Kishore Kumar: Consummate entertainer and caring human being

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
8/5/2004 12:00:00 AM
Everyone knows Kishore Kumar  the singer... But Kishore, the actor and filmmaker, is less known. 

Born 75 years ago in a family where there were no singers, Kishore -- whose real name was Abhas Kumar Ganguly -- loved singing and was particularly inspired by K.L. Saigal.

In fact, his early songs were imitations of Saigal. If Kishore had his way, he would have sung all his life. But then, the acting assignments happened. He hated every bit of it. But had no choice than face the camera.

To get out of the eminently lucrative acting assignments, he tried everything -- from hiding behind sofas to pretending to be crazy!

Once, during the shooting of a film called "Miss Mary" with Meena Kumari, Kishore was made to wait endlessly in a hotel room. To teach the filmmakers a lesson, the eccentric yodeller shaved off his hair! When he appeared on the set in that condition, the producer and the director almost collapsed in unison.

Kishore, of course, sang all the way to the bank.

Such incidents gave the singer-turned-actor the reputation of a chronic eccentric. When a state of emergency was declared in the country in 1975, he refused to sing on the ruling regime's request and was even banned from featuring on the state-run All India Radio for some time.

For a brief while, the mercurial singer even stopped singing for Amitabh Bachchan, apparently because the superstar refused to act under Kishore's direction in "Mamta Ki Chaon Mein".

The singer promptly signed Rajesh Khanna instead. The film also featured Kishore's fourth wife Leena Chandavarkar and his sons Amit and Sumeet (both of whom have failed to make any headway as singers).

Though he admitted he hated acting, he was a huge success and once confessed to being next only to Dilip Kumar in popularity. Films like "New Delhi", "Jhumroo" and "Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein" proved the actor's mettle. In "Half Ticket" (1962), Kishore not only played the main lead, but also sang for himself and for the heroine when the singer earmarked for the female lead didn't show up for the recording.

His talents as an actor peaked in 1968 in Jyoti Swaroop's ever-'grin' comedy "Padosan" where Kishore modelled his character of the music instructor on that of his maternal uncle, the only musician in the Ganguly family.

The longhaired character with kohl-lined eyes and betel leaf chewing, spittle dribbling persona was based on a real life man. According to Kishore, his "Padosan" co-stars Sunil Dutt and Mehmood were so insecure by his flamboyant presence that they halted the shooting, re-worked on their looks, get-up, accent and other things, and then resumed their acting.

Beneath the showman's bravado and the image of the eccentric miser, Kishore was also a caring human being. He married the legendary Madhubala -- his second wife -- although he knew she was dying of a heart disease. For nine years, Kishore looked after his terminally ill wife.

About his third marriage to actress Yogita Bali, Kishore said it was "a farce". She apparently stayed on with her mother even after the marriage. But the fourth and last marriage with Leena Chandarvarkar was a huge success. She understood his eccentricities and even got the privilege of singing a duet with him in a film she starred in -- "Manchali".

If he established a reputation for zany antics, Kishore also had the other creative side to him. Critics were stuck speechless when, for his directorial debut, he chose to make "Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein", a grim, largely wordless, soldier's tale about a father and son where Kishore and his real-life son Amit starred together for the first time.

The film's failure disillusioned the consummate entertainer. He vowed never to make another serious film, though he did make another serious film "Door Ka Rahi" in 1971. But for the actor-director, farce became a defence mechanism against a world that he never understood.

"Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi", the unforgettable comedy that brought the three Ganguly brothers -- Ashok, Anoop and Kishore together in 1958 -- became "Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi", a miserable flop, in 1974. And the title of the elegiac "Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein" was spoofed in the melodramatic "Mamta Ki Chaon Mein".

Kishore didn't live to see its release. He chose to yodel for the rest of his time in heaven, remembering those good old days when he contributed so spectacularly to the superstardom of Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna by singing them to romantic immortality.

But who sings for a lonely singer after he dies? Kishore Kumar died Oct 13, 1987.