My Baba, Kishore Kumar
Amit Kumar Ganguly on his best friend, his father
Dr Rajiv Vijayakar
Fifteen years ago, Kishore Kumar bid adieu to a chequered life. A shattered wife and sons, devastated composers, benumbed friends and fans, immortal songs, unforgettable performances and a phantasmagoria of memories were the legacy he left behind.
Says Amit Kumar Ganguly, his son and no mean talent himself, "At one time, a serial had been planned on the anecdotes, stories and memories that abounded about my father. Theoretically, it could have run for hundreds of hours, and yet it would have been inadequate to narrate all the tales that together give some glimpse of my father. Put simply, he was a complete artiste, and the greatest all-rounder Indian cinema has ever seen.
"Who else wrote, produced, directed and edited films, wrote lyrics, composed and sang songs, and acted in every role from the most serious to the completely comic?"
Amit Kumar goes down memory lane in an attempt to spotlight a man who was a great father as well. "My father was not a mere Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. He exhibited a natural and complete mastery over everything he chose to do."
Amit recalls that there was a small story about the trilogy that Kishore made --- Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, Door Ka Rahi and Door Wadiyon Mein Kahin. "The first was made when Baba was going through a financial crisis. So he switched on the headlights of his car for the mahurat shot.
"At the first show at the Metro [a theatre in Mumbai], only 50-60 people were in the hall, 12 of which were our staffers and Baba. But the film ran for 24 weeks. Not 25, because Baba refused to spend on the publicity for the Silver Jubilee!"
"Door Ka Rahi," says Amit, "ran for 15 weeks. Baba went around telling the distributors this time not to buy it. 'Boring film hain!' he would tell them. It ran for 15 weeks. Door Wadiyon Mein Kahin was a washout, with Baba refusing to have both songs and background music in it as it was his film. But before that, he approached Laxmikant-Pyarelal to only do the background music!'
An interesting tale about Kishore pertains to the cameo he was to do in his brother Ashok Kumar's production Ziddi (1948), which marked Kishore's debut as playback singer under Khemchand Prakash. 'Dada Moni [Ashok Kumar] wanted Baba to do the cameo of a gardener who just abused the hero Dev [Anand] in a scene. Baba reluctantly agreed and when the camera rolled, used unprintable words instead of the abuses in the script!
"Dada Moni frantically yelled 'Cut!', but I believe that this incident had a big role to play in the bond that Baba shared with Dev Anand. For Dev Anand was the only star for whom he would sing playback when Baba himself was a big star."
Kishore Kumar's debut as an actor was in Dada Moni's Shikari in 1946, also S D Burman's first film as composer. His first lead role was in Vijaya (1948) opposite Ratnamala. Only a few weeks ago, Amit Kumar came to know that his Baba had actually recorded two ghazals for an EP even before Ziddi. "They were Baba's first recorded songs and someone has promised to give me the recordings,' he says, thrilled at the prospect.
After Chham Chamma Chham (1952), Kishore became a huge star. He saw ups and downs as an actor and finally crested as a playback voice to stay on for two decades at the top with Aradhana (1969). Says Amit, "Baba would say, 'I am the same man. Then why do the same people change towards me according to my fortunes? That is why I say that Destiny is all-powerful.' "
Kishore would often tell his (fourth) wife Leena Chandavarkar, 'God has given you a free ticket as a tourist in the world. Why blame him for all the inconveniences in this journey? Be strong and remain detached. Happiness and sorrow are part of life.'
As well known to those close to him as his eccentricities was the fact that all these seeming kinks and quirks were clever veneers, facades that were meant to keep a certain aloofness. "He would do such mad things at others' costs that even the targets did not mind," says Amit.
"Baba loved his family, his cars and travel. We would often have to go to Khandala or Mahabaleshwar [in Maharashtra] in the middle of the night, at an hour's notice," says Amit.
The Sixth Sense
He seemed to have a sixth sense even of his death," Amit remembers. "On that day, he refused to allow [Amit's stepbrother] Sumeet to go swimming and was very anxious that my flight from Canada would land on time. He was suffering from symptoms of a heart attack but joked that if we called a doctor, he would have a heart attack. In fact he was laughing and talking with Leena when he keeled over. Leena at first thought that he was playing a prank."
A strict teetotaller and non-smoker --- he believed that for a singer alcohol and tobacco were sheer poison --- Kishore hated parties. Amit recalls Dada Moni telling him that Kishore would slip out and sleep on the pavement opposite when Ashok Kumar had late night parties.
