Kishore Kumar — singer, actor, director, a man of many parts — was a legend in his own right. On his 87th birth anniversary, his songs and movies continue to be cherished by millions. But what was the man like in real life — beyond the silken voice and the goofy characters he played in the movies?
In 1985, the Illustrated Weekly of India printed what has now become a classic interview of Kishore Kumar, conducted by Pritish Nandy. Over several sittings at Nandy's and Kumar's homes, the star spoke candidly of his likes and dislikes, revealing the full extent of his eccentric genius.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, Nandy recalled, "Kishore Kumar didn't have too many friends — he didn't like people too much. I was perhaps one of the few he felt he could share his thoughts with." In Nandy's recollection, Kumar was among those rare people who would allow you "a real insight" into his personality, were you to engage him in a conversation successfully. The interview is strewn with such insights — each a gem — of which we have selected nine for your delight.
On why he chose to stay on in Bombay in spite of disliking the city intensely
I was conned into it. I only wanted to sing. Never to act. But somehow, thanks to peculiar circumstances, I was persuaded to act in the movies. I hated every moment of it and tried virtually every trick to get out of it. I muffed my lines, pretended to be crazy, shaved my head off, played difficult, began yodelling in the midst of tragic scenes, told Meena Kumari what I was supposed to tell Bina Rai in some other film - but they still wouldn't let me go. I screamed, ranted, went cuckoo. But who cared? They were just determined to make me a star.
On why he prefers to be a loner
Look, I don't smoke, drink or socialise. I never go to parties. If that makes me a loner, fine. I am happy this way. I go to work and I come back straight home. To watch my horror movies, play with my spooks, talk to my trees, sing. In this avaricious world, every creative person is bound to be lonely. How can you deny me that right?
People bore me. Film people particularly bore me. I prefer talking to my trees.
On people thinking him crazy
Who said I'm crazy. The world is crazy; not me.
On his reputation of doing strange things
It all began with this girl who came to interview me. In those days I used to live alone. So she said: You must be very lonely. I said: No, let me introduce you to some of my friends. So I took her to the garden and introduced her to some of the friendlier trees. Janardhan; Raghunandan; Gangadhar; Jagannath; Buddhuram; Jhatpatajhatpatpat. I said they were my closest friends in this cruel world. She went and wrote this bizarre piece, saying that I spent long evenings with my arms entwined around them. What's wrong with that, you tell me? What's wrong making friends with trees?
More thoughts on the same topic...
Then, there was this interior decorator — a suited, booted fellow who came to see me in a three-piece woollen, Saville Row suit in the thick of summer — and began to lecture me about aesthetics, design, visual sense and all that. After listening to him for about half an hour and trying to figure out what he was saying through his peculiar American accent, I told him that I wanted something very simple for my living room. Just water-several feet deep- and little boats floating around, instead of large sofas. I told him that the centrepiece should be anchored down so that the tea service could be placed on it and all of us could row up to it in our boats and take sips from our cups. But the boats should be properly balanced, I said, otherwise we might whizz past each other and conversation would be difficult. He looked a bit alarmed but that alarm gave way to sheer horror when I began to describe the wall decor. I told him that I wanted live crows hanging from the walls instead of paintings-since I liked nature so much. And, instead of fans, we could have monkeys farting from the ceiling. That's when he slowly backed out from the room with a strange look in his eyes. The last I saw of him was him running out of the front gate, at a pace that would have put an electric train to shame. What's crazy about having a living room like that, you tell me? If he can wear a woollen, three-piece suit in the height of summer, why can't I hang live crows on my walls?
On working with directors
Directors know nothing. I never had the privilege of working with any good director. Except Satyen Bose and Bimal Roy, no one even knew the ABC of filmmaking.
On Satyajit Ray
I loaned him five thousand rupees at the time of Pather Panchali-when he was in great financial difficulty- and even though he paid back the entire loan, I never gave him an opportunity to forget the fact that I had contributed to the making of the classic. I still rib him about it. I never forget the money I loan out!
On his third marriage (to Yogeeta Bali)
That was a joke. I don't think she was serious about marriage. She was only obsessed with her mother. She never wanted to live here.
Read the full interview here.