Yesterday was Kishore Kumar’s 25th death anniversary. And had older brother Ashok still been around, he’d have celebrated his 101st birthday… Or maybe not.
On October 13, 1987, Kishore, who had a day off from recordings, had insisted that Dadamoni (as Ashok was affectionately called) stop by on his way home from Film City, because he had a ‘surprise’ planned for his 76th birthday. But when Dadamoni, brother Anoop Kumar and other guests arrived at Gaurikunj, they were greeted with the news that Kishore was gone forever. Dadamoni lived another 14 years, but never celebrated another birthday.
Cut to October 13, 1987… All day, Kishore had been planning a party and his next movie. Rifling through his 5,000-odd video collection, he’d zeroed in on Marilyn Monroe’s River Of No Return (1954). Its title song had inspired his next production that he decided would star Danny Denzongpa and himself. That dream died with him.Do not touch!
Last Friday, I asked his son Amit Kumar about the collection. “Most of the videos are lost to the ravages of time, climate and fungus,” he sighed, recalling how his baba (father) had bought $8,000 worth of Betamax in New York during a concert tour of the US and Canada in 1982. “He was an avid film buff, loved Hollywood classics like Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train (1951) and even horrors like Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961). He wouldn’t let anyone touch his treasures and screened the films for guests himself,” he said.
One of them was Satyajit Ray, who when in Mumbai to record a Tagore song with Kishore for Ghare Baire (1985), learnt that the singer had a video of the Marilyn Monroe-Tony Curtis comedy Some Like It Hot (1959). “Manik mama (Ray) had met director Billy Wilder on the sets of this film and left work to watch the film with baba at home,” recalls Amit.
Going back to the shopping spree in New York, he remembers how surprised the owner of the video store had been when his baba’s wish list had unspooled and trailed along the floor. Amit, wife Leena and toddler Sumeet were packed off to a movie while Kishore retired to a back room: “When we returned, he was sitting on the floor, surrounded by bemused salesmen and around 700 videos. And had an autograph of Eddie Murphy for me.” Autograph from Eddie
The Hollywood star had stopped by to pick up a couple of videos and turned a deaf ear to Kishore’s request for an autograph for his hot-headed son until the shop owner told him that the Frank Capra of India had come to blow up a fortune there.
“He’d then scribbled ‘To Amit, be cool, Eddie’ for me, I still have the autograph,” says Amit who watched many of the home video films with his baba and his jethamoni (uncle Ashok Kumar). “Sometimes the three of us would sing together, jethamoni was always encouraging, listening to my songs on the spool, pushing me into riyaaz (training) after baba’s death. But I’m told he was very critical of baba in the early years.”
In 1964, his baba flagged off the Kishore Kumar Nites that every Friday and Saturday, till 1974, drew full houses to Shanmukhananda Hall.
“Many stars, including Prithviraj, Raj and Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, came for these one-man shows. Jethamoni did too, week after week, and would always sit in the front row. When reminded of his early negativity, he’d say that without the criticism Abhas Kumar Ganguly would have never become Kishore Kumar,” reminisces Amit who after he’d nervously sung a song from Jhumroo (1961) at RD Burman’s house one evening, was berated by his baba for a poor show.
“But the next day Pancham uncle called to ask him to send me across to record a song for Balika Vadhu (1976). When baba laughingly protested that he was there, he was reminded he was 40-plus and they wanted a ‘young’ voice for a 17-year-old.” ‘Bade achche lagte hain’ plays in my living room every weeknight at 10.30 pm as Ekta Kapoor’s soap comes on air.
Yesterday, Amit was in Kolkata to release a CD of rare Kishore Kumar songs and unveil a first day cover stamp of his father issued by the government’s Post and Telegraph department.
“Both brothers are gone today but haven’t been forgotten,” says Amit, who is set to start a company with his own brother Sumeet.