My father Kunjalal Ganguli, was a pleader (advocate) who earned Rs 30 a month. My mama, Dhananjay Banerjee, a classical singer, was the only family link I had with music. But I was never trained to be a singer. It was my brother Dadamoni who learnt music from the well-known Saraswati Devi.
Very early in life I was fascinated by K.L. Saigal. I used to save my pocket money to buy his records. He’s my real guru.
In Padosan, I mimicked my mama – long hair, kajal in the eyes, constant paan-chewing and the works. My performance was so perfect that shooting was halted after two days. Both Mehmood and Sunil felt that I was stealing every scene from them, and they got down to working on their get-ups. That’s how Mehmood and Sunil got to earing wigs etc.
When I married Leena I didn’t expect to be a father again. After all, I was in my fifties then. But Sumeet has been a source of immense joy to me. Leena, Amit, Sumeet and I today make a well-adjusted foursome. I had always longed for a secure, happy family. It remained just a dream until Leena came along. With her, for the first time, I have achieved emotional security.
I was surprised when “Lata agreed to do stage shows with me in London. Though I was thrilled, I was worried about one thing – her discipline. She would never go on stage without proper rehearsal. But I like to take things easy. We had to sing five duets: Chai pe bulaya hain (Souten), Gata rahe mera dil (Guide), Jai jai shiv shankar (Aap ki Kasam), Accha to hum chalte hain (Aan Milo Sajana) and Kora kagaz tha yeh man mera (Aradhana). The problem arose when it was time for us to go on stage. We couldn’t decide who should go first. I suggested that Lata sing first because she was my senior. But she didn’t. Instead she went on stage to introduce me. She praised me a lot, but made it a point to add, “I call him Da because he is older to me”. Yes, I’m one month and 24 days older than her! We did three shows in Wembley. During the first one there was a problem because organizer had publicized that we’d be singing “Angrezi mein kehte hain I love you”(Khuddar). But Lata refused to sing the song because it contained the word ‘idiot’ in it. Again she put her foot down against “Pag ghungroo” (Namak Halal) because she said it belittled Meerabai. Instead, she said, I should sing a bhajan. I was nonplussed because I couldn’t remember any. Finally, I managed to sing one – Hari naam ka pyaala -rendered originally by S.D. Burman. It was received with great applause.
“I am a crazy fan of Topol’s. When we were in London, I saw an advertisement of “Fiddler on the Roof” in the drama section of a newspaper. I thought they’d made a mistake. When I checked, I was told that there WAS a stage show of “Fiddler…”. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was. I had seen the film at least a hundred times and now I had an opportunity to see my favorite actor perform right in front of me. Would you believe it, I attended all the four consecutive shows. I went backstage to introduce myself to Topol and even took his autograph. I still remember the date – September 9, 1983. He presented me a copy of his autobiography, Topol by Topol, and I presented him the records and cassettes of my songs. In 1960, he was only 48-49 but still he played the old man so beautifully. I think nobody, just nobody, can perform the way Topol did in Fiddler. He actually sings through the whole film. Neither Dilip Kumar nor Ashok Kumar can match him.”
My brother Ashok discouraged Anoop and me from joining films. You are a pair of donkeys, he said”, Kishore Kumar gleefully narrated to Filmfare in 1955.
When Ashok Kumar became a favorite Bombay Talkies hero, Kishore was still at college ”trying to get through examinations”.
“I could do little else besides sing” Kishore said frankly. “I was never good at studies so I used to compose different tunes for different subjects. For instance I composed a tune for a paragraph on the Malthusian theory of population.”
The Gangulys used to visit Bombay once a year. During one of these visits Kishore was asked by the music director, Khemchand Prakash to sing for Dev Anand in Ziddi. Kishore became very popular as a playback singer and got many assignments, but even then he was not very serious about a film career.
In a diary he wrote for Filmfare in 1957, Kishore talked of Ashok. “I’m in fifth form and I’m very proud of my brother. Hasn’t Ashok Kumar Ganguly of Khandwa become a film star?”
