Kishore Kumar, the eccentric, multi-faceted singer-actor-music director would have turned 91 today (August 4, 2020).
Words are simply not enough to describe this legendary genius who is still as popular as he was in the seventies or eighties and whose songs still blare across media channels, either in their original form or remixed versions.
Born Abhas Kumar Ganguly on 4th August 1929 in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, Kishore Kumar followed his elder brothers, the legendary actor Ashok Kumar and Anoop Kumar, to make a living as a singer! But that was not to be…. not for a while, anyway.
Despite some fantastic early numbers, mostly set to tune by S.D. Burman and picturised on Dev Anand (or himself), Kishore Kumar was not really considered a top singer in the 1950s and 1960s (which could be called the first phase of his singing career). Mohd Rafi, Mukesh and Manna Dey were clearly ruling the roost then. This was the also a phase where Kishore Kumar was seen more as a reluctant actor – a part comedian, part serious. In fact I remember reading somewhere that part of his madcap antics on screen was to ensure that the film would flop and he would be spared this torture. It was a ploy that completely backfired. These early films, where Kishore Kumar was the hero cum buffoon, clicked and did well commercially. Kishore Kumar, the actor, continued to act – opposite some of the biggest leading ladies of the 1950s – Vyjayantimala, Madhubala, Nutan and Mala Sinha!
By the late 1960s, by when his acting career had slowed down considerably and he was ready to probably even retire, his second and glorious phase as a singer was to commence. Aradhana (1969), the rise of Rajesh Khanna as a superstar in the subsequent years and RD Burman emerging as the most popular composer ensured that Kishore Kumar the singer had finally arrived. His time had finally come! From the 1970s up until his untimely death in October 1987, Kishore Kumar was the undisputed male playback singer around – effectively dethroning Mohd Rafi for the major part of the 1970s. (Rafi was to make a brief comeback in the late 70s just prior to his sudden demise in July 1980.)
What is amazing is that according to statistics, in this second and glorious phase, Kishore Kumar sang a whopping 2000 songs as compared to only around 170 songs in the first phase. (courtesy an article by Aniruddha Bhattacharjee in The Telegraph).
Selecting 10 songs from such a popular and vast repertoire is obviously too difficult.
In this song list – I have restricted myself to solos (with the exception of one, if it could be called a duet), 5 from before 1969 and 5 from the 1970s. Many extremely popular songs do not feature here simply because I like these songs more. If I were to make this same list tomorrow, it is very possible that several other songs would be included instead of these. But for now, without further ado, here are the selected 10 songs sung by the versatile and talented Kishore Kumar:
- Chhota sa ghar hoga (Naukri, 1954, Salil Chowdhary): This happy, hopeful number is from one of Kishore Kumar’s earliest movies. Directed by Bimal Roy, this film as its name suggests deals with a persisting social issue – that of unemployment. The song describes the simple aspirations of a young man who wants to provide for his sister and his widowed mother. Kishore Kumar’s funny/ comic roles had probably not taken off by this time yet, hence we see a rather sweet and restrained version of him on screen. No crazy antics on display. I read somewhere that Kishoreda had to convince Salil Chowdhary to allow him to record this happy version. There is that sad melodious snippet of the same song by Hemant Kumar, much later in the movie when the young man is unsuccessful and has been unemployed for a while. Kishoreda’s singing is just apt for the situation – sensitive, soulful and simple.
- O Nigahen Mastana (Paying Guest, with Asha Bhosle, 1957, SD Burman): Yes, yes, I know, this song is technically a duet, however, since it is just humming and the alaap that Asha Bhosle does in this song, decided to sneak it in. Like most of Kishore Kumar’s early numbers, this one was composed by SD Burman (this can be a list of its own. Kishore sings for Dada Burman!) and was filmed on Dev Anand. A fabulous score with several super-hit songs (Mana janaab ne pukara nahin, Chhod do aanchal, Chand phir nikla), Paying Guest was just one of the many films which had Kishore Kumar singing for Dev Anand where the music had been composed by SDB. This hummable romantic number has Dev Anand serenading a lovely Nutan on the rooftop while a jealous Shubha Khote looks on.
- Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si (Chalti ka naam gaadi, 1958, S.D. Burman): Another SDB song on this list. Even though it was rather inspired by Sixteen Tons (it is said that SDB used this tune creatively after being asked by Kishore Kumar to do so!) A creative inspiration if any, this song is memorable not only because of the singing and music but also for its superb picturisation. And of course the many stories behind the making of the movie. Kishore Kumar made this movie, thinking and hoping that it would be a failure and that he would be able to write off the losses. It however, went on to become the second highest grosser of that year and in a fit of panic, Kishore Kumar signed away the rights to his secretary! A crazy story with the three Ganguly brothers, a beautiful Madhubala and then the music make this a classic. The images of a beautiful, wet Madhubala and a naughty Kishore Kumar fixing a broken-down car are probably etched permanently in most cinebuffs’ minds.
- Chhoti si yeh duniya pehchane raste hain (Rangoli, 1962, Shankar Jaikishen): Kishore Kumar’s pairing with Vyjayantimala resulted in several hit movies in the 1950s and 60s – New Delhi (1956), Aasha (1957), and this one. All these films had excellent songs – including some super-popular solos such as Eena meena deeka (Aasha) or Nakhrewali (New Delhi). Personally I prefer this philosophical, romantic song to the others. It is said that these lines were actually written by Shailendra in a letter and which were immortalised in this song by Shankar-Jaikishen. This is the peppier version, while Lata’s tandem version is more melancholic.
- Aa chal ke tujhe (Door Gagan ki chhaon mein, 1964, Kishore Kumar): The extremely talented Kishore Kumar wrote, directed and produced this movie, which was an adaptation of an English movie, The Proud Rebel (1958). He also composed a memorable score with some superb compositions besides this one – the sweet Asha Bhosle solos Khoya khoya Chanda, Path bhoola ik aya, the hopeful Hemant number Rahi tu mat ruk jaana, and the plaintive Koi lauta de mere beete hue din. Hopeful and optimistic, this song envisions a perfect world sans any suffering and pain. Sung beautifully by Kishoreda, this has RD Burman playing the harmonica and Amit Kumar is the little boy on screen.
- Hawaon pe likh do (Do Dooni Char, 1968, Hemant Kumar): Much before Gulzar adapted Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors into Angoor (1982), he had made Do Dooni Char (1968). This version, which unfortunately flopped, starred Kishore Kumar (in a double role) and Tanuja. Asit Sen plays the role that Deven Verma reprised later. I dont remember any of the other songs from this film, but this song, a melodious paean to nature, is one of my favourite Kishore Kumar songs. One can spot a young Neetu Singh in this too.
- Guzar jaye din (Annadata, 1972, Salil Chowdhary): Moving on to a faster composition. One of Salil Chowdhary’s finest scores (at least in my opinion), Annadata had a fantastic overall score – each song was mesmerising – be it Lata’s Raaton ke saaye ghane or Nis din nis din or Mukesh’s Nain hamare. Kishore had two solos – O meri pran sajni Champavati aaja and this one. I am not trained musically but from what I can make out, Guzar jaaye din is certainly not an easy song to sing! But how well Kishore Kumar sings it!
- Panthhi hoon main us path ka (Door ka rahi, 1971, Kishore Kumar): Behind the eccentric buffoonish image that Kishore Kumar displayed, was a deeply philosophical thinking human. Nowhere was it more evident than in the type of films he produced and directed. This movie, with its theme of the journey of life, was one such thinking film. The music was composed by Kishore Kumar and had some beautiful songs (Beqarar dil tu gaaye ja). If I were to pick one Kishore Kumar song as my favourite, this haunting song would be my pick!
- Tum bin jaaon kahan (Pyar ka Mausam, 1969, RD Burman): No Kishore Kumar list can be complete without songs composed by RD Burman. I know, I know, there are so many other Kishore-Pancham songs that are more popular and I had shortlisted several others – Pyaar Deewana hota hai; Yeh kya hua; Zindagi ke safar mein jo. But I love this song. While I do prefer the Rafi version (with a very charming Shashi Kapoor), the Kishore version (picturised on Bharat Bhushan- shouldn’t it have been the other way round?) is still a sweet song – to listen to!
- Aane wala pal (Gol Maal, 1979, R.D. Burman): Ending this list which captures how ephemeral life is and how important it is to live in the moment. Kishoreda’s voice, Gulzar’s lyrics, and Pancham’s brilliant music make this song a masterpiece.
I get it that no list can completely summarise the life of a legend like Kishore da. This is not even an attempt to do so. This is a tribute to a legendary multi-faceted singer-actor-director. Happy birthday, Kishoreda!