When I knock on Amit's hotel room-door, it's 11.30am, a day after the Asha Bhosle-Amit Kumar concert in Dubai. On the phone, he has agreed to a meeting, but when he opens the door, I sense a hint of suspicious uncertainty on his face. I am a bit hesitant, as I have been forewarned about Amit's reputation as a 'difficult' person. But as our conversation starts unfolding and as he starts realising the genuineness of his visitor's love for his and his father's music, this so-called eccentric, egocentric man starts appearing more and more relaxed and friendly.
Soon initial barriers are broken and we are animatedly chatting about various chapters of his colourful, eventful life. He has a flair for conversation, a razor-sharp memory and tons of memorable anecdotes and that makes him an ideal candidate for an intimate interview.
Here are the excerpts:
How was your childhood?
I was born in 1952. Till seven years, my childhood was like any other child. We used to stay in Saxeria Colony in Juhu, Mumbai. Life was fun.
Those days, I saw very little of my father (Kishore Kumar). Baba used to be very busy as his acting career was in full swing. My mother (Ruma Ganguli) was also a good singer, who used to sing in Bombay Youth Choir.
Before marriage, she had also acted in films like Afsar and Jwar Bhata, with heroes like Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. So in a way, it was inevitable that I would become an artist.
When I was seven, my parents separated and I shifted to Kolkata with my mom.
How did the separation affect you?
Obviously I was sad but both my parents saw to it that whatever might be their own differences, they would never ever hurt my feelings. Either Baba would come down to Kolkata to visit me or I would go to Mumbai to meet him. This shuffling lifestyle became part of me. When I was in third standard, they tried keeping me at a boarding school in Hazaribaug. There initially I was depressed and missed my family but later, I improved a lot in my studies. But at the end of the academic year, my grandmom (Kishore Kumar's mother) made my parents bring me back home. Who knows, had I continued at Hazaribaug I might have become a doctor or an engineer!
What are your memories of your first film-song Main Ik Panchhi Matwara Re?
I sang that song for Door Ka Raahi, when I was just thirteen. It was more due to Baba's insistence rather than my liking. He had composed and even written that song. I think, I sounded quite callow — more like my mother. Baba picturised that song in one day — in the garden of our bungalow Gauri Kunj. That day, I was running fever, yet I gamely gave the shot, sitting atop a tree with a dafli in hand!
When did you take up singing seriously?
It was around 1968-69. Those days, I had witnessed some live shows of my father and I was just overwhelmed by his popularity. With some friends in Kolkata, I too started doing stage shows, singing my father's songs. Initially my mother was against it but dad supported me whole-heartedly. He arranged for a joint father- son concert at Mumbai's prestigious Shanmukhanand Hall and it became a huge success. I can never forget Sachindada Burman throwing a garland at me as a compliment! He told Baba, "Let him improve a little, I will make him sing in my music." Unfortunately I never got that opportunity.
So how did your early career shape up? Weren't you considered for the songs of Bobby?
Initially I sang a few songs for maestros like Salil Choudhury and Madan Mohan, but those films got canned and those songs never saw daylight. I had auditioned for Bobby songs but later got cold feet and went back to Kolkata. So finally I sang my first song Hosh Mein Hum Kahan in a Ramsay horror film Darwaza, under the baton of Sapan Jagmohan.
What about Bade Achche Lagte Hain?
One day, I had just gone to meet my father at Pancham-da's (R.D. Burman) music-room. Out of the blue, Pancham-da told me to sing something and I sang Baba's Jhumroo song. But I was so nervous that I messed it up totally. When we were returning home, Baba also lashed out at me and my misery was complete. Unexpectedly the very next day, Pancham-da called me and gave me Bade Acchhe Lagte Hain! That song for Baalika Badhu became my first big hit and established me in my own right.
Looking back, how do you analyze your career?
I have had lots of ups and downs in my career. In the eighties, I had hits like Love Story and Teri Kasam with Kumar Gaurav but then both of us had to face a lean period.
Then after Baba's death in 1987, there was a kind of a sympathy wave for me and my career flourished for a while. From 1994 onwards, again there was a slump. Now, I have decided to remain out of the rat-race of film music. There is too much politicking and I don't think I was ever ambitious enough to survive such a grind!
I am happy doing live shows and releasing my own albums.
How hard was it being always compared to the great Kishore Kumar?
Being the great father's son obviously has some disadvantages, too. Yes, I was initially disheartened by all those unfair comparisons but it was Baba who supported me in that phase. He said, "Kuchh to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kahena." (People will say all sorts of things. That's their job.) He advised me to keep working hard and assured me that my time will come. I have always followed that advice.
(*This interview was first published in Gulf News Entertainment Plus magazine in 2004.)