“Sitting the wall of the studio, I saw a man wearing a muffler and a cap and holding a black stick. He was imitating everyone who passed, just like a monkey. When we went into the studio, the man jumped off the wall and came into the recording room. Jo jo gane gatey the, unke satyanash karte huey, woh khud gana gane lage. When I asked him why he was doing this, he said, “I am an orphan. Nobody looks after me. Please give me a chance.” And saying this, R. D. Burman burst into laughter, just as I did after reading this interview (Filmfare, June 1984) because I could visualize the scene so clearly. And that man sitting on the wall. Kishore Kumar. Or as his fans so adoringly still call him after his unforgettable performance in Padosan – “Guru”. And this is the persona most popularly associated with him. The lovable, endearing prankster who with that wonderfully mobile face that never stayed still for a moment, those sparkling mischievous eyes of a child, those eyebrows that danced almost as marvelously as his body and most of all, that incredible voice, pranced his way into our hearts with such delightful songs as Hum toh mohabbat karega, Nakhrewali, Ankhon mein tum, Ik ladki bheegi bhagi si and C-A-T cat, cat mane billi. As Kishoreda himself put it so beautifully in a song, “Matawala naam hai, masti se kaam hai, masti nighahon mein hai!”
But today, I speak of other Kishore Kumars….
It doesn’t matter that many of the films that Kishore Kumar wrote, produced, directed, even edited and most importantly composed not just the music but also some of the lyrics vanished as duds into the box office incinerator. (He found time to do this while singing around 3000 songs and acting in 100 films). Because the few that survived became indestructible testimonials to the fact that behind that no doubt adorable comic façade was a brilliant musician and a poet. Jhumroo (1961), which not he only produced and directed but also composed its stunning music. Many remember only the vintage Kishore “Main hoon jhum-jhum-jhum jhumroo”. But Kishore also composed the immortal “Koi hum dum na raha”, the lilting, carefree “Matwale hum, matwale tum” and that unforgettable number that always wafts as sweet and fresh as an evening breeze, “Thandi hawa, yeh chandini suhani.”
These exquisite compositions are amazing for another reason - Kishoreda also wrote the lyrics for all these songs. And who can forget the sight of Kishore carrying little Amit (who acted as Kishoreda’s mute son in the film) on his shoulders as he sang to him,
Aa chalke tujhe main leke chaloon
Ek aise gagan ke tale
Jahan gum bhi na ho
Aaanson bhi na ho
Bas pyar hi pyar pale (Door Gagan ki Chaon Main - 1964)
I speak of these songs not only they are such an integral part of any tribute to Kishoreda but also because they showcase what to me is his most beautiful and often forgotten side – Kishore Kumar the poet who could write lines such as
“Aise main chal raha hoon
Pedon ki chaaon mein
Jaise koi sitara
Badal ki gaon mein.”
And the musician who could compose such ever sweet, evergreen melodies as Koi laut de mere beete hua dil, Bekarar dil tu gaye ja and Panthi hoon main us path ka, the last 2 songs from another of his more successful home productions - Door ka Rahi (1971). And most of all, these songs showcase a voice as sweet and true as a child’s laughter that sang some of the most wonderful songs, sometimes wistful, sometimes playful, sometimes filled with the melancholy but always filled with melody and enchantment, touching your heart the way no one could. Chota sa ghar hoga (Naukri 1954), Jeevan ke safar mein rahi (Munimji 1955) Dukhi man mere (Funtoosh 1956), Hum hai rahi pyra ke (Nau do gyarah, 1957), Gaata rehe mera dil (Guide, 1965), Woh shyam kuch ajeeb thi (Khamoshi 1969), Yeh dard bhara afsana (Shreeman Funtoosh 1965) and Kora kagaz tha yeh man mera (Aradhana 1969) to name only a few.
Many of these songs were composed by the one man who as far back as 1951, when most had dismissed Kishore as a voice “jis mein woh baat nahin”, recognized a potential that made Salil Chowdhury later admit, "To Dada Burman goes the credit for having spotted the spark in the boy so early. Each one of us composers otherwise underestimated the tremendous potential of Kishore”. A potential that Salil realized fully only 9 years after this “boy” had romped and whooped and pranced and yodeled for him (Aankhon mein tum) in Half Ticket (1962). When Kishoreda sang the classic Koi hota jis ko apna hum apna keh lete yaaron for Salil in Gulzar's Mere Apne.
