Kishore Kumar - The Song-maker

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu


When it came to a choice between acting and music, Kishore Kumar’s philosophy was simple. He had once publicly confessed to Lata Mangeshkar during a TV- interview, “Acting is phony but a song comes straight from the heart.” As a singer and as a song-maker, he always followed that dictum and that’s why the songs he composed himself make for such a fascinating study. Listening to his own compositions and trying to analyze them is almost looking deep down the maestro’s heart- feeling his exuberant joy, experiencing his excruciating pain. Then his songs don’t just remain songs, they become mirrors of his soul.

Jhumroo- The Journey Begins

Jhumroo (1961) was the first time, Kishore ventured into composing songs and what a fabulous array of songs he composed. The wacky title song Main Hoon Jhum-Jhum-Jhum Jhumroo perfectly portrayed his Main Duniya Se Bekhabar, happy-go-lucky personality and stamped immortality on his yodeling. The rhythm, the pace, the energy, the sound- everything about that song defined Kishore- the entertainer who could make you smile in an instant. On the other end of that spectrum was Koi Humdum Na Raha – a song that literally singed you with the inner pain and loneliness of the man. Ashok Kumar would later reminisce how his brother had adapted this tune from one of Ashok’s old songs in the forties. But more important than tracing its roots was to identify Kishore’s rare ability to portray his inner self through his art, to make one-to-one dialogue with audience. No doubt, he tried to do the same through his film-making but it was his song-making, where he really succeeded in that venture.

In Jhumroo, Kishore was more content to go with his popular funny-guy image and thus fun- songs like Ge Ge Geli Zara Timbuktu, Bhola Bhaala Man, Jhoome Re Jhoome Re and Aaja Tu Aaja dominated in this album. Matwale Hum – another beautiful tune was almost in the same vein but it was Thandi Hawa Yeh Chaandani Suhani, which again showed Kishore’s genius in full flight. Listening to picturesque lyrics like Aise Mein Chal Raha Hoon, Pedon Ki Chhaon Mein / Jaise Koi Sitara Baadal Ke Gaon Mein – lyrics that he himself had written and then, watching him sing that haunting song on screen in his own voice, one just wondered if there was anything this multi-faceted man couldn’t do!

On to the next level

Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein remains Kishore’s most mature artistic venture- as a film-maker, as an actor and as a composer. Inspired and influenced by Satyajit Ray, he made a film that was sensitive and sentimental and the music he composed for it was just in a different league. The warm rays of hope and happiness in Aa Chalke Tujhe contrasted so starkly with absolute dejection and despair in Jin Raaton Ko Bhor Nahi Hai. For the same film, he explained one situation with such pain and pathos that Shailendra just excused himself to a quiet, contemplative sea-side stroll and returned with those timeless lyrics- Koi Lauta De Mere Beete Huye Din. The genius of this talented man had even managed to inspire that great wordsmith who had worked with masters like Shankar- Jaikishan and S.D.Burman.

Kishore was like a clown who puts on a laughing mask to hide his inner sorrows and even though other composers kept him locked in his popular comic image, in his own music he always gave expression to those inner troubles and torments. Music of Door Ka Rahi is a perfect example of that. Time and again, what we get to hear from his music is not the brave, confident hope of Jeevan Se Na Haar Jeeneale and Beqarar Dil Tu Gaaye Jaa but rather the lost, lonely lament of Panthi Hoon Main Us Path Ka Ant Nahi Jiska and Khushi Do Ghadi Ki Mile Na Mile. The latter song was recorded just three days after his second wife- Madhubala’s tragic death.

The Decline

His last released film- music- album Mamta Ki Chhaon Mein showed some flashes of brilliance through a Pankaj Mullick-esqe Mera Geet Adhura Hai and a hilly maanjhi- song Teri Jeevan Gaadi but otherwise listening to his music in post- Door Ka Rahi phase in latter- year films like Zameen- Asmaan, Badhti Ka Naam Daadi, Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi and Shaabash Daddy one sees how Kishore slowly but surely gave up his individuality as a composer and tried to cater to populist tastes.

Acceptance by public is finally the barometer any artist measures himself with and in that, composer Kishore might have felt a sense of inadequacy about his earlier efforts which had been appreciated by the classes and critics but had not really made any impact at the box-office. Why he admitted defeat so early I don’t understand but may be he might have felt safer sticking to mainstream rather than going off-beat. So in these films occasional good songs like Ghum Aur Khushi Ke Beech Mein, Aankhein Tumhari Do Jahan and Phir Suhani Shaam Dhali were far outnumbered by mediocre songs.

Versatile Composer

Even within his limited output as a composer, Kishore shows all the attributes of being an outstanding music director. Despite his apparent lack of formal music education, he had an uncanny sense of rhythm and melody. Indian and Western Classical music, Northern and Eastern folk music, Rabindra Sangeet, Jazz and Rock ‘n’ roll – he used practically all musical styles to create some of the greatest songs in Indian popular music. In fact, even without getting officially credited as a composer, he played a vital role in many popular tunes of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Padosan and Aradhana.

Yes, his own voice did dominate in his tunes and that was pretty natural for a singer who was not taken seriously by most composers for more than half his career. Still he created some superb tunes for other singers, too. Hemant Kumar’s title songs- Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein and Door Ka Rahi, Manna Dey’s soulful bhajan O Jag Ke Rakhwale, Asha Bhosle’s sweet lullaby Khoya Khoya Chanda and Lata’s two exquisite Bengali solos- Ki Likhi Tomay and Bhalobasha Aagun Jele –are all examples of Kishore Kumar’s unique musical genius as composer.

Hidden gems

As some of his scheduled films like Neela Aasman, Pyar Ajanabi Hai and Suhana Geet never saw day-light, his brilliant music in those films never reached the audiences. Yet as connoisseurs swoon over his masterful renditions like Akela Hoon Main Is Jahan Mein and Pyar Ajnabi Hai from these soundtracks, one wonders how long it would take for the music companies to release these hidden gems for millions of his fans. That would be a real meaningful and musical tribute to this maestro!



Kishore Kumar- Top 10 Compositions

  1. Main Hoon Jhum-Jhum-Jhum Jhumroo (Kishore)
  2. Thandi Hawa Yeh Chaandani Suhani (Kishore)
  3. Koi Lauta De Mere Bete Huye Din (Kishore)
  4. Jeevan Se Na Haar Jeenewale (Kishore)
  5. Aa Chalke Tujhe Main Leke Chalun (Kishore)
  6. Khoya Khoya Chanda (Asha Bhosle)
  7. Door Ka Raahi (Hemant Kumar)
  8. Path Bhoola Ik Aaya Musafir (Asha Bhosle)
  9. O Jag Ke Rakhwale (Manna Dey - Kishore)
  10. Priyotoma—Ki Likhi Tomay (Lata Mangeshkar)

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