Subject: Kishore Kumar
Posted: "Rajan P. Parrikar" (parrikar@mimicad.Colorado.EDU)
Source: The Illustrated Weekly of India, April 28, 1985.
Namashkaar. Here is yetanudder piece on Kishore Kumar, in
co-memoration of The One and Only's seventh death anniversary which
falls on October 13.
The legend of Kishore Kumar began 37 years back, when a young lad
from Khandwa turned up in Bombay, to meet his brother Ashok
Kumar, then a superstar, and wangle an introduction to K.L. Sai-
gal, the great singer whom he idolised.
He never got to meet Saigal, but was coaxed, cajoled, bullied
into stardom and ended up becoming the most successful comic hero
Hindi films has ever seen. With a long string of hits to his
credit and an unfulfilled ambition to be the most famous singer
in the land.
The ambition he realised much later, as his songs began to find a
bigger and bigger market in the land. So he quit the grime and
greasepaint and stuck to warbling. Becoming a bigger and bigger
star in the process.
Today, he is on the top. The unquestionable king of the disc.
Paid an incredible amount for every song he sings. And chased by
a virtual army of income tax officers, hoping to get their hands
on part of the money.
Married to four of the most interesting women in filmdom, at dif-
ferent times of his life -Ruma Devi, Madhubala, Yogeeta Bali and
Leena Chandavarkar - Kishore Kumar's penchant for the comic and
the bizarre has created a strange reputation for him. Everyone
thinks he is crazy and the stories doing the rounds are absolute-
ly incredible. If rumours are to be believed, he has turned
cuckoo several times already.
Pritish Nandy met the singing superstar last week, just after his
announcement that he was quitting everything and going back to
his ancestral village at Khandwa. To sit back and watch the sun
set in its glorious hues.
Who would like to stay in this hell hole?, declaims Kishore
Kumar. Bombay stinks. So does this stupid, juvenile film indus-
try where money alone speaks the language of power, talent and
authority. I'd rather go back to my roots.
He doesn't smoke. He doesn't drink. He has no friends and never
socialises. And there's one thing he treasures more than money.
His solitude. That's Kishore Kumar for you, the man with the gol-
den voice, who has reigned over the world of popular music for
almost two decades now.
A madcap genius, fiercely committed to the bizarre and the outra-
geous, he has over the years nurtured carefully his image as a
strange, unpredictable man who defies definition. At the same
time he has sung and danced his way into the hearts of millions
of Indians who swear by him. So the film industry, always a
worshipper of success, has chased him with money and accolades.
In the hope of taming him, as it has always tamed the talented.
But, to Kishore Kumar, this has meant nothing. He has wallowed in
solitude, yodelling at the moon. He has married four of the most
interesting women in the industry and picked up more money than
you and I can ever dream of. And, what is perhaps most important,
done it without compromising anything whatsoever. On his own
At his peak, when for almost a decade he was number one to number
ten, all rolled into one, and there was no one to be seen any-
where around, he would be running from one recording studio to
the next. Singing sometimes four to five songs a day. And charg-
ing exactly one rupee less than Lata Mangeshkar - in deference to
her seniority. What precisely does that mean in terms of actual
figures? Well, if rumours are to be believed - and usually relai-
ble industry sources - every song recorded would make him Rs.
15000 richer. Multiply that by several songs a day, and a reign
over almost two decades, and you have Fort Knox at Juhu.
Not bad for a man who never had any formal training in music nor
a guru. Who still can't read notations and cannot name more than
three classical Indian singers without prompting. He has only
four idols in life. K.L. Saigal; Marlon Brando; Boris Karloff;
and Topol of Fiddler on the Roof fame. All over his house you
will see their giant-sized photo- graphs and posters framed. And,
if you share his enthusiasm for them, he might just condescend to
give you the time of day. Otherwise you might never get to see
the man - so ferociously does he preserve his privacy. Interviews
are out. Visitors rarely get past the front gate.
Kishore Kumar Ganguly, for that is his full name, arrived in Bom-
bay in the late forties, in the hope of meeting K.L. Saigal, his
childhood idol. But pecualiar circumstances - and the fact that
his eldest brother Ashok Kumar was already a hit hero of those
days - forced him into bit roles as an actor. He hated acting but
was too scared to tell his elder brother that. So singing got
pushed into the background and he started to make a living as an
Luck stood by the shy young man and within a couple of years he
hit the big league. As the funny hero, who sang, danced and en-
tertained - as against the usual dour-faced, romantic kinds, who
would break into tears at the slightest pretext. It worked. And
Kishore Kumar became a runaway success. So popular was he in
those days that he could hardly keep track of the number of films
he was doing. And his habit of trying to always play truant began
the legend of the eccentric. Producers and directors were always
chasing him - and he was perpetually trying to run away from the
sets. Where? To the privacy of his home, where he lived alone.
