The genius of Kishore Kumar needs no introduction. Anyone who has grown up listening to vintage Bollywood songs would instantly recognise his velvety voice that has given us some of Hindi cinema’s most loved classics.
86 – that is how old Kishore Da would’ve been today if he were alive. We would probably still be listening to him sing, maybe even watching him amuse us with his antics on the silver screen. Kishore Kumar was a powerhouse of talent, a brilliant man who was an ace singer, actor, lyricist, filmmaker and quite eccentric too (like every real genius, we guess).
Kishore was a self-proclaimed loner. He once said that people from within the film industry bored him immensely and he would rather talk to trees. Why did he try and break into the big bad world of cinema then? Because his elder brother Ashok Kumar had managed to make it big. He was popular and rich and Kishore wanted it all.
Kumar first arrived on the scene in the 1940s and got a chance to sing a song under the guidance of music director Khemchand Prakash for the film Ziddi.
A family conflict happened when Ashok Kumar tried to push this brother towards acting when all he wanted to do was sing. The result – Kishore Da flirted with both acting and singing and gave Hindi cinema masterpieces like Half Ticket, Aasha and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. Before anyone knew, Kumar had become one of the most popular film personalities of those times. His perfect comic timing, amazing voice and chemistry with his onscreen heroines made him a superstar in almost no time.
It is said that moviegoers fell in love with his young man because they could identify with him.
Although most of us are quick to brand Kishore Da a comic actor, he also played serious roles like a true master. His home production Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein is a terrific example of that, as is this heart-wrenching song from Mr. X In Bombay.
May we please bring to your notice that this is the same man who sang (and acted in) this?
Brilliant, isn’t it? Kishore Kumar continued to display this range and understanding of all forms of singing and emotions throughout his career. On one hand, he was Sanjay Dutt’s playful voice in Mere Saamne Waali Khidki Mein and on the other hand, he made us misty-eyed with Chingari Koi Bhadke. By the time the 1960s rolled in, Kishore Kumar was belting out consecutive hits and his name had become synonymous with success.
When Amitabh Bachchan came to Bollywood with his unusually deep voice, there was absolutely no one else who could be his playback singer. Kishore Da and Big B struck a deep friendship (which was followed by a very public fallout) and gave numerous hits together.
One song that stands out in particular is Salaam-E-Ishq from Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. It features a Kishore solo that became insanely popular. Industry insiders often talked of how the usually confident Kumar got cold-feet at the last minute and requested Kalyanji-Anandji to hand his part over to Mohammad Rafi. The music directors refused and we all know how amazing the solo turned out.
This happened again in 1984 when Mujhe Naulakha Mangaade Re became an overnight rage, mostly because of Kumar’s solo.
After a few years in Bollywood, Kishore Kumar made it clear that he does not wish to act. He wanted to stay committed to his one true love – singing. After entertaining audiences with his Hollywood-inspired acting for some time, the man turned all his attention to music. While it is true that Kishore Da was first and foremost a singer, it would be a grave mistake to tag him just that. He was a complete entertainer, a complete package, if you will.
Kishore Da was only 58 when he died in 1987 and suddenly, all the superstars lost their virtual voice. He left a void so huge that we really don’t think it will ever get filled. There can’t be another Kumar.
Hindi cinema will forever be indebted to Kishore Kumar for all his wonderful contributions, and fans like us will continue to make sure that no one ever forgets about the man who gave a voice to some of Bollywood’s most prolific actors including Dev Anand and Sanjeev Kumar, who were definitely not easy to sing for.