If Kishore Kumar were alive today, he would have turned 90 on August 4.
We celebrate the genius with several special features dedicated to him.
We start with Raju Bharatan’s beautiful insight into Kishore Kumar.
‘It might have taken Kishore Kumar no fewer than 23 years to reach the top. But once there, he stayed put for the 17 years he lived after Aradhana (1970),’ writes the movie expert.
Bharatan, assistant editor at The Illustrated Weekly Of India, Asia’s oldest English magazine till it shut down in 1991, has authored books like Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography and A Journey Down Melody Lane.
Ashok Kumar told me something I should have divined long before that super actor framed it in words.
“Kishore’s voice hits the mike straight, at its most sensitive point — and that’s the secret of his success as a singer without peer!” observed the vintage elder brother.
Come to think of it, this business of the singer’s voice hitting the mike at its most sensitively receptive point… had Naushad Ali not noted the same thing about Lata Mangeshkar to me?
It is this straight ‘mike-hitting’ trait, in fact, that made Kishore Kumar, once he was rehearsed and ready, a vocal threat to the best.
Kishore Kumar had not formally trained in music so Salil Chowdhury, for his intellectual Bengali part, was not prepared to even give this actor-singer a hearing, once he got to know that Kishore lacked musical grounding.
Kishore Kumar was Sheila Ramani’s hero in Bimal Roy’s Naukri (1954).
Yet Salil Chowdhury, as the new phenom among our composers then, was dismissive of Kishore: “I have not heard a single song rendered by you, so how could I possibly let you render my song in Naukri!”
Saying that, Salil was on the point of summoning Hemant Kumar to sing Chhota sa ghar hoga in place of our already unemployed hero of Naukri, Kishore Kumar!
It was only after Kishore Kumar virtually begged Salil Chowdhury to hear him out — as one having met, already, the intricate tonal demands of master composer Khemchand Prakash in his very first song for films — for Bombay Talkies’ Ziddi (1948): Marne kee duaaen kyun maangoon jeene kee tamanna kaun kare — that Salil Chowdhury relented in the matter of Chhota sa ghar hoga.
“To Dada Burman goes the credit for having spotted the spark in the boy so early. Each one of us composers otherwise underestimated the tremendous potential of Kishore,” admitted Salil, adding, “Not until the vocal results Kishore gave me, some 18 years later, in Gulzar’s Mere Apne, with Koi hota jis ko apna hum apna keh lete yaaron, did I get a real idea of how totally I had misjudged the depth and dimension of the lad as a singer.”
Thus, a quarter century after Kishore Kumar came up with his Badi soonee soonee hai ‘swan song’ for S D Burman in Mili, on Amitabh Bachchan — a near 30 years after he gave exquisite expression to son Rahul Dev-Burman’s Chingaree koi bhadke toh saawan use bujaaye, picturised on ‘preceding’ superstar Rajesh Khanna in Amar Prem — the aural aura of Kishore abides as the absolute original.
Whether singing or composing or acting, Kishore was pre-eminently Kishore, while now looking Fred Astaire, now Frank Sinatra, now Gene Kelly, now Bing Crosby.
If a valid comparison is to be drawn in this direction, Kishore Kumar is best envisioned as the Danny Kaye of our cinema.
For all that, Kishore only reminded you of the art of each one of the above great singer-actors.
Even in so reminding us of them, Kishore was but putting on an act — and hugely enjoying doing so — while remaining, recognisably, Kishore Kumar and no one else.
IMAGE: Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana.
It might have taken Kishore Kumar no fewer than 23 years to reach the top.
But, once there, he stayed put for the 17 years he lived after Aradhana (1970).
And, no matter how much of an icon R D Burman may be in your eyes vis-a-vis Kishore, disabuse your minds of this notion that Pancham did the music of Aradhana.
Nothing of the kind.
Sachin Dev Burman allowed no one, just no one, to influence him in fashioning the tune.
Pancham therefore merely ‘executed’ the tunes of S D Burman for Kishore in Aradhana — something that was no more than RD’s job as Dada’s chief assistant.
We do Pancham no justice as a composer in his own ‘light’, his father even less justice as the fountainhead, when we attribute one’s work to the other.
Each was a stalwart composer in his own idiom, each composed in a style that was distinctively his own.
In fact, it was from papa Burman that Pancham learnt the art of extracting the best out of Kishore.
I recall it was Pancham who generally carried Dada’s spool-tape of the tune to Kishore’s home well in advance.
In his own impish way, Dada had discovered that, once he let Kishore have this tune in hand early, this singer had the amazing knack of ‘acting out’ the entire number in the privacy of his room — before turning up for the first rehearsal.
Pancham himself adopted the same technique in drawing the very best out of Kishore.
Where Dada Burman was divided in his loyalties between Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, for Pancham, there existed but one male singer — Kishore Kumar.
“There’s no singer like Kishore,” Pancham told me, “if you send the tape of the song to him even two days before the recording.
“Kishore wants this tape in advance because he doesn’t just sing a song; he feels it, savours it, experiences it, before entering the music room to record it.
“My best songs for Kishore,” went on Pancham, “have been done this way.
“So strikingly different, in fact, was the result when I managed to send the tape to Kishore, two days in advance, that I could, here, offhand, reel off the songs done this way for me by this, my pet performer.