For Ruma, his first wife, had already left him and gone to Cal-
cutta - where she settled down with a little-known film-maker.
So busy was he in those days that once in a while someone else
had to playback for him. Like Mohammad Rafi did in Shararat. Un-
believable for someone whose first love was singing and who was
determined to ultimately get down to it seriously.
He now married for the second time. Madhubala, the most exquisite
heroine that Indian cinema has perhaps ever produced, was his
second wife. But, she, alas, was a very sick woman then and they
spent nine tormented years together - during which period he vir-
tually sat by and watched her die of a congenital heart ailment
that no one could cure.
Meanwhile the legends grew. Of his weird ways. His strange, out-
landish lifestyle. His miserliness. His quirks. His kinky
behaviour. Legends he encouraged because they helped him to
preserve his solitude and kept the industry at a distance. An in-
dustry he had nothing but contempt for.
The stories are legion about how he taught erring producers les-
sons. Particularly those who failed to pay him his dues in time.
Once he turned up on the sets with exactly half his face made up
because the producer had only settled half his dues. Another
time, an unluckier producer found him with half his head and half
his moustache shaved off because he had not paid him more than
half his money. The shooting schedules had to be cancelled for
almost a month. Mehmood, one of the few people in the industry he
can still call a friend, has described how he once had to hire a
pistol to threaten Kishore Kumar so that he could come to the
sets. He laughs off most of these stories today as exaggeration
but concedes that he had to try every trick in the trade - and
many outside it as well - just to make people pay him his legiti-
mate dues in an industry notorious for its unkept promises.
As for the money he has made, he claims that the income tax au-
thorities have virtually reduced him to penury by taxing him on
not just whatever he has earned but adding on interest on all de-
layed payments. It will take me more than another lifetime to
settle all my dues with them, once and for all, rues the singer
in one of his rare serious moments.
After living alone for quite some years after the legendary
Madhubala's death, Kishore Kumar tied the nuptial knot again.
This time, with the young and upcoming actress, Yogeeta Bali. It
was his shortest marriage and collapsed even before it got going,
thanks to the bitter feud between the actress' ambitious mother
and the irritable husband. A quick divorce, and a reportedly
large settlement, and she was out of his Gaurikunj like a shot -
to marry Mithun Chakravarty, the actor, shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, Kishore - who had switched lanes from the sing-
ing star to the king of the playback empire - kept doing better
and better, for those were the golden days of both the film in-
dustry and the music business. Piracy had still not arrived on
the scene and big films were raking in big money. The record com-
panies were competing with each other for the high stakes in the
music business and everything was ticketty boo. The king of the
bompitty boom boom boom boom was yodelling away to glory, sitting
on top of the heap.
But things are no longer the same these days. The death watch is
on in the movie business, with rampant video piracy and popular
television wooing away the audiences. The bottom has dropped out
of the music industry and the recording companies are virtually
counting their last days. The great music directors have died or
have simply faded away. And even though Kishore still remains on
the top, he is a sad, dis- illusioned man filled with memories of
He is now married again. To actress Leena Chandavarkar, who has
borne him another son. And they live together as a happy family,
surrounded by thousands of horror film cassettes and memories of
years gone by.
The kinks remain. The skull in the bedroom with red light emerg-
ing from its eyes. The upturned chairs in the living room. The
relics of the old car that played the protagonist in Chalti ka
Naam Gadi. The large photographs and posters of his idols staring
down at you from every corner of the house. The cuckoo clock in
the living room. The board outside Gaurikunj that warns you to
enter at your own risk. The phone that rings and rings for hours
before anyone attends to it.
If he keeps his word and quits Bombay, as he has threatened to
last month, tinseltown will be poorer. And it's just possible he
might. For his native Khandwa still beckons to him: the call of
the skies, the trees, the good earth - for a simple man who loved
all these and lost them, chasing the quick buck in Bombay's as-
phalt jungle. He never loved the city. He hated the movie busi-
ness and had honest contempt for its people. All he did was make
money and hope for a miracle. The miracle never happened. The
void in his heart just grew and grew. And less and less people
understood the agony and the ecstasy of his stardom, as he found
himself pushed more and more into the privacy of his own world,
searching for his own truths.
They call him crazy. But who is more crazy? Kishore Kumar or
those who try to perpetuate this ruthless, insensate rat race
where only the winners count. What victory? At what price? Let's
ask Kishore himself.
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