Yesterday was Kishore Kumar’s 85th Birthday…and Google did what it does best and made a Doodle for this occasion.
Kishore Kumar is best known as one of the greatest and most versatile singers ever to lend his voice to another person in Indian films. But he is also fondly remembered by thousands of fans like me as one of the greatest comic actors India has ever produced. He was also a director, producer, writer and music composer with some amount of success to his credit.
Imdb lists 760 films in which he has been credited as playback singer, 94 acting credits, 8 credits each for direction and music composition and 5 credits each as producer and writer. But for all of these credits and all the adulation he receives even today from Indians of all ages, I still feel he is vastly underrated and underappreciated in our country.
Did I just say that Kishore Kumar is underrated and underappreciated? Bleeding Google made a doodle about him on his 85th birthday man! All of Facebook posted songs sung by him and wished him a happy birthday as if he were still around to care! In what universe is that underrated and underappreciated?
Ah well, rhetorical device, give me a chance to explain before you lose your shit. (UNRELATED NOTE: Yes, this is the ‘lose’ you should be writing when you don’t mean the opposite of ‘tight’. Because ‘loosing your shit’ would just be diarrhea.) I did not say he is unappreciated…just under, and therein lies the difference.
I say this because even though most of us agree that he was an absolutely awesome singer and an amazing comedic actor, we often fail to realize that he was in fact an unparalleled genius and one of the greatest, most epic human beings to ever grace this planet with his presence. Yes, that is the level of appreciation he should be getting…not “I love listening to Kishore Da songs” or “He was really funny in Padosan.”
Here are the reasons why I believe that Kishore Kumar was so full of WIN that you are not even beginning to do him justice by posting a “Top 10 Romantic Songs” list.
(Note: I have heard that list based articles are inexplicably more successful on the internets than articles written like normal people…that is why I am disguising something which has actual content as something which mostly does not.)
1. The Mimicry
First a disclaimer – the word mimicry has an extremely bad rap in India, thanks to the lakhs of substandard comics/comedians over the ages who have done nothing but imitate stylized forms of the mannerisms of certain famous actors in the name of comedy. More often than not, it is a way to cover up extremely poorly written jokes with something familiar. But these bad examples and the baggage associated with this word in your mind should be kept aside at least for the duration of this entry.
I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but most singers have a very distinctive voice. When you hear a Mukesh song, you instantly know it is Mukesh (and when you hear a Nitin Mukesh song you instantly know it is someone trying their darnedest to sound as close to Mukesh as possible). This is true for all playback singers…Lata always sounds like Lata, Asha sounds similar but uniquely different enough, Rafi sounds like Rafi, Sonu Nigam sounds like someone told him that he sounds like Rafi, Kumar Sanu sounds like he’s scowling all the time, Udit Narayan sounds like he’s smiling all the time, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam sounds like an awesome moustache condensed into audio form, Mika sounds like a superdrunk Daler Mehndi and Yo Yo Honey Singh sounds like someone who clearly doesn’t know how to sing.
But what does Kishore Kumar sound like?
If you think all of those voices sounded alike, then you probably can’t tell the difference between Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamurthy. But if you can tell the difference then go ahead and listen to Kishore lending his voice to those same actors in other songs. What you will start realizing is that while every good playback singer’s voice varies slightly depending on the tone and mood of the song, Kishore added a third factor…the actor he was singing it for.
Having a distinctive voice is a great thing for a singer to have (ask Mika, he earns more money than you can imagine just because his voice is extremely distinctive). But playback singing is more than just singing…it is voice acting, it is the act of making people believe that the song is being sung by the person they see on screen and not some other guy in a studio. That is why Mukesh sang almost all Raj Kapoor songs, Rafi sang most of Shammi Kapoor’s, Udit Narayan did Aamir Khan and SP sang Salman’s songs…their voices suited those actors. And that is why Kishore Kumar was the greatest playback singer (emphasis on playback) ever.
Just listen to that last clip again…he keeps going from Kishore Kumar singing for crazy Kishore Kumar pretending to be a girl to Kishore Kumar singing for Pran and back without any cuts or double takes. If that doesn’t blow your mind, nothing should.
2. The ‘Insanity’
There are many stories of Kishore’s extremely erratic and eccentric behavior that are almost legendary now. He had a sign outside his home saying “Beware of Kishore”…and he used it as an excuse after he bit producer director HS Rawail’s hand. Once a producer got an injunction against him to follow the director’s orders on set…he proceeded to drive all the way to Khandala after giving a driving shot because he didn’t hear the director say cut. He once came to a set wearing makeup on only half his face because he had only been given half the payment he wanted for that film. He drove away from his house and a waiting GP Sippy, who followed him all the way to Madh Island…where he refused to recognize Sippy and threatened to call the police. And the next day he turned up at Sippy’s recording session and said that he was out of town the last day. He locked up a financier visiting his house in a cupboard. He wanted to dig a trench around his bungalow, fill it with water and sail gondolas in it. He named his trees and had conversations with them. And above all, he refused to sing for Sanjay Gandhi during the emergency.
But was he certifiably insane…definitely not. His projected (and sometimes seemingly real) insanity was a mask he wore to be able to deal with ‘normal’ human beings. As he said in an interview to Pritish Nandy “I play different roles at different times…for different people. In this crazy world, only the truly sane man appears to be mad.”
The thing is that he found it extremely difficult to connect with most people and used an absurdist sarcastic style to interact with them, to maintain his own comfort. The thing is he might have been a misanthrope based on most of his experiences with life and people. The thing is that this mad clown was actually the real life protagonist of the greatest love story never told. The thing is that he felt betrayed by the world over and over again and chose to deal with it through humor. The thing is that the man might have been deeply sad and reclusive, but he never even once thought that he should talk about it seriously…to anyone.
Read that interview in full if you haven’t already. It is a paraphrasing of the whole life and worldview of Kishore Kumar. And if you look closely you will see what they mean when they say that there is a fine line between insanity and genius…and you will see Kishore Kumar somersaulting along that line and not giving any fucks about what you think.
The man’s whole public life was basically a performance. A performance on par with his insane antics in films like Half Ticket and Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. Most people can at the most aspire to a life that leaves a lasting impression on a few generations to come…Kishore Kumar’s life was a piece of art.
3. This Film
Kishore Film Presents
Kishore Kumar in
Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi
Story, Screenplay, Lyric, Music, Produced, Directed, World Rights Controlled By Kishore Kumar
This movie is so awesome and so ahead of its times that it had Bappi Da in it (in 1974!!!)…and while Kishore Da with the most magnificent beard known to mankind (at least until you watch the surprise twist ending) beats up some goons to save the heroine, Bappi Da strums a guitar and provides live background music to the fighting. This film deserves millions of fans and a cult following…and it deserves a full article, which I think I shall be writing at a future date (Coming Soon to this blog at an internets near you!). But for now, all I will say is that even if Kishore Kumar had done nothing except this film in his whole career, I would still have been a die hard fan. But of course we know that this film is just a tiny, infinitesimal part of the vast decades spanning career he had.
So here’s to the towering genius and infinitely awesome human being who deserves to be remembered all the year round and not just on his birthday.
PS: So far I believe that the Anurag Basu helmed biopic starring Ranbir is going to suck big time. I hope they prove me wrong, though.