A tribute on his death anniversary October 13
MJ Akbar in his obituary to Shammi Kapoor wrote in India Today that one reason for Shammi Kapoor craze was that he was mad. But who was the maddest of them all? The great superstar Amitabh Bachchan could do a mad act with straight face. You can think of his job interview with Ranjit in Namak Halal where he shows his English speaking proficiency. But Kishore Kumar did not need to do an act. He was mad. He was crazy, he was wild. He would sing – in Hindi, in English, in Bengali, in Gibberish; he would dance, he would squat, he would jump, he would roll, he would sleep – all in the same song of 3 minutes. There was no logic to his madness. No one chased his girl more relentlessly; no one teased her more irritatingly. Some of his girls were good sports; they would play along with the fun. Some others were prim, proper and well brought up. They were exasperated, they would scream, they would do their darndest to ward him off. But he won them all in the end. And they were the biggest of their time – Nutan, Vyjayantimala and Madhubala.
I belong to the generation which reckoned Kishore Kumar, the singer far behind Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh and Talat Mahmood. But today I have a more generous view of him. The man who started in 1948 in the KL Saigal mould under the baton of Khemchand Prakash with Marne ki duayen kyun maangun (Ziddi) and Jagmag karta nikla (Rimjhim) carried on for twenty years trailing behind Rafi, Mukesh etc, when suddenly post-Aradhana he zoomed off like a rocket redefining playback singing as the voice of Rajesh Khanna and later, Amitabh Bachchan and everyone else, leaving the great singers far behind. But singing was only one part of his multifarious talents. He was an actor, writer, producer, director and composer. It is the mad, crazy, wild and funny Kishore Kumar singing for himself on the screen that I absolutely adore. Here are some of my favourites as my tribute to him on his death anniversary October 13.
1. Des chhudaye bhes chhudaye from Chacha Zindabad (1959), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Madan Mohan
In one of his most logic-defying acts, Kishore Kumar starts off as a serious classical singer with tanpura and all, then leaves the tanpura on the floor, letting it stand upright without support, which after a little wobbling stabilises. KK goes to sleep, soon peeps out of the sheet, starts singing to Anita Guha in Kabir’s doha style, grows into qawwali, then seeing his father give him a tough look, slinks away singing bhajan, switches to a medieval lancer, followed by a circus clown and finally for no apparent reason, to an oversized child singing Jack and Jill.
2. Gege gege geli zara Timbaktoo from Jhumroo (1961), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Kishore Kumar
Kishore Kumar’s first film as music director, and what talent he displays! We are aware of his soulful and melancholy song Koi humdum na raha, most romantic song Thandi hawa ye chandni suhani and Matwale hum matwale tum, and the greatest yodelling Main hun jhum jhum jhumroo – each a masterpiece from this film. Then you have this absolutely mad song where he comes in exaggerated make up as an African chieftain, with equally over the top dancing.
3. Aa ke seedhi lagi jaise dil pe katariya from Half Ticket (1962), lyrics Shailendra, music Salil Choudhary
If one Kishore Kumar can be such a laugh riot, what happens if there are two Kishore Kumars – one singing in female voice. Salil Choudhry meant it to be a Kishore Kumar – Lata Mangeshkar duet. For some reason Lata Mangeshkar could not turn up. Salil Choudhry wanted to cancel the recording, but KK persuaded him to let him sing in the female voice as well. The result was too good and thus the Kishore Kumar – Kishore Kumar duet stayed on. The female voice singing for Kishore Kumar in drag and the male Kishore Kumar singing for a bewildered Pran is one of the most delightful comic acts of Kishore Kumar.
4. Gana na aya bajana na aya from Miss Mary (1957), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Hemant Kumar
A wonderful combination of Kishore Kumar’s singing and comic talent. From where does O my Sita, Babloo papita come? Then for no reason he starts singing Three blind mice. With Kishore Kumar you do not look for logic. You do not associate Hemant Kumar with this kind of music, but KK’s enthusiasm can be infectious.
5. Hum to mohabbat karega from Dilli Ka Thug (1958), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Ravi
You do not come across a more resolute and fearless declaration of intent – come what may, I would go on loving you. Nutan is not amused. When she tells him off meri jooti (My foot!), he picks up her jooti and declares he would polish it, but love her he would. In the end when she asks him to go and drown himself, he takes a dive, but soon emerges and declares triumphantly – he would not drown, but swim out and love her he would, come what may. You cannot beat Kishore Kumar.
