He picked up the yodelling skill from American singers Tex Morton and Jimmie Rodgers, and incorporated it into his singing, creating his own signature that to this day remains instantly recognisable.
A singer, music composer, actor, director, producer — Kishore Kumar was a one-man Bollywood army who could carry a film on his shoulders alone. The legendary singer forged lasting partnerships with yesteryear heroes, added his famous yodelling style to songs that made them stand out, and generally entertained several generations of Indians.
On his 92nd birth anniversary, a look at the many facets of the genius that Kishore Kumar was.
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Born as Abhas Kumar Ganguly in Khandwa in present-day Madhya Pradesh to a lawyer father and homemaker mother, Kishore was the youngest of four siblings. His entry into Bollywood was smooth after his eldest brother Ashok Kumar became an actor. He started his career singing chorus at Bombay Talkies before landing his first film — Shikari (1946) —which starred Ashok Kumar in the lead. Kishore’s first foray as a singer came when composer Khemchand Prakash offered him the chance to sing ‘Marne Ki Duayen Kyon Mangu’ for Ziddi in 1948.
Kishore, the actor
The offers started flowing in soon after his debut assignment in Shikari. However, Kishore was more interested in a career as a singer and did not take acting seriously. He acted in 22 films between 1946 and 1955, 16 of which were certified flops. He found ways to get into the bad books of directors or producers. But the success of Ladki, Miss Malaysia, Naukari, Baap Re Baap, and Char Paise saw him have a change of heart. In all, Kishore acted in 88 films, including the smash hits Padosan, Chalti Ka Nam Gadi, Half Ticket, and Shararat. The youngest Ganguly also directed 12 films, but his career behind the camera was far less successful.
Kishore, the singer
Most people know Kishore as one of the most legendary and evergreen voices in Bollywood, having lent it to a whopping 2,678 Hindi songs. His voice was a hallmark of song sequences in almost all hit films of that time as composers and producers made a beeline for his services. He voiced some of the biggest hits of Bollywood, songs that are still as popular as they were when they first hit the airwaves.
Kishore was the voice of Rajesh Khanna, forging a successful duo that churned out hit after hit. The evergreen singer sang a whopping 245 songs for Bollywood’s first superstar. He also lent his voice to 202 songs for Jeetendra as he tried to repeat the trick that had worked so well with Rajesh Khanna. Kishore also sang 131 songs for Amitabh Bachchan, including ‘Khaike Paan Banaras Wala’. His partnership with Dev Anand was also prolific as he lent his voice to 119 songs for the legendary actor. Another actor with whom Kishore shared a fruitful but short-lived partnership was Guru Dutt. The songs that he sang for the actor in Padosan still remain among all-time favourites.
Kishore also famously enjoyed a successful partnership with Asha Bhosle, singing 687 songs together during their time in Bollywood. He also enjoyed an equally fruitful partnership with her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, singing 343 songs. Kishore also sang 72 songs with Muhammad Rafi, another legendary singer of the time.
Kishore burst onto the scene with a fresh voice, but he developed his own style on the advice of RD Burman. He picked up the yodelling skill from American singers Tex Morton and Jimmie Rodgers, and incorporated it into his singing, creating his own signature that to this day remains instantly recognisable. The music in Bollywood was undergoing an evolution at this time with playback singers becoming more and more common and composers incorporating different styles and arrangements to their music. Kishore’s arrival couldn’t have been more opportune as his versatility allowed him to excel.
It is difficult to select only a few of Kishore’s most popular songs, such is his body of work in several languages. Not only were his songs regularly winning awards and hearts, but were often the standout performance in films that did not do well. ‘Roop Tera Mastana’, ‘Hazaar Raahen Mudke Dekheen’, ‘Agar Tum Na Hote’, ‘Saagar Kinaare’, ‘Zindagi Ek Safar’, ‘Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai’, ‘O Manjhi Re’, ‘Hameh Tumse Pyar’ are just a few of his award-winning or nominated songs that are still sung by Indians of all generations.
Kishore, the man
While stories of Kishore’s eccentricities and unpredictability are legend, he was a man devoted to his work and craft. While he was very particular about his fees, he refused any remuneration for a song he recorded for Charulata, directed by Satyajit Ray. When asked about his fees, Kishore reportedly touched Ray’s feet and refused to accept any fee. Kishore had also bailed out Ray when he faced financial trouble while filming Pather Panchali. The legendary filmmaker also considered shutting down the project before Kishore brought him back on track with Rs 5,000.