The Versatile Genius
Kishore’s own inspiration was the popular entertainer Topol, who he believed was unparalleled in cinema. During a visit to London, Kishore had the thrilling opportunity of watching his hero, live onstage . He attended all four consecutive shows and waited to be introduced to Topol. Kishore’s dream came true, when he shook hands with Topol [...]
Kishore’s own inspiration was the popular entertainer Topol, who he believed was unparalleled in cinema. During a visit to London, Kishore had the thrilling opportunity of watching his hero, live onstage . He attended all four consecutive shows and waited to be introduced to Topol. Kishore’s dream came true, when he shook hands with Topol and gifted his cassettes to him.
The young Kishore’s real ambition was to become a playback singer and it was no cakewalk for this younger sibling of the famous Ashok Kumar. In an interview to Bunny Reuben in Filmfare, Kishore Kumar reminisced about his early days and said ‘I remember how I used to stand at bus-stops and stars, friends of my brother, would fly past in their limousines without so much as a glance at me’. ‘I wanted to sing and people would say ‘Your voice is no good to us’. ‘Us mein woh cheez nahin hai’.
And then came the chance to sing ‘Marne ki duayen kyon mangu‘ for Dev Anand in Ziddi 1948, under the baton Khemchand Prakash. It was then that he met Lata Mangeshkar, an encounter as amusing and as strange as everything else is about Kishore Kumar. In his own words, in a rare interview with Lata he says, ‘We happened to be travelling in the same local train (in Mumbai). You got off and I got off’. You got into a tonga, so did I. Both of reached Bombay Talkies Studios. And you are convinced I was following you’.
Kishore Kumar acknowledged veteran composer Khemchand Prakash’s hand in shaping his singing career. Prakash asked Ashok Kumar to leave the young Kishore in his hands. Ashok Kumar relates about his younger brother’s fondness for music. Ashok Kumar had sung on screen ‘Koi humdum na raha‘ earlier and little Kishore fell in love with the song and was determined to sing it. The complex beat and the young, Kishore’s rather poor (according to Ashok Kumar) voice obviously did not help. Then Kishore hurt himself and cried for an entire month! His voice improved and much later he went on to sing the hauntingly beautiful ‘Koi humdum na raha‘ in Jhumroo.
Kishore Kumar was unstinting in crediting his popularity to the Burmans – father and son. It was S.D. Burman who made Kishore, the superstar singer of the seventies, when he chose him to sing ‘Roop tera mastana, pyar mera diwana‘ for Rajesh Khanna in the superhit Aradhana. This together with the song that set the trend of wooing, ‘Mere sapnon ki rani, kab ayegi tu‘ made Kishore the voice of the ‘Chinky eyed sensation,’ ‘the chocolate faced hero’ Rajesh Khanna.
S.D. Burman did more than just make Kishore a superstar singer. He helped him out when his marriage to Ruma Devi caused a split in the family, by making him sing. ‘Qusoor apka‘ in Bahaar and the song went to become a hit.
S.D. Burman made him the voice of Dev Anand much before Rajesh Khanna came on the scene. In Guide, Jewel Thief, Paying Guest and Munimji under S.D. Burman’s expert hands, Kishore’s talent was honed and fine tuned. ‘Maana janab ne pukar nahin‘ and ‘Gaata rahe mera dil‘ were some evergreen hits that Kishore sang for debonair Dev.
Another composer who placed implacable faith in Kishore was S.D. Burman’s son, Rahul Dev Burman. The lack of basic training in music, never hampered Kishore’s intuitive feel and enormous talent for music. R.D. Burman recalls an incident related to the rendering of ‘Mere naina sawan bhadon‘ for Mehbooba. The number was to be sung separately by Lata and Kishore. Kishore insisted Lata sing her version first so he could follow her cue to the nuances of the song.
R.D. Burman saw Kishore’s talent for mimicry to be the singer’s greatest advantage. ‘He’d hear Pandit Bhimsen Joshi sang and at once catch the tune. Then he’d hum it a couple of times and by evening he’d be doing a perfect replay. His ability to mimic combined with his voice quality gave him tremendous speed and power. The flexibility of his own voice gave it immense range and expression’. R.D. Burman found these qualities abysmally lacking in newer singers who blindly aped the timbre of Kishore’s voice. ‘Newcomers lack that flexibility. They lack freshness. They don’t seem to think that originality is an asset. They feel being carbon copies of Kishore will guarantee success…. They don’t realise they lack what he had… an intrinsic feel for music and a mind-boggling range’.
Which is why after the decline of Rajesh Khanna, R.D. Burman and other composers were able to successfully exploit Kishore Kumar’s voice for the superstar of all time Amitabh Bachchan. For Don, Sharabi, Mili, Amar Akbar Anthony, the list is endless.