Remembering Kishore Kumar – the lonely yodeller, on his 87th birthday


No one can quite parallel the talent that was Kishore Kumar. A singer, screenwriter, actor, composer, director and producer, Kumar was as multitalented as it gets. When one thinks of him, it is impossible not to reminisce hits like Ek Chatur Naar, Saamne Ye Kaun Aaya, Yeh Raaten Yeh Mausam, Haal Kaisa Hai Janab Ka and the many more that continue to strike a vibrant note in our lives. Determined and driven to succeed, there was a time when no other name matched the musical genius that was Kumar.

However, Kumar’s road to success was fraught with isolation, paranoia and self-doubt – emotions that any successful entrepreneur understands only too well. Yet, although he was a singer, Kumar embodied much of the darker side of entrepreneurship in many cases. His personal struggles are often overshadowed by his more phenomenal success, as is the case for most heroes. But it is these struggles that also show his human side, a side that anyone journeying to success would empathise with. It is this more human side of Kishore Kumar of which we would like to remind our readers on his 87th birthday.

Kishore Kumar’s name is embedded in the history of entertainment. He was perhaps the first Indian musician to adopt the style of ‘yodeling’ into his music – one that singers attempt to replicate even today. Kumar made his advent into Bollywood fairly easily and while he was still young, since his older brother Ashok Kumar was already an established actor in the industry.

Although he was always more interested in being a singer, he gave in to peer pressure and tried his luck at acting like his older brother. He procured lead roles in films like Andolan (1951), Naukari (1954) and Musafir (1957). His ‘comic hero’ roles made his films a hit in the box-office, but his true talent was discovered in the raw by the one and only S.D. Burman. Kumar had a good break in the ‘70s and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Mithun Chakrabarty.

Like anyone who receives their dues for their talent too soon, Kumar, too, went through a roller-coaster of imminent success followed by periods of noticeable slags as a result of taking on too much.

Tumultuous relationships

As most entrepreneurs will know, early success comes with the risk of becoming overtly arrogant. With this stems the paranoia of losing this fame and success overnight. Consequently, insecurity and trust issues set in, leading to the possibility of damaging once steady relationships. Single-minded success may get you running along your five-year plan, but chances are that you’re so focused on your goal that you forget those standing next to you. In Kumar’s case, he was never able to maintain a long-term relationship. After three trials around the pier and subsequent divorces, Kumar finally found solace in the arms of his fourth and final wife, Leena Chandavarkar, with whom he remained until his dying day.

The dizzying heights of success

Once you reach a certain height of success in your entrepreneurial journey, the fear of falling back to square one is so overwhelming that your nightmares are plagued with this thought. You push yourself beyond your limits, so you never have to put yourself through the struggles again. Consequently, money and public acclaim become the only validation for your work. So it was with Kishore Kumar too, who was extremely paranoid about falling from his great height. As a result, he reportedly had a terrible obsession about receiving his dues. He would only sing after his secretary had confirmed that the producer paid the full amount promised. If they failed to do so, he would pull public stunts like walking across to them in front of the entire production house and refusing to shoot until he was paid right then and there. To him, money was a validation of his talents, and owing to this, he managed to oust away the closest people in his life.

However, like every entrepreneur, he knew when to pay his dues. He was quite generous to those who needed his help – giving his actor-turned-producer friend Bipin Gupta Rs 2,000 for his 1964 film Dal Mein Kala and sending regular money to his other friend and actor Arun Kumar Mukherjee’s family after the latter’s passing.

A loner till the very end

It gets lonely at the top. Speak to any successful entrepreneur and they’ll tell you about how many friends they’ve lost along the way, how many co-founders gave them the bait and how many loved ones got tired of waiting around. A loner till the very end, Kumar would take solace in his surroundings, befriending inanimate objects, confident on their reliance. In a 1985 interview with Pritish Nandy, Kumar stated that he had no friends and preferred the company of his trees instead. He even took some reporters to his trees and introduced them as his “closest friends”. In other instances, he reportedly showed lapses of memory and publicly cut off famous directors and producers for refusing to follow by his way.

Although some have called him eccentric and even mad to an extent, what many failed to see was a quaint, overtly talented man who had lost a part of himself in the quest for being valued as the absolute best – much like your everyday entrepreneur.

In his book The Sad and the Glad of Kishore Kumar, Khalid Mohammed sums up Kumar’s personality perfectly – “Kishore Kumar was considered eccentric sometimes, sometimes a genius. The truth perhaps lay in between.”

What are your favourite Kishore Kumar songs? Let us know in the comments section below.


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