Kishore Kumar: The Funster Who Excelled At Pathos

Kishore Kumar

He was Hindi – or maybe Indian – cinema’s greatest all-rounder. Kishore Kumar, in his long career from 1946 to 1987, when he died October 13, was actor, singer, composer, lyricist, screenwriter and filmmaker. Born in Khandwa (Madhya Pradesh), he followed elder brother Ashok Kumar to Mumbai and joined Saraswati Devi (a pseudonym for the Parsi lady composer of Bombay Talkies) as a chorus singer, making his debut in a small cameo in “Shikari” (1946), incidentally produced by his elder brother and the debut of composer S.D.Burman. 

Burman’s other film that year was “Eight Days,” also for the same producer, and Kishore sang an ensemble song in it. In the ‘70s, when S.D.Burman passed away, Kishore was to record the composer’s last song, “Chal Sapnon Ke Shehar Mein,” written by Anand Bakshi for “Deewaangee” (1976) and be the only male singer of Burman’s last film, “Tyaag” (1977).

Kishore sang 2,905 songs, the last of which was “Ae Guru Aa Jao” from “Waqt Ki Awaz,” (1988) for Bappi Lahiri. He sang 2,648 Hindi songs, and among the 10 languages he sang in were only 80 non-film songs, mostly in his mother tongue, Bengali.

As an actor, his first film as a hero was “Sati Vijay” (1948) and his last “Door Wadiyon Mein Kahin” (1982), also his last released film as writer-filmmaker and a song-less film that did not have even background music. He acted in 102 films, four of them in Bengali. Two Hindi films, “Sadhu Aur Shaitan” and “Kala Bazar,” (in a cameo) saw him not even have any song as a playback singer.

He composed music for 10 films, nine of which were released and only one (“Zameen Aasmaan”/1972) was an outside assignment. Incidentally, Kishore was the only male singer in another 1984 film of the same name.

Originally wanting to be a schoolteacher in Khandwa, Kishore later wanted to be a singer but reluctantly agreed to do cameos in films of Bombay Talkies like “Ziddi,” in which he also got his first featured and popular songs under Khemchand Prakash. He co-wrote nine films and wrote lyrics for six films, one of which remained unreleased.

Mohammed Rafi sang multiple songs for him as an actor (and they shared the maximum duets from the ‘40s to the ‘80s too) and so did Manna Dey (two songs) and S.D.Batish. Hemant Kumar also sang for actor Kishore in a Bengali film.

Somewhere within Kishore’s moody, eccentric, humorous and effortlessly funny persona lay a deeply philosophical and sensitive soul with a fondness for pathos. His reel-life and real-life personae seamlessly blended many times, like his finally persuading Leena Chandavarkar’s father to allow them to marry by squatting in the latter’s Goa bungalow and singing “Nafrat Karnewalon Ke Seene Mein Pyar Bhar Doon” (I will win over those who hate me with my love) his “Johny Mera Naam” chartbuster, or having the audiences laugh, dance and cry all in one show with his antics and songs. 

Kishore was not only a singing star but also the Hindi screen’s most famous comic hero. But when he turned filmmaker in 1958, it was to make only sentimental or sad films (“Jhumroo,” “Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein,” Door Ka Rahi,” and finally “Door Waadiyon Mein Kahin” and the unreleased “Mamta Ki Chhaon Mein”). For a comic actor, Kishore effortlessly acted in these lead roles, and composed and even wrote timeless sad songs. In fact, his only two productions as a comic, “Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi” and “Shabhash Daddy,” were disasters.

As a singer too, he was especially good in sad songs, whether it was his own compositions – “Koi Humdum Na Raha” (“Jhumroo”) and “Jin Raaton Ki Bhor Nahin Hai” (”Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein”) – or two of his rare sad songs for Dev Anand, “Dukhi Man Mere” from “Funtoosh” besides, of course, his debut playback song, “Marne Ki Dua” (“Ziddi”). 

But it is perhaps very significant to discover the curious fact that the three top-line composers who backed him most in the peak phase of Kishore Kumar as a singer – Kalyanji Anandji, R.D. Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal - began their association with him minus the man’s trademark funny grammar. 

Kishore Kumar entered RD’s music room for the first time in 1964. It was to etch out that haunting “Bhoot Bungla“ cry of pathos, “Jaago Sonewalon Suno Meri Kahani.” In that same year, Laxmikant-Pyarelal got Kishore to give body (he played the leads) and soul to three evergreen numbers, “Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi” (“Mr X In Bombay“), “Yeh Dard Bhara Afsana” (“Shriman Funtoosh“) and “Ajnabee Tum Jaane Pehchaane Se Lagte Ho” (“Hum Sab Ustad Hain“). And K-A recorded their first solo with him in “Arey O Re Dharti Ki Tarah Har Dukh Sehle” in “Suhaag Raat.” The three big names continued to give him the cream of their sad songs throughout with classics like “Amar Prem,” ”Piya Ka Ghar” and “Kora Kagaz,” among dozens of others between them.

Kishore Kumar hit his winning return streak as a singer with “Aradhana,” a film in which he had two breezy and one sensuous number, but it took the L-P litany “Khizaan Ke Phool Pe Aati Kabhi Bahaar Nahin” (“Do Raaste“) and that wistful Hemant Kumar composition, “Woh Shaam Bhi Kuch Ajeeb Thi” (“Khamoshi”) to actually consolidate the new Rajesh Khanna-KK bond.

As the Kishore wave sidelined all competition, Mukesh no longer became the compulsory element brought in to sing sad songs. In O.P.Nayyar’s last burst of glory, “Ek Baar Mooskura Do” in 1971, it was Kishore who belted out the innovatively fast-paced bewafaa number “Tu Auron Ki Kyoon Ho Gayi” and that maudlin masterpiece, “Savere Ka Suraj Tumhare Liye Hai” while Mukesh had two cheerful duets! 

S.D.Burman too suddenly switched the singer to supreme sadness as he unleashed “Dil Aaj Shaayar” (“Gambler“), “Kaise Kahoon Main” (“Sharmeelee“), “Duniya O Duniya” (“Naya Zamana“), “Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina” (with Lata/ “Abhimaan“), “Yeh Laal Rang” (“Premnagar“), “Badi Sooni Hai” and “Aaye Tum Yaad Mujhe” (“Mili“).

Of course, the other composers pitched in too, for Kishore Kumar was that rare master of those extremes of human emotions – sadness and joy. From Anil Biswas in “Husn Bhi Hai Udaas Udaas” (“Fareb”) and Shyamal Mitra’s title track in “Amanush” to litanies for small-timers like Prem Dhawan (“Teri Duniya Se Hoke Majboor Chala”/“Pavitra Paapi”) and Hemant Bhosle (“Jeevan Mein Humsafar”/“Taxi Taxie”), Kishore was as much responsible for the lump in our throat as the tickle in our ribs.

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