Saturday, October 13, 2012

On the 25th anniversary of Kishore Kumar's passing

Today marks the 25th anniversary of when the world lost Kishore Kumar, whose songs would leave his fans forever in their eternal trance. His voice is my earliest memory of Bollywood and is the standard to which I hold all singers in Indian movies to this day. Today's blogpost is a composite of several write ups I did a few years ago. Kishoreda is most remembered as a singer but was also a versatile actor, producer, director & music composer. Today's song is the live version Aah Chal Ke Tujhe from the movie 'Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein' (1964) in which he did all the aforementioned tasks. Kishore once said he wrote the lyrics of the song for his son to describe what he imagined heaven to be like. Somewhere he is looking down on us today and probably a bit surprised that he is still so fondly remembered by his fans, both old and new.

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 1 (The 50's)

I still remember the first time I heard Kishore Kumar's voice. The year was 1975, I was seven years old and the soundtrack for 'Amar Akbar Anthony' had just come out. My family had recently moved to the US from India and one of my parent's friends brought over the LP of the movie. The songs were played so many times that they became firmly entrenched into my childhood memories and in turn Kishore Kumar became permanently ingrained into my psyche. I own virtually every song that he has ever sung and he is the one artist whom I never tire of listening to. I can name virtually every actor that he has sung for and watched certain actor's movies just because I knew Kishore was going to be doing the songs. I would sit through the opening credits of a movie and if I didn't see his name under 'playback singers' I would go back to what I was doing. I was a fan(atic) in every sense of the word. And when he passed away 25 years ago I stopped watching Bollywood movies altogether and missed out on the introductory movies of SRK, Aamir Khan, etc. I eventually came back around for the film 'Aashiqui' (because the songs were all sung by Kumar Sanu aka 'the voice of Kishore Kumar) but to this day I will happily listen to Kishoreda over any other Bollywood singer.

Kishore came to Bombay at the age of eighteen to strike it big as a singer. His older brother (Ashok Kumar) was the biggest actor of the day and since Kishore had no formal training no one would hire him as a singer. He turned to acting in desperation to keep from going home a failure but adamantly refused to give up his dream. His hero was the legendary singer K.L. Saigal and Kishore imitated his style in his first few (mostly forgettable) songs. S.D. Burman sat him down soon after and gave him some advice at the behest of Kishore's older brother. Burman (who would eventually become his mentor) told him that while his voice did have potential - if he wanted to be truly remembered he had to sing and find a style that was his and not merely a copy of someone else's. His career blossomed once he took that advice to heart and he began to churn out hit after hit - both as an actor and a singer. One of his earliest successes was in the movie 'Paying Guest' with the song Mana Janab Se Pukar in 1957 starring Dev Anand (Kishore sang for movies starring only himself & Devsaab back then).

Another one of his earliest & biggest hits was the title song from 'Jhumroo' titled Main Hoon Jhumroo which is memorable for Kishore's trademark yodeling. It was during this decade that he married Madhubala (his second of four wives) and made a few movies with her as well, the best being 'Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi' which is special enough to get it's own write up one of these days.

Next up - Kishore's success as a singer flames out as his acting roles dry up in the 1960's. His triumphant return to the top of the charts in 1969 helped to propel a little known actor into superstardom with just one movie...

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 2 (The 60's)

The 1960's were not kind to Kishore Kumar. Most of the movies he starred in flopped at the box office, his marriage to his first wife ended in divorce and his songs were just not getting the airplay they had been when he first broke into the business. While he had the odd hit in 'Padosan' & 'Jewel Thief', for the most part it seemed that Bollywood had grown tired of Kishore and his career seemed over. He remarried in 1960 to the luminous Madhubala but the marriage was doomed from the start. Madhubala secretly pined for Dilip Kumar, who did indeed love her back - but Dilip's father forbade the two from getting married as he did not want his son marrying an actress (which he did anyway with Saira Banu). Madhubala passed away in 1969 while in Kishore's arms - she had loved him during their time together but was never in love with him. Yet that year would prove a watershed year in Kishore's life both personally and professionally...

S.D. Burman had already started recording the songs for 'Aradhana' and used Rafi's voice for the first two but became very ill shortly thereafter and had to be hospitalized. The responsibility for finishing the soundtrack fell on his son, Rahul Dev Burman and although R.D. was relatively new to Bollywood, he had always been enamored with Kishore's voice. The younger Burman broke tradition and recorded the remainder of the songs with Kishore, convinced that Kishoreda would be able to hit the nuances of the songs better than Rafi could. 'Aradhana' became a blockbuster hit and that one movie changed the entire landscape of Bollywood for years to come. Rajesh Khanna became the biggest movie star of the day and no one, not Raj Kapoor before him or Amitabh Bachchan after, could match the way he owned the silver screen for the next five years. Kishore fared even better, after the success of 'Aradhana' he became the most sought after singer in Bollywood until he passed away and had few if any peers to his craft.

