The untamable and unpredictable Kishore Kumar!

Remembering one of the greatest, most influential and dynamic singers in the history of Indian music on his 35th Death anniversary.

I can vividly recollect the first song I babyishly blabbered when I had only started to speak. The song was “Kehna Hai,” from the evergreen classic Hindi movie “Padosan.” 

While I was too young to comprehend the plot of the movie, the visual of a young man named “Bhola” (played by Sunil Dutt) trying to comically impress his beloved “Bindu” (played by Saira Banu) by pretending to sing a song lip-synced by a Bengali Babumoshai chewing Paan (betel leaf) while singing his heart out, charmed me to a great extent. 

“Kehna Hai” is just one of the many beautiful songs voiced by one of the greatest, most influential and dynamic singers in the history of Indian music, Kishore Kumar Ganguli, or simply our beloved “Kishore Da!” 

Kishore Da’s flamboyance knew no bounds, and several anecdotes of his eccentricity have mesmerised his admirers and critics alike. He was a madcap, unrestricted and impulsive, who lived his life on his own terms, veering away from the naked sophistication and practicality of the physical world. He had created his own euphoria and was extremely obstinate with his values. 

On one occasion he pranked a movie producer by literally biting him at his hand. Kishore Da later pointed to a placard that hung at his gate which read “Beware of Kishore Kumar!” 

Such eccentricity often brought him to cross ends with eminent celebrities and his colleagues in the glamour world, and this article attempts to narrate a few such anecdotes.

Birth of a Star:

Kishore Kumar was born “Abhas Kumar Ganguly” in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, as the youngest offspring to Lawyer Kunjalal Ganguly (Gangopadhyay) and Gouri Devi on August 4th, 1929. 

Kumudlal Ganguly, Abhas’ elder brother, was the one who received the ‘Taalim’ for singing, while Abhas never received a formal tutorial in the music domain. However, as fate would have it, Kumudlal grew up to become one of the most revered movie stars of Indian cinema under the pseudonym of “Ashok Kumar,” and Kishore charmed Indian music lovers across generations despite starting as an amateur in the field.

Kishore Da’s eccentric ways to protest:

At one point of his career, Kishore Kumar and Director Baldev Raj Chopra were not on good terms. Kishore Da had pledged that he would not sing in any of Chopra’s movies. However, once B R Chopra attempted to implore Kishore Da into signing up for one of his big-budget films. Kishore Da considered the proposal and jokingly replied, “I will not sing for you unless you cluck like a rooster in front of me now!” 

Another time, Kishore Da approached Shri Amitabh Bachchan to play the lead in his last movie, “Mamta Ki Chhaya.” However, Mr Bachhan did not affirm Kishore Da’s proposal and kept him hanging for months. Infuriated, Kumar pledged that he would no longer sing in any of Amitabh Bachchan’s upcoming movies. Later, he realised that Mr Bacchan had no choice but to act as per Producer Manmohan Desai’s whims and orders. A few months later, when Desai approached Kishore Da with an offer to sing in one of his movies, he brusquely replied, “Do you see that fountain installed on my lawn? Bring a boat and place it there. Only then shall I sign these agreement papers!”

Indira Gandhi government puts an unofficial ban on Kishore Kumar:

Kishore Kumar faced the fiercest criticism for his strictness with ‘financial matters.’ None could convince him to start working unless he received his whole stipend in advance. Such was his conviction to this principle that his fault-finders labelled him as a ‘money-minded and greedy’ man.

However, things took an ugly turn during the era of emergency when he acted boldly against the wish of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1975, Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi, organised a cultural event in Delhi where the government had instructed all the star performers of the film industry to perform for free. Almost every artist had agreed to perform except Kishore Da. Kishore said, “I will never sing for free in a program for a live audience, even if the government orders me to do so.”

Indira Gandhi did not take such bolf defiance lightly. Soon, the government put an unofficial ban on playing Kumar songs on state broadcasters All India Radio and Doordarshan from May 4th, 1976, till the end of the emergency. The government event labelled Kishore Kumar’s songs as “illicit.” Since he was the highest-paid artist in the film industry back then, the government orchestrated a series of raids by the Income Tax department at his residence. Even after such state-sponsored harassment, Kishore Da never gave in to their intimidation!

Kishore Da was, in fact, not a money-minded person. He had sung his heart out at charity events on numerous occasions, and the anecdote where he had voluntarily funded the Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray for his movie “Pather Panchali” speaks volumes of how he got misjudged by his peers and got demonised by lies and propaganda. Kishore Kumar had even recorded songs without remuneration for many low budget movies.

Over his illustrious career, Kishore Da has sung over 3,000 songs!

  • For Devanand, Kishore Da sang 119 songs;
  • For Rajesh Khanna, he voiced 245 songs;
  • For Jeetendra, he sang 202 songs;
  • And for Amitabh Bachchan, he sang 131 songs.

It is phenomenal to note how his songs enticed India’s music industry across different generations and the heroes who came along with them! As the great screenwriter and poet Javed Akhtar rightly remarked, “Kishore Da jaisa naa koi tha, na hain, aur na hoga!

Kishore Da faced several health complications owing to his overindulgence in alcohol, and he breathed his last on October 13th, 1987, at the ripe age of just 58!  

The truth is, it is impossible to categorise Kishore Da’s persona with a particular shade. Perhaps he was too unpredictable and zany, which made him an outcast amongst his elite peers! However, it is impossible to tame Kishore even after 35 years of his death. 

He still lives through his golden voice and profound lyrics: “Maut aani hai, Aayegi ek din… Jaan jaani hai, Jayegi ek din… Aisi baaton se kya ghabrana… Yahan kal kya ho kisne jaana!” 

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