Yesterday he’d have turned 83. Would he have been crusty, corny, cranky? Who knows? On October 13, 1987, Kishore Kumar Ganguly, after jokingly telling wife, Leena, not to call the doctor mera heart attack ho jayega, toppled over and was gone. He was 58 then.
Five years later, I visited his Juhu bungalow, Gauri Kunj, for a stroll down memory lane with Leena, and their sons, Amit and Sumit. It was a joy ride after I spotted a jalopy in the backyard. It was the gaadi from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (CKNG), the 1958 comic caper.
Kunjalal Ganguly, Kishore’s father, had a 1928 Crysler that was a year older than his youngest son. Kishore would often drive down with his ‘baba’ in the vintage, from Khandwa to Mumbai, to visit his Dadamoni (Ashok Kumar), the movie star. Those trips were recreated.
His first car was part of CKNG and Kishore’s cinematographer friend, Aloke Dasgupta, during another interview, recalled trailing Ashok Kumar, Anoop Kumar and Kishore Kumar with his camera, as they rolled along the Gateway of India and careened down Peddar Road to the tunes of Babu Samjho Ishare Horan Pukare Pam Pam Pam Pam..’
Amit remembered his ‘baba’ shooting two films simultaneously at Raman Studio. “For CKNG, they were picturising the song ‘Paanch rupiaya barah anna’ with Madhuji (Madhubala),” he reminisced. The sound of a car’s engine revving jerked us back to the present. Sumit, not even 10, was manoeuvring a car, bigger than him, down a narrow alley, into the garage. Amit assured me that he did it every day, without a dent. “Like ‘baba’ he’s growing up to be a car freak,” Amit smiled, remembering being jolted awake one morning and being dragged downstairs, where six new cars were lined up. “Which one?” Kishore demanded. Sleepily, he pointed to one. And Kishore drove off in his newest purchase.
On the runway
I remembered the climactic car race from CKNG shot at the Juhu Flying Club. The cars sped down the runway, with Kishore’s gaadi surprising everyone by jumping back and forth, stalling, then sprinting ahead. “The scene called for trick shots that I managed by increasing and decreasing the speed of the camera. Some special effects were added in the lab later,” Alokeda informed me.
Kishore had started the home production, hoping it’d flop so he could register losses and avoid paying income tax. Both Bengali film Lookochuri and CKNG were superhits. A disgruntled Kishore gifted the rights of CKNG to his secretary Anoop Sharma, the income tax case against him remained unsolved for 40 years.
Kamal Mazumdar who’d directed Lookochuri was to make his Bollywood debut with CKNG, but on the day of the mahurat, he developed cold feet. Kishore dragged his Bandi director, Satyen Bose, to the studio, telling him that he was directing a film for him... Now!
Besides his brothers, he wanted the most beautiful actress opposite him. Naturally, that was Madhubala who’d worked with him in Dhake Ka Malmal (1956), and Bandi (1957).
Both were lonely, Kishore having divorced Ruma Devi and Madhubala having broken up with Dilip Kumar. They drew close while shooting for Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka… during which Alokeda fell into the lake. Madhubala was so upset that Kishore had to call for a ‘pack-up’. That wasn’t the only shock. A hole in her heart was detected and a terrified Madhubala reached out to Kishore desperately. He couldn’t turn away…
After the wedding, they flew to London, where he consulted with all the top-ranking heart surgeons, who gave her a year to live. She lived for eight years, but after a month, shifted back to her bungalow in Bandra, sparking off rumours of domestic dissent. Alokeda insisted Kishore would visit her every evening, sitting by her bed, helplessly watching her waste away. He was heart-broken and while recording Koi humdum na raha… for Jhumroo, he broke down.
Last week, a song he’d recorded for Rakesh Kumar three days before his death was auctioned and picked up by Kingdom Of Dreams for their musical tribute to him, Jhumroo. Twenty-five years after his death, Kishore Kumar Ganguly plays on…