6. Main machhera Premnagar ka from Naughty Boy (1962), lyrics Shailendra, music SD Burman
Kishore Kumar was the quintessential naughty boy. Kalpana is angry with him because when she faked her death to test his love, after six months of ritual mourning – offering flowers at her portrait etc – he was back to his wild ways of singing, dancing, girls and partying. Therefore, now she dares him to a difficult challenge – go to the office dressed as a fisherman and she would come to watch the proceedings. After initial hesitation, once he agrees, he gets into the skin of a fish seller with full gusto. Singing Main machhera Premnagar ka he saunters into the office to the amusement of his colleagues and consternation of his boss, who threatens to sack him. He instead writes resignation letter, which is actually a note explaining to his boss that he had to do this for the love of a girl. The whole world loves a lover, especially if he is as mad as Kishore Kumar – the boss indulgently lets him be. You would notice he has chosen to mimic Subir Sen’s Main rangeela pyar ka rahi and in the end he breaks into Maine machhua ke bhes dhara mimicking the traditional thumri Maine lakho ke bol sahe.
7. Chana jor garam babu main laya majedaar from Naya Andaz (1956), lyrics Jaan Nisar Akhtar, music OP Nayyar
Kishore Kumar selling peanuts, competing with Meena Kumari (lip-synching Shamshad Begum) selling chana jor garam, is a visual and musical delight. Seeing such exuberant Meena Kumari with Kishore Kumar makes me feel it was a tragedy that film makers made her into an epitome of a crying and sacrificing Indian woman. As most readers would be aware, this song is based on a song with same mukhda from KK’s elder brother Ashok Kumar’s film Bandhan (1940).
8. Ek roz hamari bhi daal galegi from Bandi (1957), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Hemant Kumar
Now Kishore Kumar is a cook, struggling with his chulha and trying to cook daal. He consoles himself his day would also come Panchhi kahe hot udaas, but see how he turns KL Saigal’s classic on its head, and then starts singing and dancing. He has some fascination with his elder brother, because the songs mentions his Bhaiya is MA BA pass. In an interesting turn he starts singing Main ban ke sahib git git English bolun re mimicking Ashok Kumar – Devika Rani’s iconinc song Main ban ki chidiya ban ke ban ban bolun re from Achhut Kanya (1936).
9. Paamch rupaiya barah aana from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1956), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music SD Burman
Kishore Kumar has to recover five rupees and twelve annas which Madhubala owes for getting her car repaired in his garage. But he also uses this opportunity to profess his love for which he can sing dadra. And now he chooses SD Burman’s classic Dheere se jana bagiyan mein to give it a comic twist. Why should SD Burman allow his song to be spoofed so? Looking at Kishore Kumar’s endearing madness I am sure SD Burman would have fallen in love with the outcome. (If you compare Dev Anand’s mimicking Dheere se jana khatiyan mein in Chhupa Rustam, you see the vast difference). Kishore Kumar is not done yet. In the end he declares he can become a jogi for her love – and now he chooses KC Dey’s iconic Teri gathri mein laga chor to turn on its head. One can almost imagine KC Dey smiling indulgently at this mad boy whose irreverent rendering of his classic is his own way of showing deep respect. The comic element in this film arose out of the stern elder brother Ashok Kumar’s ban of women entering anywhere near his premises.
10. Ek chatur Naar from Padosan (1968), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music RD Burman
By 1968, Kishore Kumar has graduated into a love guru. But his task is now immensely more difficult. He has to help his protégé, the village idiot Bhola (Sunil Dutt) wean away the next window neighbour Bindu (Saira Bano), to whom he has got infatuated, from the influence of Mehmood. The only reason why she should have any tolerance for the clownish Mehmood is his music capability which has helped him get into her proximity as her music and dance teacher. Teaching music to the tone deaf Bhola was impossible, so the Guru KK sets up this duel with Mehmood, with Bhola lip-synching while KK and his team sing in playback mode. Padosan was a Mehmood film, but an understated, cerebral Kishore Kumar holds his own against over-the-top mannerisms and slapstick of Mehmood.
A very interesting trivia – this song also has Ashok Kumar’s connection. Just hear this lovely Ashok Kumar original song from Jhoola (1941), on which this song is based:
Talking of Ashok Kumar connection to several Kishore Kumar’s songs I cannot help mentioning Koi humdum na raha which is also based on Ashok Kumar original from Jeevan Naiya (1936). Though a slight digression from this post’s theme, listen to this song which is of great historical interest.
In all these mimicries of classic songs I am giving credit to Kishore Kumar, and I am doing it deliberately. I read somewhere most of Kishore Kumar’s comic acts were not scripted, but created by him on the spur of the moment. I believe most of the whacky, but extremely endearing renderings of these songs must have been Kishore Kumar’s own creation and composers, aware of his genius would have gone along with him. I have no hesitation in considering him as the most brilliant and creative mad, comic genius.