Review: Kishore Kumar; The Ultimate Biography by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar
Compulsory reading for any Kishore Kumar fan, this extensive work brings out the singer and film personality’s character, talent, eccentricities and zest for life
In Sandip Ray’s 1988 documentary Zindagi Ek Safar, Rajesh Khanna recalls his first meeting with Kishore Kumar. The ace singer had called him to his place, where he listened to the actor talking and reacting to his questions for more than 30 minutes. Khanna later figured out that Kishore was studying his face, voice and style of speech so he could adapt their characteristics into his own voice. He was so successful at it that when Khanna first heard Mere Sapnon Ki Rani from Aradhana, he felt like he was singing it himself.
This is one of the numerous anecdotes mentioned in Kishore Kumar: The Ultimate Biography, written by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar. In their extensive and well researched work, the authors bring out the character of the great film personality, right from his talent and uniqueness to his eccentricities and zest for life. Coupled with great detail and plenty of trivia, this makes for compulsory reading for any Kishore fan. As Prince Ravi Verma, Carnatic singer and veena exponent, says in the introduction, “Kishore Kumar was a miracle of nature, who was blessed in equal measure, with unbridled energy, complete lack of inhibition, breathtaking versatility, extraordinary range, absolute precision and gut-wrenching emotional intensity, sensitivity and tenderness.”
The foreword has been written by media personality Pritish Nandy and the afterword is by Sromona Chakraborty, vocalist and daughter of Kishore’s first wife Ruma Guha Thakurta. The book is divided into three broad sections – Bhairav: The Morning, Poorvi: The Afternoon and Kalyan: The Evening, with even the subsections being named after classical raags. While fans would obviously be familiar with the broader details of the legend’s life, the book adds to their knowledge through specific incidents narrated by those close to him.
The brother of actors Ashok Kumar and Anoop Kumar, the young Aabhas Kumar Ganguly grew up in a Bengali family in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. Kishore/ Keshore was his formal name. Even as a child, he loved doing weird things. For instance, he once domesticated a jackal pup and put it in a cage. He was also a master at mimicking the calls of birds and animals. The cow was his favourite, and often, his mother Gauri Rani would come with a cane, only to discover that it was her son mooing.
READ MORE: Excerpt: Kishore Kumar: The Ultimate Biography
Kishore’s sister Sati Rani exposed him to music, and by the age of seven, he was seriously listening to the Bangla musical drama Alibaba and to the Rabindra dance drama Barshamangal. Later, the radio got him hooked on to the voice of Kundan Lal Saigal. The habit of yodelling was courtesy Anoop, who exposed him to the music of Jimmie Rodgers and Tex Morton
While at college in Indore, Kishore nursed an ambition to become a playback singer. Brother Ashok was already an established actor, with major hits like Acchut Kanya and Kismet. One of Kishore’s mentors was music director Khemchamd Prakash, who helped refine his voice through training, and made him studio-friendly. Prakash gave Kishore two songs in the 1948 Dev Anand film Ziddi – the solo Marne Ki Duwayen and his duet with Lata Mangeshkar Yeh Kaun Aaya Re. Though one has often read about his first chance encounter with Mangeshkar while travelling on the same local train, this book captures the incident in detail.
Co-author Bhattacharjee has written extensively on Hindi film music, teaming up with Balaji Vittal on biographies of RD Burman and SD Burman, besides penning Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, a compilation of 50 classics. In the Kishore Kumar book, he and Parthiv Dhar write in a simple, accessible style.
Besides his singing career, the book also goes into detail about Kishore Kumar’s role as a filmmaker and an actor. His acting performances in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Half Ticket, Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, Pyar Kiye Jaa, Padosan and Door Ka Rahi are discussed in detail. In Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, he cast his son Amit Kumar without informing Ruma. Though extremely upset, she attended the premiere held at Metro cinema in Bombay.
Though the media made much about his rivalry with Mohammed Rafi, the book highlights the fact that they were actually very close friends. The authors also describe Kishore’s association with music directors SD Burman, RD Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, besides talking about how Kishore adapted his voice to sing for Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar, Rishi Kapoor and Jeetendra. Though some of his songs with Amitabh Bachchan are mentioned, one wishes there was more on this subject, as he sang many big hits for the superstar. Though there is a song index, the book could probably have also included a list on top songs sung for major music directors and actors.
LISTEN: Books & Authors podcast with Anirudha Bhattacharjee, coauthor Kishore Kumar; The Ultimate Biography
Kishore’s marriages to Ruma, Madhubala, Yogeeta Bali and Leena Chandavarkar, his health issues and the frequent income-tax raids get adequate mention. Considering that he had such an illustrious life, this book covers all the main events, with the right amount of focus. Some readers may feel some of the chapters needed to be more elaborate, with more trivia on the recording of some songs. But that’s an issue that has more to do with Kishore Kumar himself. When it comes to talking about him, there’s no end. There never will be.
Narendra Kusnur is a veteran music journalist. He lives in Mumbai.