But he loved movies and had a fantastic video collection of James Bond, Westerns, Hitchcock, Indian and Hollywood classics and his special favourites --- horror films. He was planning a remake of The Coffin Of Dr Brown when he passed away. He also loved to sketch and was inspired by Dada Moni and character artiste Iftekhar in this hobby.
Kishore Kumar, in his own words, wanted to become a 'chhota mota school master in Khandwa,' (the Gangulys' hometown in Madhya Pradesh) when music beckoned and Dada Moni forced him to come to Mumbai.
"Towards the end, he was very unhappy with the songs he was getting. He wanted to return to Khandwa, which he loved. Even in his shows, he always called himself Kishore Kumar Khandwawala."
Kishore Kumar's only musical grounding was listening to and singing K L Saigal's songs. "For Baba," recollects his son. "Saigal was up there on a pedestal. Once he even met him. Saigal praised his singing but told Dada that Kishore moved his body too much. Baba never moved a muscle when singing a Saigal song from that day! Many years ago, my father refused to sing a five-volume Saigal tribute for [music company] HMV, stating that he would hate being compared to his guru."
"Baba," says Amit, "was a great father, sentimental, full of life and more of a friend. He once came all the way to meet me on my birthday to London when I was on a concert tour with [composers] Kalyanji Anandji. After my mother Ruma and he divorced, he and I would meet during holidays when I would come down from Kolkata. I would sing his songs in college and he would take me along to his shoots.
"When I was born, he told someone, 'Yeh to ro bhi sur mein raha hain, yeh singer banega [he cries are in tune, he will become a singer]!' "
Kishore wanted Amit to be a singer, which is why Amit came to Mumbai at 18, and his father introduced him at a special show called Daddy Kishore Son Amit as, 'My son Amit, a chip off the old block. My son also sings!'
"But Baba never recommended me and was happy that I made it on own. He would relentlessly criticise my singing," says Amit. "Then one day, Dada Moni told me it was because he knew my potential and wanted me to
improve. Dada Moni added, 'I would do the same thing to Kishore, and for the same reason!' "
Amit narrates one of the craziest anecdotes about his father: An interior designer once pestered Kishore for work. Kishore began asking him to do absurd things; the man kept agreeing. Finally, Kishore told him that he wanted a 'floating sofa in a round pool of water in the drawing room and that heads of actual eagles should be
arranged around it!' The guy fled!
The Wedding Singer
Kishore Kumar married six times. Thanks to family pressures, he married Yogeeta Bali and Leena Chandavarkar twice each with proper rituals after his hush-hush rush marriages to them. Since all four of his wives stayed prior to marriage in Bandra in Mumbai, he would collectively call them bandariyas (monkeys).
Kishore Kumar met Ruma in 1950, but their marriage did not last. He wanted Ruma to be a hausfrau; she wanted to be a careerwoman. Madhubala proposed to him on the rebound after her split with Dilip Kumar on the sets of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi during the picturisation of Haal kaisa hai janaab ka.
After Madhubala's death, Kishore was so depressed that he wanted to take sanyas.
Yogeeta Bali --- who carried the medicines sent by a friend to him --- nursed him back to health after an illness. He married her in 1972, but announced it in 1975. They soon separated as Yogeeta's mother was afraid that she would become pregnant and ruin her career.
'With Leena Chandavarkar, Baba finally found happiness," says Amit. "Baba offered her a role in his film Mamta Ki Chhaon Mein, when she had lost her husband and had come down to Mumbai to complete two pending films. She accepted the film and got out of her depression. She declined his proposal , but later impulsively accepted Baba's standing offer."
Sumeet, Kishore's second son, is now pursuing a professional course at a Mumbai college. "He sings, has learnt the piano, but is not too enamoured of this line," says Amit. "He is well aware of Baba's stature and work, though."
Says Amit, "My father acted in some 98 films and sang over 3,000 songs, and choosing the best is always diificult from this wide choice, given Baba's level of excellence and versatility as an actor. The best are so
many. Though I cannot pinpoint his worst songs, every singer and artiste always has his share of bad songs, role and films. I have attempted to choose 12 songs which are special to me:
Aa chalke tujhe (Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein)
Ae Haseeno (Chacha Zindabad)
Chhota sa ghar hoga (Naukri)
Hum matwale naujawan (Shararat)
Husn bhi hai udaas (Fareb)
Jaaneman Jaaneman (Jaaneman)
Jeevan se bhari (Safar)
Khilte hain gul yahan (Sharmilee)
Koi humdum na rahaa (Jhumroo)
Kuch to log kahenge (Amar Prem)
Mere mehboob qayamat hogi (Mr X In Bombay)
Panch rupaiyya barah anna (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi)
You Might Also Want To Read:
The human puzzle Kishore Kumar