But perhaps the man who really understood Kishore was R D Burman. Pancham and Kishore were kindred spirits, soul brothers and their coming together was a magical meeting that happens perhaps just once in a lifetime. In that same 1984 Filmfare interview, Pancham also said of Kishore that he was the best male singer the industry had. “He is flexible. He can sing a classical song better than any of the others. I know because I have worked with all of them. He can sing a funny song or a sad song; no one can beat him in versatility. He has never learnt music but his ability to grasp is the secret of his success.” Between 1970 and 1975, R. D. Burman – then at the dizzying height of his dazzling career – scored music for an astonishing 75 films of which at least 25 were Hindi cinema’s greatest hits, not just cinematically but also musically. From Kati Patang all the way through Amar Prem, Seeta Aur Geeta, Mere Jeevan saathi, Yaadon ki Baraat, Namak Haram to Aap ki Kasam, Sholay and Aandhi. And in almost every one of them, Pancham exploited every cache of honey, every sweet nook and cranny of Kishore’s voice to its fullest. For every Jai Jai Shiv Shankar, he got Kishore to sing a Zindagee ke safar mein ( Aap Ki Kasam); for every Chala jata hoon (Mere Jeevan Saathi) that the man from Khandwa yodeled for him, he made him sing a Diye jalte hain (Namak Haraam); for every Ek Chatur Naar that he made Kishore prance through, he gave him a Kehna hai (Padosan); for every O saathi Chal (Seeta aur Geeta), there was a O maanjhee re (Khushboo), for every Yeh Shaam mastani, there was a Chingaree koi dhadke, for every Soocha na, hai re samjha na (Bombay to Goa), there was a Musafir hoon yaaron (Parichay); for every Aaya hoon main tujhko le jaaoonga (Manorajan), there was a Phir wohi raat hai raat hai pyaar ki (Ghar).
But perhaps the one song that demonstrates Kishoreda’s musical genius is “Tum Bin Jaaon Kahan”. R. D. Burman composed it for Pyar Ka Mausam in 1969 and scored two versions. One, picturised on the hero, Shashi Kapoor was sung by none other than the great Mohamed Rafi. And the other, picturised on the hero’s father, Bharat Bhushan was sung by Kishore. The measure of Kishoreda’s virtuosity is not only that his version – along with the film – became such an immortal hit that not many even know of the existence of Rafi’s version. But also that in this fact. As in all songs, between the verses there is a musical interlude. In Rafi’s version, it is a pretty enough piece played on the mandolin. But in Kishore’s version, he yodels it. And as he does, the interlude transforms, soaring and taking flight, painting the air with such poignant aching that the lyrics “Tum bin jaoon kahan” take on a new meaning. Till today, this yodeling interlude remains the most memorable part of a song that any discography of Kishore is in complete without.
And that is the final seal of Kishore’s incredible virtuosity – his yodeling. Not only that he yodelled so wonderfully that when his brother Anoop Kumar came home one day and heard yodeling in the house, he thought that somebody was playing the records that he had bought during a recent visit to Austria. Only to discover that it was Kishore who had learned how to yodel from Anoop's Austrian records! But that Kishore used the yodeling like an extension of his phenomenal voice, to convey everything from pain to passion. Which takes me a full circle to where I began this article…
The opening of Thandi hawa is a yodeling sequence, but “yodel” is a such bad label for what is the coolest, sweetest sound that seems to come out of nowhere, gentling echoing in the night sky, sprinkled with the most delicate, exquisite trickles of what must be moonlight rippling on water but is in fact the piano. And throughout the song, every now and then, this yodeling reappears, like a lovely gust of thandi hawa.
As that electric Kishore-Lata duet, Jai Jai Shiv Shankar (Aap ki Kasam 1974) ends with a fabulous folk rhythm piece and the sound of the dholaks build up to a crescendo, you can hear Kishoreda’s delighted voice shouting, “Bajao, bajao! Imandari se bajao!” (Play, play, play with honesty!) And that just about sums up what makes Kishore Kumar’s music – as a singer, music director and lyricist – so indescribably beautiful. It is because he never told a single musical lie. Every note was sung or written with honesty, ringing pure and true and clear without the faintest artifice. He made music as a child would - straight from the heart, with unbridled joy and delight. And such music can go to only one place. Our hearts.
If Truth ever starred in a film, it would choose Kishore Kumar - as playback singer, music director and lyricist.
Har dil ke pyar hum
Sabki bahar hum
Humko bahaaronse kya
Sabse naina mila-mila ke
Dilki kaliyan khila-khila ke
Chalte chale leherake hum
Matwale hum, matwale tum….