“I sent the tape of the tune beforehand to Kishore and he came up with O maanjhee re (in Khushboo), Zindagee ke safar mein (in Aap Ki Kasam), Raat kalee ek khwab mein aayee (in Budha Mil Gaya), Musafir hoon yaaron (in Parichay), Diye jalte hain (in Namak Haraam) and Meree bheegee bheegee see (in Anamika).
“Plus, in my breakthrough film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna — as a composer with a style all my own — Kishore came up, so notably, with Dekho o deewanon.
“This, without mentioning Kishore’s artistry in my other two breakthrough films, Amar Prem and Kati Patang,” added Pancham.
“In fact, it was with these two films that I truly discerned how much sending the tape in advance to Kishore meant — as he gave matchless results in such songs of mine as Yeh kya hua and Kuchch to log kahege; Yeh jo mohabbat hai and Pyaar deewana hota hai, not forgetting Yeh shaam mastanee.
R D Burman was not a music-maker given to self-praise — he was, in truth, a composer with no ‘sense of achievement’ whatsoever.
Yet the gleam in his eye was there to see, as he narrated the tale of how he came to acquire such a special tuning with Kishore.
But, then, Pancham functioned in times when there was a spool-tape ready at hand to be despatched to Kishore.
Just look, by contrast, at the clutch of songs that papa S D Burman devised for Kishore — with no such spool-tape facility.
Such captive songs hugged to the heart by a whole earlier generation as Kusoor aap ka huzoor aap ka (from AVM’s Bahar, 1951), Kachchee pakkee sadkon pe meree tumtum (from Pyar), Ae meree topee palat ke aa (from Funtoosh), Mere labon pe dekhon aaj bhee tarane hain (from Navketan’s Baazi, 1951), Chahe koi khush ho chahe gaaliyaan hazaar de /Mastram ban ke zindagee ke din guzaar de (from Taxi Driver), Maana janaab ne pukaraa naheen (from Paying Guest), Ek ladkee bheegee bhaagee see (from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi), Dho le too aaj apne dil ke sab daag dho le (from Apna Haath Jagannath) and Pahli na doosree teesree pasand hai shaadee ka kar lo intezaar (from Madhbhare Nain).
What a shame the present generation cannot get a genuine first-hand feel of the above renditions by Kishore Kumar for S D Burman at a time when that composer alone — aside from C Ramchandra — fully believed in this singer!
No doubt, the above were songs composed by S D Burman in times when it was technologically not possible to send any sort of tape to Kishore.
Yet those were more leisurely times, when SD could take Kishore to his Sion (central Mumbai) home for this singer-actor to get the ‘histrionic’ flavour of the song before recording it.
But once it was feasible for S D Burman to send across that tape from his aptly named The Jet bungalow in the Linking Road sector of Bandra west, Bombay (as Mumbai was then known), the creative collaboration of Dada and Kishore became even more hummable.
IMAGE: Shashi Kapoor and Raakhi in Sharmilee.
Just think of the very special vibrance that Kishore now brought to Dada Burman numbers like Yeh dil na hota bechara (the Jewel Thief solo rejected by Guru Dutt as the theme-tune of Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi, before replacing S D Burman with O P Nayyar as the music director of that film), Phoolon ke rang se (from Prem Pujari), Duniya o duniya tera jawaab naheen (from Naya Zamana), Dil aaj shaair hai (from Gambler), and O meree o meree o meree (Sharmilee).
Kishore Kumar, by this 1971 stage, suddenly, was so far ahead that even a brave rearguard effort by Mohammed Rafi to catch up with this neo numero uno succeeded only up to a point.
Mind you, Rafi loyalists never gave up on him but Kishore votaries were among the young — and this was the age-group that made and unmade films by the seventies!
Kishore Kumar’s strength lay in the fact that he had, all along, been the voice of the evergreen Dev Anand (Oonche sur mein gaaye jaa mastee mein lahraaye jaa, in House No 44).
And once Kishore Kumar emerged as the voice of Rajesh Khanna (the megastar who broke the stranglehold of two generations of heroes), there was no holding this singing star-turned-pure playback.
In fact, Kishore Kumar, as the new singing sensation, was witness to S D Burman peaking afresh, even as son R D Burman at last discovered his own composing identity — at the turn of the seventies.
That Kishore held the vocal scale masterfully even, between father and son, is a performing measure of the man, whose vocals endure decades after he breathed his sonorous last — on October 13, 1987.
It is easy enough to demonstrate Kishore Kumar’s virtuosity — it will be argued — seeking the aid of S D Burman on the one baton-hand and R D Burman on the other.
Fair enough, so next time out, let us a attempt a piece on Kishore Kumar that will conceptualise only those songs of this actor-singer (or singer-actor) that he put over for music directors other than the Burmans!
Like, for instance, not Eena meena deeka from Aasha, but Haal tujhe apnee duniya ka nazar to aata hoga from the same 1957 film, for the same C Ramchandra.
You will then be amazed at the range of Kishore’s repertoire — outside the euphonious fold of the Burmans.
But that is a theme song for another Kishore birthday.
A theme by which we examine, for instance, where possibly Kishore could have gone vocally wrong, in a rendition making such compulsive hearing as Savere ka sooraj tumhare liye hai (from Ek Baar Muskura Do), for O P Nayyar to have charged this singer with having “ruined my song”!
This story was first published on October 13, 2000.