Surma Mera Nirala

“He had his moods, but that is an artiste’s privilege. He had to be treated like a child if you wanted to get him to do anything…To get him to do what you wanted you had to tell him exactly the opposite.” Anandji’s version is more matter-of-fact. He says: “Kishore Kumar wasn’t the least eccentric. […]

“He had his moods, but that is an artiste’s privilege. He had to be treated like a child if you wanted to get him to do anything…To get him to do what you wanted you had to tell him exactly the opposite.”

Anandji’s version is more matter-of-fact. He says:

“Kishore Kumar wasn’t the least eccentric. It’s just that he didn’t like people cheating him of his dues.”

In any case, there is no way to establish the veracity of the stories, each of which makes a definitive positive point about Kishore Kumar. Moreover, they have been told and retold so many times that it is quite likely many of them bear the impressions of the teller more than that of fact.

And yet the stories are interesting for they present Kishore Kumar as a somewhat temperamental man whose moods were strange and at times unruly. They show him as being generally unpredictable and, in some ways, with justification surmise that a lot of Kishore Kumar’s skill arose, as happens with quite a few creative individuals, from his strange and often feisty moos and from something aberrant he held within him.

It is certainly true that Kishore’s off personality did not quite fit into the snippy mould of the typical Bollywood actor and singer. He was strikingly dissimilar. In a way, Kishore responded to life and to people in terms of the way he felt within himself and out of impulses he did not attempt to control. There was something of the pagan about him, as though he were nature’s own spoilt child.

There is a story of a reporter who came to interview Kishore Kumar. She made a comment about how lonely he must be. Kishore Kumar stood up at once and took her to the garden around his bungalow. He introduced her to his many friends. “These are my friendly trees”, he told her and rattled of their names, “Janardhan, Raghunandan, Gangadhar, Jagannath, Buddharam, Jhatpatajhatpatapat. They are my closest friends.”

The reporter gave him an odd look. She probably thought he was crazy. A man who spent his evenings with his arms entwined around trees had to be kooky.

On the sets of Bhai Bhai, Kishore Kumar refused to act. The director M V Raman tried his best to persuade him. Raman requested Kishore Kumar’s brother Ashok Kumar, who was on the sets, to intervene. Raman told him, “It’s a very brief scene; all he has to do is to walk along the floor and mutter to himself, anything he likes; it won’t take more than a few minutes”.

Ashok Kumar spoke to his brother, urging him to do it. “He owes me five thousand rupees,” Kishore Kumar told him. “He promised to pay before I did the scene; let him me the payment and I’ll do what he says”.

When Ashok Kumar spoke to Raman, Raman told him, “The money’s on the way; I’ll pay him at the end of the shooting.”

Once again, Ashok Kumar requested Kishore Kumar to comply. “I know these people,” Kishore told him. “They’re liars; once I do this scene he will not pay me the money”.

“But the money’s on the way”, Ashok Kumar told his brother and once again persuaded him to finish the scene.

Kishore Kumar, unable to refuse his brother, agreed. The lights were on and the camera began to whirr. Kishore walked across the floor and, each time he walked a few places, he said, “Paanch Hazzar Rupaiya,” and did a summersault. He went on doing this while everybody watched in amazement.

Kishore reached the end of the floor and kicking, a cartwheel that was lying there, went straight out of the studio. Jumping into his car, he ordered his driver Abdul to drive away.

Later, Raman confessed that he had not arranged for the money and so Kishore Kumar’s conduct, in this case, seemed more than vindicated.

Kishore Kumar was forever defying producers and directors. Indeed, one producer even went out to court to get a decree that Kishore Kumar must follow the director’s orders. As a consequence, Kishore Kumar obeyed the director to the letter. He refused to alight from his car until the director ordered him to do so. Once, after a car scene, he drove on till Khandala because the director forgot to say ‘Cut’.

When, in the Sixties, Kalidas Batvabbal, patently disgusted with Kishore Kumar’s alleged lack of cooperation during the shooting of Half Ticket, gave him away to the income tax authorities, Kishore had to face a raid at his house.

Later, Kishore invited him home. Kalidas responded; he thought he and Kishore Kumar could make peace with each other and put the past behind them.

When he arrived, Kishore Kumar greeted him. He appeared friendly and even showed him around his house. He them told him, “There’s something special I want to show you; it’s a secret way,” and he unlocked a large cupboard, which had no shelves in it.

The director saw the empty cupboard. “It leads to my secret hideout,” Kishore Kumar told him. “Let’s go there and settle down for a bit of a chat.”

The unsuspecting director entered the cupboard. As soon as he did so, Kishore quickly bolted the panels and locked the cupboard.

The director, secured inside the pitch-dark chamber, experienced sudden shock. Recovering slightly, he began to thump on the cupboard and shout for help. “Let me out, let me out,” he rasped, his voice sounding frightened and hoarse. Nothing worked and he remained locked in for two full hours.

When Kishore Kumar finally opened the cupboard, a thoroughly exhausted and a completely jaded director fell out. Drenched all over with sweat, he could hardly stand. “Don’t ever come to my house again,” Kishore Kumar told him. Kalidas hardly looked at him. He made his way quietly out and left.

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One Comment to “Surma Mera Nirala”

  1. A Singh says:

    This is really a very touching artcile. Big people do not publicize their good deeds. My respect for KK has grown further.

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