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Why Kishore Kumar Was The Greatest Entertainer Indian Cinema Has Ever Had

04/08/2015 4:06 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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86 years since Abhas Kumar Ganguly set his foot on planet Earth, he trends on Twitter. In an era where young, peppy and happy seem to be the bandwagon FM stations and commercial jingles want to ride on to attract listenership and eyeballs, he is still the epitome of youth.

Ask radio channel bosses and they will tell you of the phenomenon. Ask Saregama, what happens when an 'un-released' album hits stores even now. And ask brand custodians what happened when a constipated 'new-age' voice tried crooning 'Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka' to try and lure families to avail of a family talktime pack. (I know 'ek Hazaaron mein mere Papa' would've slapped the crap out of me if I 'sang' like that.)

Now when I look back and wonder what would've happened if Kishore refused to sing for Rajesh Khanna and went back to Khandwa, sick and tired of an industry, where actors would feel insecure after witnessing him overshadow everyone with his genius, in the remake of an also-ran Bengali film Pasher Bari? (Padosan)

"He didn't need stagecraft, costumes, fancy surround sound. All he needed was a scale (preferably C) and a microphone."

Imagine Rafi singing 'Mere Sapno Ki Rani', or Shailendra Singh (Rishi Kapoor's other voice) try and sing 'O Hansini' or Mohd Aziz (of 'Mard Tangewala' fame) croon all the songs from Namak Halal and Sharaabi. Yes.

Now think of the reverse. What if Kishore sung the second stanza of 'Chura Liya' or Anup Ghoshal's 'Tujhse Naraaz' or let's say all those Mohd Aziz songs in Manmohan Desai's forgettable last run? Yes.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that the one-man-industry who straddled decades through the magnetism of Rajesh Khanna's smile and Amitabh Bachchan's towering baritone and ushered in post-Nehruvian full-throated masculinity in cinema was him?

If there was a megastar genius showman Indian cinema has ever had it was him. The greatest entertainer ever, whose non-Melodyned voice stunned audiences for 20 odd years, has yet to find a worthy successor. He didn't need stagecraft, costumes, fancy surround sound. All he needed was a scale (preferably C) and a microphone. And you could be a retired judge at the front row at a prim and proper show, or NRIs in the Carribean or soldiers at Siachen. Your feet would tap. Unless you were Sanjay Gandhi.

"The reason why he came back stronger is because he didn't care."

Kishore Kumar had freedom in his voice. An Emergency tried banning him. The industry lobbied to get him back into the studio because without him, heroes would lose enthusiasm, composers would scratch heads, producers would think twice before investing and record companies would mourn. The reason why he came back stronger is because he didn't care. He was one road trip away from leaving everything and going back to Khandwa to be amidst his plants, nature and his childhood memories.

I have been writing a film on him for years now. And my initial passion was to let the world know that a man of such unfathomable genius lived in our times, and to hope against hope that he would get conferred a Bharat Ratna. But now, occasionally I hear him chuckle. Almost telling me "Bangdu, let it be".

The film will take its own time and I believe it will open up the phenomenon and his genius to the ratings, award and public-approval seeking youth of today, who just don't sing because they must. Times change. Quick software fixes can make anyone a singer, and yet THAT texture is yet to find a competition.

Kishore Kumar to me was the ultimate sufi. Ready to drop everything and just take off. Disappear. And be with himself and nature.

A man who when asked by the great Lata Mangeshkar what he preferred, said "Acting jhoothi hoti hai aur sangeet dil se nikalti hai to woh sachchi hoti hai."

Maybe the lesson to all of us in the creative field is precisely this. Write, sing, create because you must. Not because you have a pre-destination. But because it is a way of being.

And a personal, insignificant request to contestants doing Kishore covers on reality shows. Don't ape the voice. Ape the philosophy. Live the moment. Don't worry about the result. Enjoy yourself. And yodel on.

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