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October 10, 1997


My father Kishore Kumar

Singer, legend: Kishore Kumar. Click for bigger pic!
For years, his voice wrapped its magic around India, kept Indians in foot-tapping humour, empathised with their sorrow.

On Monday, it will be ten years since Kishore Kumar passed into the ages. Amit Kumar, his eldest son, remembers Kishore Kumar, the man, the father, the legend.

What can I say except that he was a wonderful guy -- a great father?

I think it's the fortunate who get these kind of fathers. He was known to play practical jokes on people very often. He used to love telling jokes too. But with the family he used to be serious. He loved us and the rest of the family. Most of the times, he was like a child.

He never planned things. He was impulsive. He would just get up and say, 'let's go out' and we would pile up in the car and go without thinking twice. He loved the mountains, nature. People think that Kishore Kumar only means jokes, comedy. But he had a very serious side to him too.

Click for bigger pic!
The eccentricity, which people say was part of him, was apparent only when somebody irritated him. Like once, he had asked an interior decorator to come and see this house because he wanted some changes in it. This decorator came and started spouting his skills without letting my father get in a word.

This irritated Baba and he told the decorator that he wanted a swimming pool right in the middle of the living room along with some monkeys and flowers. The decorator was stunned and ran out of the house without a second glance.

There are so many such instances that volumes can be written on them. But somehow this eccentricity suited him.

We are planning to make a documentary on him. It's called Zindagi ka Safar. We have already shot two or three episodes. It might be aired next month. It's like a travelogue -- The Life and Times of Kishore Kumar. You know, there was a time he was second only to Dilip Kumar in terms of ratings.

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I didn't live with him when I was a child. But I used to come to Bombay very often during my holidays. I loved spending my holidays with him. I started living with him only when I was 19. I used to stay in Calcutta and I used to miss him a lot then. I was generally here ( in Bombay) during my Diwali and summer vacations and I used to enjoy it here thoroughly. I bunked school to be here as soon as possible and would extend my vacations to well after the school started.

He used to feel that he wasn't giving me enough time. That's the reason he took me to the studios.

My choice of a career was definitely influenced by him. Every father thinks his son should become something. He was happy that I wanted to be a singer. I learnt by watching him on stage. It paved a way for me. I used to play a few instruments on the stage during a stage show. That's how I learnt singing.

He was an institution for me and so many others too. There are so many who imitate him, but nobody like him. His style is imitated, but never reproduced. His style was unique.

He told me I shouldn't copy him as it would stunt my growth as an singer and an individual. He wanted me to be on the top as he was.

It was an emotional moment for him when my Love Story songs were hits. He was very happy for me and used to cry when he watched me record a song.

Even after his heart attack, he came back and sang for eight more years, retaining that quality of voice. He never smoked, never drank, but loved eating, especially ice-creams and sweets.

He was not only a father, he was a friend. Often we used to sit and talk -- something like a father-son talk.

Baba respected his colleagues, but his confidence was natural. He was a natural all the way -- a natural actor, a natural singer, a natural comedian, a natural music director.

He had never learnt classical music. Singing came to him just like that. He had the knack to learn just about anything.

Kishore Kumar with his second wife, Madhubala in Chalti ka Naam Gaadi. Click for bigger pic!
Over the years, I have heard my uncles say that Baba used to adore K L Saigal and would want to sing like him. In fact, the year he died, he was supposed to sing Saigal's songs for HMV. But he realised he won't be able to do justice to the original singer and he refused at the last moment. Baba remembered each and every song of Saigal's by heart.

He worked with many music directors, but he was most at ease with S D Burman. Baba adored Burmanda. Their relationship was more than one between a singer and a music director though Khemchand Prakash gave Baba his first break.

He didn't have problems with the industry, he was such a beautiful person at heart. The atmosphere used to change when he walked into a recording studio. But yes, he would tell me about the songs he has recorded that day. He would sometimes imitate a singer and make all of us laugh though he never mocked anybody.

Where actors were concerned, he preferred his own brother, Ashok Kumar. Dada Moni was responsible for bringing Baba to Bombay, to this film industry. Another actor Baba liked was Dilip Kumar. Baba used to always say that Dilipsaab acted with his heart. He also liked to watch Motilal, Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan though Baba didn't watch too many films.

Kishore Kumar with Madhubala
Both of us liked Western films and watched them regularly. He loved John Wayne films and used to go to town and see John Wayne films. He regretted we couldn't make such films here though he tried his hand at film-making too.

There was this film called Shaneand was inspired to make Door ka Rahi. He didn't remake the film, just used the idea. I acted in a film with him called Door Gagan ke Chaon Mein which was again inspired by a Western film. His favourite Hollywood actor was Marlon Brando. In fact, the year Baba died, he had planned to go and meet him in Hollywood. He was a fanatic Brando fan and was disappointed if Brando's talent was wasted in any film. Baba saw Apocalypse Now at least three times and Godfather17 to 18 times. He used to bring out points about Brando's acting every time he saw the film. Unfortunately, his dream of meeting Brando remained unfulfilled. He also liked horror films.

The first time Baba faced a camera was for a Dev Anand film where he acted as a mali (gardener). He was asked to abuse Devsaab. He did, in the filthiest of language, since he didn't know acting then. Finally he was told to tone it down a bit and shown how to emote. So that's how he learnt.

The films Baba made were serious despite his image of being a comedian. No pranks, no songs. With Madhuji's (Kishore Kumar's second wife, Madhubala) illness, Baba couldn't act for nine years. It was a bad time for him. But that was the time he showed his real talent in making films. He always wanted to make off-beat films.

The only commercial film he made was Badhti ka Naam Dadhi, a slapstick comedy far ahead of its time. Many people told him so. In fact, he told the distributors they shouldn't take the risk of releasing his films because the audience wouldn't understand them. But the distributors did, because they were Kishore Kumar films. The only films that were hits were Chalti ka Naam Gaadi and Door Gagan ke Chaon Mein. The rest didn't do well.

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He also dreamed of going back to Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, where he was born and brought up. He had this small-town innocence in him and always told us he wanted to go back to Khandwa and become a school master. He always wanted to become one. But at Dada Moni's insistence he came to Bombay and became an actor. Bombay was no bed of roses. He had to struggle a lot. Ek din mein Kishore Kumar nahin banaa. It took him 30 long years to become what he did.

I remember once he was listening to a song Aa Ab Laut Chalen and he started crying. Because it reminded him of his village. This was five months before his death. After his death, his body was taken to Khandwa for a last visit.

Baba really enjoyed life. He was sent by God to make people happy and to be happy himself.

As told to Sharmila Taliculam

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