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Kishore Kumar, born Abhas Kumar Ganguly on this day 88 years ago, is an iconic name in the history of the Indian film industry. We celebrate the man, whose songs continue to play on radio stations till date, striking a chord with a generation that came after him.

Kishore Da as he was fondly called, migrated from a small town in MP to Mumbai to make a career in films. His initial years were a struggle–a series of small gigs as a chorus singer and a side actor. Despite being dissed by several filmmakers as a talentless man without any formal training in music, he continued to learn by observing and practicing his art. In 1969, he lent his voice to superstar Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana with songs like Mere Sapno Ki Rani and Roop Tera Mastana. With this film, Kishore Kumar had finally arrived.

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The Man, The Music

There was a certain heady quality to his voice that translated to the best romantic ballads. Think Inteha Ho Gayi, Oh Saathi Re, and Chingari Koi Bhadke, all of which won him the title of Best Playback Singer at the Filmfare Awards in the 70s and 80s.

He also did peppy, energetic numbers with equal ease – remember Khaike Paan Banaras Vala? Yes, the original one from Don (1978). Which gets us thinking, does the current crop of playback singers try to copy Kishore? We’re not taking names, but some of them probably do. Let’s just call it inspiration. After all, Kishore Da himself admitted to being inspired by his guru, singer-actor KL Saigal.

He made successful collaborations with the likes of RD Burman aka Pancham Da, who admired and supported his work till the end. RD believed Kishore was the best male singer of the time, “there’s nobody else like him. He can sing a classical song, a funny one or a sad one; nobody can beat him in his versatility” he once said. Together, they recorded brilliant numbers like Rimjhim Gire Saawan, Mere Naina Saawan Bhado and Tere Bina Zindage Se.

Pranay Agarwal, 28, a big fan of Kishore Kumar says, “He was a powerful singer, no doubt. When stars like Rishi Kapoor brought about a change in Hindi cinema with youthful movies like Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Kishore Da was the voice behind it. By extension, he also became a youth icon.”

Kishore Kumar didn’t stop at playback; he was also a lyricist and composer, an actor, director, producer and screenwriter, a powerhouse of talent. He went on to produce and direct films in the late 70s and 80s, and continued to sing for Bollywood’s biggest names like Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun.

Eccentric Genius

Like most great artists, he had a rather peculiar personality. In an interview in the summer of 1985 he said, “People bore me, film people especially. I prefer talking to the trees.” He once even showed up for a film shoot with a half-shaven head and moustache, because the producer had made only half the payment! Such were the quirks of the creative maverick.

During the Emergency in 1975, he refused to sing at a political rally, showing the middle finger to the diktats of the ruling party. His songs were banned from Indian television and radio, which made no difference to his career but perhaps made him even more popular for standing up for what he believed in. A decade of success later, he expressed his desire to leave city life and return to his hometown in MP.

We can’t think of a present-day singer who can inspire the way Kishore Kumar did. Here’s to the artist, immortalised by his art.

Image Credit: Saregama

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