Ask a Kishore Kumar fan about the singer's first song and chances are you will get 'Marne ki duayein kyun mangoon' in reply. At least that's what I knew till I came across A Musical Journey with Kishore Kumar, a three-CD collection published last fortnight. The set, thoughtfully compiled by Sudipta Chanda and shoddily produced by Saregama, claims Kishore's first song to be 'Jis dil ne mohabbat ki', a non-film ghazal composed by Ramesh Gupta and published a year before the Khemchand Prakash song appeared in the film Ziddi (1948).
I am told this is the first time 'Jis dil ne mohabbat ki' has been formally published since its first cut on 78 rpm discs. But I am not any wiser as to why the song - a halting Saigal-esque swoon not unlike 'Marne ki duayein' - was kept from generations of Kishore fans. Well, better late and garbled than never. The scratchy version that's available at bit.ly/wNo9O4 isn't much worse than the one published by Saregama.
That brings me to one of this column's pet peeves. Even when we get a rare collector's delight like this album, publishers like Saregama tend to spoil the party with uninspired productions. Here was a clear occasion for adding relevant liner notes and digitally cleaning up the songs before putting them out. But it was not to be.
Chanda, a 31-year-old who heads Kolkata's Amit Kumar Fan Club, told me he selected the songs to mark historically important "milestones" in the singer's career. So, apart from a selection of oft-heard Hindi and Bangla songs, there is Kishore's first Assamese song ('Pakkhiraj ghora', sung with Bhupen Hazarika and Asha Bhosle for 1969's Chikmik Bijuli), his first Kannada song ('Aado ata', for the 1972 film Kulla Agent 000), and his only song in an English film ('Typewriter tip tip' for the 1970 Merchant-Ivory film Bombay Talkie).
But instead of a lavish production for such a collection, we have the tacky image of a milestone hurriedly slapped on the cover and several old recordings packed in with a distracting 'tunnelling' effect. Much of the first CD, with songs coming up to 1961, have recordings afflicted with this 'wowing' disease.
Chanda couldn't finish Kishore's 'journey' as fittingly as he started it. But that's not his fault. It's because the singer's last song, 'Guru guru', a peppy duet with Asha Bhosle composed by Bappi Lahiri for Waqt Ki Awaz, isn't in Saregama's repertoire. And the publisher didn't move to acquire the rights.
Wrapping it right
Another remarkable set published this fortnight got a slightly better wrapping. A booklet on Kaifi Azmi accompanies the songs brought out in the Legends series. It tells us in a terse Wiki language how Athar Husain Rizvi, born in Azamgarh's Mijwan village, went on to gather glory and awards as Kaifi Azmi.
The songs make up a Pointillistic portrait of the poet. More than 70 of his works - 'handpicked' by daughter Shabana - have been slotted into the five CDs according to an unfathomable algorithm. It's not according to the mood of the songs, their singers, or their dates. So we aren't sure why numbers from the same film are in different CDs.
Apart from all-time hits ('Waqt ne kiya', 'Ya dil ki suno' or ''Chalte chalte'), there are rare gems such as Geeta Dutt's 'Aj ki kali ghata' (Kanu Roy for Uski Kahani) and Bhupinder's 'Zindagi cigarette ka dhuan' (Jaidev for Faslah). In another world with a wicked sense of humour, the last one could be a sequel - in temperament and tune - to Bhupinder's 'Zindagi mere paas aana'.
One part of the obscure algorithm seems clear: it's designed to make you realise the sheer range of registers in Azmi's writing. From the demure 'Rote rote guzar gayi raat' (first film song, in Buzdil, sung by Lata), to the sensitive 'Jhuki jhuki si nazar' (Arth, Jagjit Singh), on to the rambunctious 'Bandhan kat gaye' (Toote Khilone, Bappi Lahiri). Here was indeed a poet for all moods.