The above video is of the song Kora Kagaz from the movie 'Aradhana'. A spellbinding duet by Kishore & Lata, it was also the song to which Nilong & I were introduced as husband and wife at our wedding reception. The song is iconic and like most things involving Kishore, it still sounds as fresh and alive as it did when it was first released over 40 years ago...

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 3 (The early 70's)

(From right - Kishore, Dev Anand, Yash Chopra & R.D. Burman)

Kishore Kumar was simply unstoppable after the blockbuster success of 'Aradhana' - every music producer wanted him for their songs and each leading man of the day wanted to be associated with his voice. I don't remember being particularly enamored with Rajesh Khanna but do remember watching all of his movies just to hear songs from Kishore. Indeed, the Rajesh/Kishore pairing became legendary in Bollywood and soon more leading men became associated with his voice - Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Dharmendra (just to name a few) and audiences simply could not get enough.

After the death of Mukesh in 1976 it was Kishore who received the lion's share of the work along with the other legend from early Bollywood, Mohammed Rafi. But as high as Kishore's star rose in the early part of the 70's - it would be nothing compared to the success that he found when he became the voice associated with the the angry young man with the baritone voice from Allahbad later on that decade...

The video below is from 'Chor Machaye Shor' which starred Shashi Kapoor. The song showcases the maturity of Kishore Kumar as an artist and was one of the signature songs of the movie as well.

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 4 (The late 70's)

Amitabh Bachchan & Kishore Kumar - one cannot really imagine the voice of Amitabh as anyone else. They went together as well (or better) than Dev Anand/Kishore or Rajesh Khanna/Kishore as THE voice that pops into your mind when you think about a particular actor. So well suited was Kishore's voice for Amitji that I remembering having spirited discussions (spirited for a 13 year old at least) with friends who insisted that it was Amitabh singing the songs, years before he began to do so. And perhaps I would not have been as big of an Amitabh fan if some other singer had done his playback singing. I can count on one hand the movies in which Kishore did not provide playback for an Amitabh movie during the 70's & 80's. It was an amazing run where one's popularity just fueled the other's and resulted in both of them reaching unprecedented success in Bollywood. Kishore deliberately sang one octave deeper when he sang for AB & slightly changed his pitch when he sang for other actors - just another piece of the genius that is my favorite singer of all time.

The video below is from one the earliest movies that Kishore was used as playback for Amitabh in the film 'Bombay to Goa' - the exuberant energy of this song is incredibly infectious and most likely will lead to random dancing with a big smile on your face - Dekha Na Hai Re.

Kishore Kumar Tribute - Final Chapter (80's)

I had a big send off planned for this final post - a trip back through memory lane when Kishore owned Bollywood and his songs alone could guarantee the opening of a movie regardless of the actor in the starring role (including playback on both Anil Kapoor's & Sanjay Dutt's first films). Every music composer wanted to work with him and he did some of his best work near the end of his career. I listen to his songs much the same way a classical music fan listens to the symphony - never tiring of every intonation his voice makes nor of hearing songs I have heard 100 times before. His voice affects me like no other and would be my first choice if I had to pick a 'desert island soundtrack' meaning a collection of records that would accompany me should I be marooned like Tom Hanks in 'Cast Away'.

He was larger than life and his career spanned almost four decades in Bollywood as a singer, actor, director, producer & music composer. But his first love was singing and he will always be remembered for that. I have fond memories of a concert I attended that he gave at Sanmukhanand Hall in Bombay in 1983. Our seats were on the 7th row (two rows behind Ashok Kumar) in the sold out arena. Kishore came out and entertained the crowd single-handedly for over 4 hours and left the audience breathless. So here we are, over two decades after his passing and despite my self-imposed exile from Hindi Cinema in the three years following his death - I still love Bollywood. And judging from what I see - Bollywood's love for Kishore continues to this day. His songs have been in several major movies in the modern era - 'Om Shanti Om' & 'The Darjeeling Limited' (just to mention a few) and if you Google his name you will get 159,000 hits - exactly 55,000 more than the the #1 singer in Bollywood today, Sonu Nigam.

I racked my brain trying to come up with that one song that would be the defining moment in Kishore's career in the 80's and just couldn't do it. His popularity during that time was unprecedented as he was the last remaining member of the 'Big Three' (along with Mukesh & Rafi). So the song for today is the one I mentioned in the post above - a live recording of the haunting Aa Chalke Tujhe from the movie 'Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein' - a movie in which Kishore acted, sang, directed, produced & composed the music for as well.

And the video for today is by the only Hollywood actor that Kishore provided playback duties for (click here to view)... somehow I think Kishore would have approved & just proves to me that I am not the only one who misses him. The original video/song that Homer et al were singing is from the movie 'Johnny Mera Naam' and can be found below.