1964). A meditative look at the bonding between a father and his dumb son, the film had Kishore lending his pathos-laden voice to poetic songs like Aa chal ke tujhe.

Famous songs sung for Dev Anand*
Song Film
 Jeevan ke safar mein rahi  Munimji
 Chhod do anchal  Paying Guest
 Hum hain rahi pyaar ke  Nau Do Gyarah
 Gaata rahe mera dil  Guide
 Pal bhar ke liye koi  Johny Mera Naam

The Sixties were, on the whole, tough on Kishore. His draw as an actor diminished sharply with a spate of flops like Girl Friend, Mehlon Ke Khwab, Manmauji and Rangoli. Saddled with tax problems, Kishore picked up all the offers that came his way and soon had a bounty of B-grade films like Baagi Shazada and Shriman Funtoosh. In a bigger film like Padosan (1968), he played a supporting role.

He struggled to re-establish his neglected playback singing career. It wasn't easy, with Rafi reigning supreme. Kishore's odd singing assignment in Dev Anand's Guide or Jewel Thief (Dev used Rafi too in both) got him more appreciation than his shoe-string budgeted films with starlet Kum Kum.

Finally, guardian angel S D Burman offered him the Rajesh Khanna starrer, Aradhana. Rafi sang two exhilarating duets and Burmanda, a soulful solo in this hit. But Kishore's 24-carat vocals struck gold in the breezy Mere sapnon ki rani and the passionate, Roop tera mastaana. Rajesh became a superstar and he ensured that Kishore became his vocal alter ego.

And Kishore went ahead full throttle. His songs ranged from the flippantly romantic Achha toh hum chalte hai in Aan Milo Sajna to the profound Mera jeevan kora kagaz, kora hi reh gaya in Kora Kagaz. From Vijay Anand to Vijay Arora, everyone wanted to work with Kishore. Even Dilip Kumar, a staunch Rafi loyalist, now lip-synced to Kishore numbers like Tumhare sang toh raein beetayee in Sagina.

Famous songs sung for Rajesh Khanna*
Song Film
 Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu  Aradhana
 Zindagi ka safar  Safar
 Yeh shaam mastani  Kati Patang
 Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hai jo makaam  Aap Ki Kasam
 Shaayad meri shaadi ka khayal  Souten

Kishore Kumar's eccentricities increased, too. He was said address the trees in his backyard with names he had coined for them. Another story has him coming on the sets with only half a moustache. A flummoxed producer asked why, and he said, "I have been paid only half the installment." An interior designer took to his heels after Kishore suggested a swimming pool in the midst of the living room.

He then made a songless film, Door Wadiyon Mein Kahin. A short-lived marriage with Yogeeta Bali didn't deter him from tying the knot for the fourth time with Leena Chandavarkar. Barely a couple of years older to his son, Amit, she joined his team of bandariyas [monkeys] --- he called his wives so, since they all happened to be living in Bandra when they married him.

He yearned to return to his hometown Khandwa. But it wasn't to be. In 1987, Kishore succumbed to a heart attack. His favourite refrain in his last days was, "Long live Khandwa, long live Kishore Kumar!"

Famous songs sung for Amitabh Bachchan*
Song Film
Tere mere milan ke yeh raina Abhimaan
My name is Anthony Gonsalves Amar Akbar Anthony
Khaike paan Banaraswala Don
Salaam-e-ishq meri jaan Muqaddar Ka Sikandar
Pag ghungroo bandh Meera naachi thi Namak Halal

(*These lists are indicative; Kishore Kumar has sung innumerable hit songs for these artistes)

You might also want to read:
Sadhana's Song



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