Note- Here is a special article on Kishore Kumar on his 85th birth anniversary from well known film critic, writer and director- Khalid Mohamed,exclusively for MAM.

Kishore KumarThe three Ganguly Brothers – of the iconic comedy Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958) – were a part of me, many of us I should think, but we never articulated that. Perhaps the 1950s and ‘60s weren’t the eras of multiple award ceremonies, scholastic tracts and apportioning due where it’s deserved. Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar and the cavaliery ignored Anoop Kumar were taken for granted. 

The seniormost sibling, Ashokda, was quite easily the most prolific and effortless actor of the trio. Kishore Kumar was ghettoised as kinky till he resurfaced big-time as a playback singer. And Anoop Kumar, huh, he was the Cinderella, neither endowed with a camera-friendly personality nor showcased sufficiently to exhibit his deadpan brand of comedy. While his big bros became household words, Anoop sprung up in thankless roles, and was never popular enough to be surrounded by autographoholics.On a bus route from Juhu to town, in the late-‘70s, I’d often see Anoop close to midnight, scrunched on the last row of a single-decker, mumbling to himself, but happily.

The Ganguly Brothers-Anoop,Ashok and Kishore
The Ganguly Brothers-Anoop,Ashok and Kishore

I’d be returning from the Bandra home of my guru, film critic Bikram Singh, after dinner over which there would be conversations on cinema, be it of Robert Bresson or Manmohan Desai. The bus (route 83, I think) dropped Anoop Kumar nearbaouts Podar Hospital, Worli, a honeycomb of thoughts buzzing through his head. Or was he humming a song, which he could perhaps get out of his system, at a recording studio? Never found out.

Right to his end in 1997, I never read an interview with Anoop Kumar. It is to my abiding regret that I never accosted him for one either. Not that it would have been given prominent display in any newspaper or magazine. He didn’t ever make news, there was no peg to hang a story on. Unless, of course, he lashed out against his brothers or some such. The mumbling man on route 83? Could he ever be persuaded into a tell-all? No chance.

So why am I flashing back to the Gangulys right now? Because the papers are packed with ads of sangeet soirees paying tribute to Kishore Kumar on his 85th birth anniversary. Networking sites are crammed with salutes to the imperishable Kishore Kumar. Justly so. He was, unarguably, one of a kind. And what the Anurag Basu-Ranbir Kapoor collaboration portray in the announced bio-pic of the genius — who could be a Mad Hatter as well as an epitome of sobriety — is yet to be tested. If you ask me the Kishore Kumar story cannot be contained within one or even two biopics. His life could inspire ceaseless sequels.

A biography by Leena Chandavarkar, the last of his four wives, would be an interesting read, to put it mildly. Some years ago, a reporter at a paper I was editing, had suggested that she was living under extennuating circumstances. He brought back a sob story, with a melancholic photo to match. When the story came out, with a blaring headline, she was horrified. Over the phone, she denied the quotes and stated the photo had been manipulated. She was happy, thank you very much, and intended to record an album of songs. So why don’t I drop by for tea some day? She’d fix the appointment. She never did.

Kishoreda’s first wife, Ruma Guha Thakurta, hasn’t said much that can be termed as informative. The legend’s second wife – the ethereally beautiful Madhubala – never made any pronouncements on him. Early evenings, I would see her huddled under a Japanese umbrella  with Kishore Kumar, walking by the seascape, where I stayed during my childhood years.

chalitkanaamgaadi00352Their marriage had created a sensation: it was said that he had converted to Islam. Since the couple was being hounded, they were given refuge by a promoter of classical music, Brij Narain, who requested a group of us curious kids not to approach them.

 “What if we do?” I said, already soaked in Bollywood then. A compromise was struck. Madhubala gave five of us an audience, pinched our cheeks and said the right things, “So sweet. Which school do you go to..?”, that sort of stuff. Meanwhile from behind her back, her groom pulled out his tongue, contorted his face to look devilish and glared-glared-glared. Seems amusing today, at that point we were terrified, as if we had met Dracula reincarnated.

Yogeeta Bali, who featured in his latter-day movies, doesn’t say a word about him. Leena Chandavarkar would and should — if there is any residue of her former peppiness in her. We need to know more about Kishore Kumar, whose life remains a source of omigawd-do-you-know-he-did-thaaat? The Disco Dancer director, B Subhash, his former assistant can recall many anecdotes. This includes Kishoreda’s insistence that his assistants run up and down the stairs a dozen times, and never take the elevator at the Ramnord recording studio. Or he wouldn’t record.

The most common Kishore Kumar story is that he shaved off half his moustache because he didn’t want to shoot for a film producer who hadn’t coughed up his fee installment. Without half the moustache, there would be no continuity. The producer paid up, the shooting was resumed once the moustache grew back.

Kishore Kumar with AmitabhThe reclusive one could suddenly throw open the gates of his Juhu bungalow to celebrate the first birthday of his son Sumit Kumar, a beshawled Amitabh Bachchan arrived. The rest of the guests sat at tables with their beers and chicken tikkas. Once Bachchan left, Kishore Kumar strode up to some of  us from the media at a table, and rolled his eyes, “Shawlwaala gaya…now let’s have fun”, and broke into song. Main hoon Don…main hoon Don, ending it with a bonus yodel.

Kishore Kumar passed away in 1987, at the age of 58. To re-re-re-reiterate Kishore Kumar’s gift for performance – whether as an actor of a dual Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality, or as a singer of ballads and dance numbers – is superfluous.

I still long to know what made him the versatile artist he was, what made him the wacky kid in a man’s body, what made him a serial husband, what made Kishore Kumar..well Kishore Kumar, whom we know essentially from hearsay.

Alongside, I long to know about Anoop Kumar. Or why he never broke into song on route 83.

Khalid Mohamed