Jeevan Naiya, Ashok’s first film, comes to Khandwa. Kishore and a few friends of his, all fans of Master Vithal and other action heroes of stunt films, eagerly go to see “Big brother laying low a dozen villains”, but are disappointed. It’s a soft sentimental film – and Ashok Kumar even puts up with a slap from another character. “That very night,” said Kishore, “I write Dadamoni a letter, telling him he had better swing his fists around a bit in his next film or he will lose a number of fans in Khandwa.”
In the same diary, Kishore recalled attending a night shooting of Mahal, starring Ashok Kumar and Madhubala, at Filmistan Studios in Bombay. During a break in shooting, Kishore gave Madhubala a big fright putting on “a grotesque mask with a drooping moustache” which he had taken along with him. Years later, he was to marry her.
Writing an interview with Kishore in 1970, a Filmfare staffer noted that it added to ”that well-known Kishore Kumar mystique of lack of continuity and endless little puzzlements.”
Though Kishore didn’t appear from or disappear into any cupboards during the interview, he did exit, for no particular reason, through a rear door of the room and re-entered through the front door enjoying immensely the journalist’s momentary bafflement.
The room had photographs of Rabindranath Tagore, Ashok Kumar and Dev Anand and a painting of “The Last Supper”. The interview recorded that Kishore’s dislikes were telephone calls, tax problems, cigarette smoke, alcohol and the studio routine.
Kishore Kumar had put a “Beware of Kishore” sign at the door of his Warden Road flat, where he stayed for some time while his bungalow was being done up. Once, the producer-director H. S. Rawail, who owed him some money, visited his flat to pay the dues. Kishore Kumar took the money, and when Rawail offered to shake hands with him, he reportedly put Rawail’s hand in his mouth, bit it, and asked “Didn’t you see the sign?”.
Kishore Kumar got an admission in a prestigious college in Indore post his matriculation. He had acute stage fright then. He used to sing from behind the curtains and never faced the audience. When he left for Bombay, it is said that he owed an amount of Rs 5.75 to his college canteen. This probably may be the inspiration for the ”Paanch Rupaiya Barah Aana ” song in his ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”.
Kishore Kumar was very fond of Sachin Dev Burman and used to respect him a lot. During a recording of his song, SD Burman had a heart attack, and was admitted to the hospital. Kishore Kumar rushed to the hospital and promised him to complete the recording. Not only he kept his promise, he sang it with such elan that it went on to become one of his signature song in the days to come — “Badi sooni sooni hai…”
In another crazy incident, Kishore Kumar once drove straight to Khandala from the film set by his car. The director was apparently unmindful and forgot to say “CUT” in a car scene where Kishore was supposed to drive. Kishore Kumar started the car and kept driving as the director didn’t say cut…
Kishore da was very particular about his remunerations. Once a producer paid him half in advance and said that he would like to pay the rest once the film is completed. The next day, Kishore Kumar shocked everybody when he appeared with half of his head and moustache shaved! and he told everybody that he would continue appearing like this in every shot until he is given the full amount!
Kishore Kumar was known for his pranks and caricatures. Once he started acting as if he had his son accompanying everywhere. he would talk to the little kid and reply himself with a different voice. If he didnt like a song while recording, he would say in the child’s voice “baba yeh gana achha nahi hai”. Then he would say “nahin beta aise nahi bolte, ghar pe jake bolna” and so on. This continued for so long that his coleagues got used to his ‘manas putra’ (The child of imagination)
The song “Khai ke pan Banaraswala” was first composed for Dev Anand’s “Banarasi Babu”. When Kalyanji-Anandji approached Kishore Kumar for this song, Kishore disliked the lyrics and refused to lend his voice for the songs. But when the Musician duo convinced Kishore that the situation as well as times demand such song, Kishore agreed. The hearsay goes, Kishore chewed dozen of pans while recording the song . In “Don”the picturisation was so authentic that Kishore and Amitabh were for each other.