Excerpt: Kishore Kumar: The Ultimate Biography

ByAnirudha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar
Nov 01, 2022 08:56 PM IST

This extract recalls how Kishore Kumar was persecuted during the Emergency for refusing to sing jingles in praise of the government and its schemes

Twelfth June 1975. Justice Jaganmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court had just disbarred Indira Gandhi as an MP, owing to electoral malpractices. The judgement was consequent to a petition filed in 1971 by Raj Narain, who had lost the Raibareilly constituency to Mrs Gandhi. The vacation judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Krishna Iyer, granted only a partial stay. As a result, Mrs Gandhi could now speak as the Prime Minister but not as an MP. She could not even draw her salary as a Member of Parliament.

Madhubala and Kishore Kumar (centre) at the muhurat of Chalti Ka Naam Gadi. (Courtesy Juhi Lahiri Adesara) PREMIUM
Madhubala and Kishore Kumar (centre) at the muhurat of Chalti Ka Naam Gadi. (Courtesy Juhi Lahiri Adesara)

555pp, ₹699; HarperCollins
555pp, ₹699; HarperCollins

By 23 June, preparations for the arrest of prominent members of the Opposition had begun. Two days later, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed the proclamation of Internal Emergency.

The next day, Mrs Gandhi got to her office at 6am sharp to ratify the Emergency. Within hours, Opposition leaders, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, were picked up from their residences. No newspapers had opened their shops that morning as the electricity supply to Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi, the hub of newspaper presses then, had been cut off. This was the first step to press censorship, and for most of the population, it took a news broadcast on All India Radio to know what was happening. Emergency had indeed been proclaimed and, as a corollary, fundamental rights had been suspended. Political machinations were moving at lightning speed, and before you could say Inder Kumar Gujral, he was relieved of the Information and Broadcasting (I&B), portfolio.

Kishore Kumar during a stage show. (HT Photo)
Kishore Kumar during a stage show. (HT Photo)

Vidya Charan Shukla took over the reins of the ministry after a none-too-impressive performance at the Planning Ministry... The film industry was playing into his hands. Shukla... would readily mingle with the world of glamour. Yet, if they failed to submit to his demands, he would not hesitate to summon the latest threat. They called it MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act). Producers had to bear most of the brunt, else they would find their films stuck at the censors. Even artistes were not spared. It is said that Shukla even once compelled Lata Mangeshkar to “abandon her principle of not singing at privately sponsored functions”...

Around half a century back, the democratically elected head of Germany had announced a 25 point programme for boosting the economy.

Mrs Gandhi was just five points behind. She, too, started a 20 point programme with a basic objective to eradicate poverty and enhance the quality of life of the underprivileged. However, there was one significant difference. Adolf Hitler did not use the Emergency to promote his relatives. Indira did. Her son Sanjay started calling the shots...


It was around January 1976. Geeton Bhari Shaam was Sanjay’s brainchild, and it was decided to rope in film celebrities to do films for television eulogizing the Twenty Point Programme. The session was to be the antidote for a nation engulfed in despondency. And who better to lift them from the despair than Kishore, by now the authority on live shows?

He wanted Kishore to sing jingles in praise of the government and its schemes. “Wanted” would be a wrong choice of word for Sanjay of those days. It was more of a demand than an appeal. Kishore was basking in the glory of a Filmfare Award, his first in six years, when the trunk call came from Delhi. Not known to pick up phone calls directly, Kishore had made an exception that day.

“You have to come to Delhi. Sanjay Gandhi ka programme hai.”

“Who are you?” Now it was Kishore’s turn to “demand”.

“Burney.” It was a voice that reeked of unmerited power.

An infuriated Kishore was unusually cool and, for a change, politically correct.

“Please talk to my secretary or else take prior appointment.”

In his interview with Pritish Nandy, Kishore would set the record straight some nine years later. “Who knows why they come? But no one can make me do what I don’t want to do. I don’t sing at anyone’s will or command.”

The conversation would end there, but the confrontation had just begun. In those days, the Gandhi scion would not take no for an answer. Shukla needed to act in a hurry to save his job and honour.

Sayed Muzaffar Hussain Burney, the then Secretary in the Ministry of I&B, reported the conversation to his boss and was swiftly directed to arrange a meeting with some government officials and industry representatives in Bombay. The said meeting took place on 29 April 1976 and was attended by GP Sippy, the then head of the All-India Film Producer’s Council, director Shriram Bohra, BR Chopra, Subodh Mukerji and Nasir Hussain, among others.

Sippy tried to convince Kishore for the show but was snubbed. Sippy then explained to the officials that convincing Kishore was not their cup of tea and that ministry officials should contact him directly.

Next, it was the turn of Joint Secretary CB Jain to engage with Kishore. He spoke to the singer directly on phone and explained the government’s stance on the matter. Jain even suggested visiting Kishore to discuss the matter but was told that Kishore was not to see anyone as per medical advice...

Amit Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle for the recording of ‘Boley Re Sajan’ for Badti Ka Naam Dadhi (1974) (Courtesy Sudarshan Talwar)
Amit Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle for the recording of ‘Boley Re Sajan’ for Badti Ka Naam Dadhi (1974) (Courtesy Sudarshan Talwar)

By this time, Kishore was also mentally prepared to make a debut on the streets. With a harmonium hanging from his shoulders, he would sing to anybody’s tune but not the government’s:

I did what I thought best. Singing at private functions is definitely not an anathema. With genuine love and respect, I am only too eager to bend. However, if someone decides to rest his foot in my head, he will not have the good fortune to witness the best of my courtesies.

