Book Review | Kishore Kumar: The Ultimate Biography – The Hindu BusinessLine

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This painstaking biography of the maverick singer-actor unearths every aspect of his personality, bringing out both his on- and off-screen character with some splendid anecdotes

While this won’t be the first biography of the maverick Kishore Kumar, who could sing, act, dance, compose and direct, it is a delightful package for music and film lovers across age groups. Painstakingly put together by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar, this book should satiate fans of the multi-faceted film persona.

What prompted the authors to train their gaze on Kishore Kumar, who, as his contemporaries of more than four decades have confessed, was an intriguing character? Says Bhattacharjee, “When I was a child, I was made to believe that Kishore Kumar was a singer and, of course, a very good one at that. Subsequently, I came to know that he was quite an actor, too, and one of the busiest in the fifties. By the time we were in college, we came to know of his other facets, including direction and composition.” It was after reading Pritish Nandy’s interview with him that led the author to conclude that Kishore the person was no way less iconic than his songs. However, the singer-actor remained an enigmatic person.

It did not help matters that Kishore was “extremely economical with the press and merrily laughed off rumours”. So, Bhattacharjee and Dhar set out on a journey of discovery over a period of 20 years, making halts at Kishore’s birthplace Khandwa, Indore, and Bhagalpur, among others. As Bhattacharjee explained, “The book was a natural outcome though, and the consequence of juxtaposing all the information in a structured fashion.”

The 555-page book is the result of an extraordinary amount of research, and the writing is simple and compelling. “Anybody who wants to know Kishore, has to start from Khandwa. None of his friends were musically inclined, but they knew him the best,” he says.

The authors visited Khandwa to meet the 90-year-old Hamid, to get a vintage peep into Kishore’s life. Hamid, a gajak vendor, was known to entice him with the local treat. The research took the authors to Indore’s Christian College, where they met his Principal and Professors, to get some precious anecdotes from his youth. Information was culled from hundreds of magazines and booklets, besides more than 100 interviews with people who claimed they knew Kishore.

Dismissed by actor-brother Ashok Kumar as a non-singer, Kishore rose to become the voice of the youth in the 60s and 70s, lending his vocal skills to transform the fortunes of Rajesh Khanna, who turned into a super star. In fact, in his prime, he played a huge part in the rise of many actors. So much so that producers insisted on having songs by Kishore as a ready potion for box-office success.

“Kumar was a multi-faceted man who produced films, directed films, acted in them, and even distributed films. He wrote stories for films, and at times, lyrics too. And, of course, his main legacy lies in the domain of singing and music composition. He was also someone known for his alleged eccentricity. Furthermore, he belonged to a family which had, among others, Ashok Kumar and Sasadhar Mukerji, pioneers of Bombay cinema. The task of putting this book together was tedious, as we did not know where to start,” said Bhattacharjee.

The authors spent four years deciding the starting point for the book. It begins with his death and then works its way back through his fascinating life journey. It did not matter that Kishore was an untrained singer. OP Nayyar was an untrained composer, too. The book traces Kishore’s humongous contribution to Indian cinema. Kishore was an individual who appealed to music lovers of different eras and tastes. His yodelling lifted the spirits of the song, while his serious singing was a talent best recognised and presented by the Burmans – Sachin da and RD. 

The book unearths every aspect of Kishore’s personality and brings out his off-the-screen/ studio character with some splendid anecdotes. A classic story is about when a top producer wanted to sign Kishore for his next film, the singer set a hilarious condition for the contract to be signed. The producer would have to come personally, clad in a dhoti, wearing socks, but no shoes, and a paan in his mouth. Not just that, he would have to stand on a table for the discussions. Kishore could do what none could conjure.

(Vijay Lokapally is an independent journalist and author)

About the Book

Kishore Kumar. The Ultimate Biography

Aniruddha Bhattacharjee, Parthiv Dhar

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers India

Price: Rs 699; 592 pages

Check out the book on Amazon here

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