The film industry had attuned themselves to the eccentricities of Kishore, but for the mandarins at Delhi, this “impertinence” was not to be taken lightly. ..

Jain’s note started with the meeting at Burney’s office, where Kishore Kumar’s name was mentioned as being one of those who was “non-cooperating”. Therefore, the government needed to immediately ban the playing of Kishore Kumar records on AIR and Doordarshan for three months. Contact had to be made with the gramophone recording companies to request them to “freeze all records of Kishore Kumar’s songs” and to see that “no record of his should be sold”. Jain had not finished yet. A list of under-production films with Kishore Kumar as the playback singer was also to be produced so that steps could be taken not to release any raw stock to “these productions”. It was also to be examined whether “such films could be refused censor certificate(s)”.

Still not satisfied, Jain took the matter to ridiculous proportions by exploring options regarding the broadcasting of songs by the BBC and if anything, “can be done to stop this”.

Based on Jain’s note, Burney would initiate his on 30 April, which Shukla would approve on 11 May 1976. The note read thus:

All the songs of Sri Kishore Kumar should be banned from AIR and DD and that all films in which he was the playback singer should be listed out so that suitable action can be taken against these films. Besides, the representative of HMV and Gramophone recording Companies should be sent for and, in consultation with the Ministry of Education, the sale of Sri Kishore Kumar’s records and discs should be frozen.

RD Burman, Dev Anand and Kishore Kumar. (HT Photo)
RD Burman, Dev Anand and Kishore Kumar. (HT Photo)

Strangely, the orders were issued even before Shukla had vetted the proposal. Exactly a week before that, on 4 May 1976, orders were issued by the Director General of AIR that songs by Kishore Kumar should not be broadcast and that film excerpts or films featuring him as a playback singer should not be shown on TV. All records of his songs should be kept in the “personal custody” of the head of the various AIR and TV centres. Three days later, on 7 May, another order followed, this time related to advertising spots featuring Kishore Kumar’s voice. They could be used but only without any mention of his name...

Officials of AIR and Doordarshan got in touch with the record companies as per the directions. The meeting with Polydor took place on 20 May while that with HMV on 4 June 1976, to try and freeze the sale of records. Polydor gave a cold shoulder; HMV caved in. After all, they were, “His Master’s Voice”.

The film industry was completely shaken by the diatribe... Kalyanji was made to rush to Delhi as a peace mediator. Unknowingly, in an interview with Star & Style, Kalyanji spilt the beans...

“I did not do it for Kishore Kumar. He was least affected. But for the producers, who had to suffer the brunt of his punishment, though no fault of theirs.”

Kishore’s big brother tried to help, though. Ashok stated in an article by another Ashok (Row Kavi) that he did approach Mrs Gandhi to rescind the orders. The lady had no intention to comply.

Bahoot gaana gaya. Ab zaara aaram pharmaye.” Kishore’s statement was followed by a sabbatical. With Amit by his side, he started for a one-to-one with nature. Khandwa was naturally the starting point, where he had plenty of time at his disposal to relive his childhood once more. Then, they would embark on a trip to Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari, traversing through various other temples en route and simultaneously deciding to hone his skills in a genre of music not put much into use before — Rabindra Sangeet.

Kishore Kumar and Amit Kumar (Phal S Girota/HT Photo)
Kishore Kumar and Amit Kumar (Phal S Girota/HT Photo)

Meanwhile, the discerning listener was startled to find duets being played with Kishore’s part missing. The news took time to sink in. As word of the ban gained momentum, protests erupted — not by conflagrations of flags and tyres but through cinematic means. Lines for Kishore Kumar’s films grew longer at revival theatres, and restaurants and jukeboxes started multiplying their businesses. However, his songs stopped from featuring in the countdowns. Binaca Geetmala was not spared.

Co-author Anirudha Bhattacharjee (Courtesy HarperCollins)
Co-author Anirudha Bhattacharjee (Courtesy HarperCollins)

Not all at the ministry, however, took pleasure in the unfolding events. Feelers were sent at intervals. “You are an asset to the industry … if you can just say sorry …”

“Sorry? No way. If required, I shall quit singing.”

Co-author Parthiv Dhar (Courtesy HarperCollins)
Co-author Parthiv Dhar (Courtesy HarperCollins)

The pressure was on from all quarters for a respectable solution, despite the knowledge that subservience was the last thing you could expect from Kishore.

Again, it took Vidya Charan Shukla to initiate the détente. After all, the Gangolys and the Shuklas’ association went a long way back to Khandwa, where their parents were pals. VC Shukla, as per official records, was born just two days before Kishore as well.

Hence, when Kishore was offered the proposition to lift the ban provided, he cooperated on the matter, little realizing what the “matter” was. In a burst of spontaneity, Kishore, in a letter dated 14 June 1976, informed Jain that he had decided to extend his full cooperation...

It was 16 June 1976.

The news was met with happiness by dial chasers. Radio sets were switched on in anticipation of the D-Day. The first song AIR played was Dukhi man mere, and according to old-timers, they played his songs the entire day, almost as a penance.

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