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'This Kishore lad is no singer, I tell you'

Suveen K Sinha  |  New Delhi 

offers a look behind the scenes of the old world of

counted “Koee humdum na raha”, his solo, among his 10 best songs. The film marked his debut as music director. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics, rendered with feeling by Kumar in Raga Zinjhoti, enter straight into one’s heart.

But tells us that it was not a composition, nor was he the first to render it. That privilege went to his elder brother, The original lyrics, by Jamuna Swarup Casshyap, were composed by Saraswati Devi for the 1936 hit Jeevan Naiya, a film that affirmed and Devika Rani as the reigning stars. Someone has even posted a clip on YouTube of this song ( in which starts it and then Kishore steps in.

How does Bharatan know this? Saraswati Devi (Khorshed Minocher-Homji in real life), the Hindi film industry’s first music director, invited him in September 1969 to an evening during which she sang her genteel hits from films made by Bombay Talkies, the studio that ruled the industry in the 1930s and 1940s. She also sang the “Koee humdum” number, after announcing it as Ashok Kumar’s solo. What made the experience unique for Bharatan was that Saraswati Devi did not say a word about Kishore or She just let the rendition speak for itself.

In Kishore Kumar’s defence, it can only be said that he was an impressionable seven-year-old when he first heard the original. It may have entered his subconscious, and come out note-for-note when he needed to create the right mood in

After all, for some of the best music directors, the mood came first. In the opinion of Shanker, of the Shanker-Jaikishan team, the musician, in trying to evoke or match the mood on screen, could go into any raga. For instance, all that Shanker wanted to do while composing “Tu pyaar ka saagar hai” (Seema, 1955) was to capture the bhajan’s mood, as mirrored by Balraj Sahni on screen. It just so happened that the number went into Raga Todi.

Naushad, known for his numbers based on the classical ragas, only thought of the character while composing. For instance, he believed that “Bekas pe karam keejiye” (Mughal-e-Azam, 1969) would be accepted by the viewer-listener so long as it captured the agony of Madhubala’s Anarkali regardless of the raga it was based on (Raga Kedara).

How does Bharatan know this? They told him.

As Bimal Roy picked to play the jobless hero in Naukri, the singer-actor justly assumed that he would sing his own songs. But Salil Chowdhury, the formidable music director from Bengal, sought Hemant Kumar’s vocals. Kishore rushed to Chowdhury’s music room at Mohan Studios, Andheri, only to be told: “But I have never heard you before… Not one song of yours did I hear in Calcutta.” To rectify the anomaly, Kishore began to sing, but Chowdhury cut him short, saying: “You don’t know the ABC of music.”

Kishore, pursuing his case, later went to Chowdhury with records of two of his best songs — “Marne kee duaaen kyun maangoon” (Ziddi, 1948) and “Jagmag jagmag kartaa niklaa” (Rimjhim, 1949). Chowdhury dismissed both as “laboured”. It was only after many others put in a word that Chowdhury relented, though under protest (“This Kishore lad is no singer, I tell you”).

Seventeen years later, the same Chowdhury stood transfixed as Kishore made magic with his composition, “Koee hotaa jis ko apnaa”, in Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1971). “I salute Data Burman [S D Burman] for spotting the spark in the boy,” he said. Equally interestingly, Hemant Kumar, who almost became Kishore’s voice in Naukri, chose him to sing his immortal composition, “Woh sham kuchh ajeeb thi” in Khamoshi (1970).

How does Bharatan know this? They told him.

Soon into the book, you begin to feel jealous of Bharatan. He was there at recordings and music “sittings” in the golden era of Hindi film music — when journalists were not anathema and some of them, like Bharatan, were actually asked by music directors for their opinion. O P Nayyar, for instance, valued the insights of Jitubhai Mehta (of the Gujarati Vandemataram and Bombay Samachar). Madan Mohan turned to Screen’s R M Kumtakar for final ghazal approvals.

Among many other things, Bharatan watched Lahore-based Ghulam Haider, who used to come down to Bombay for a film and get paid as much as Rs 50,000 for it, teach Indian stalwarts like Naushad, who depended on meagre monthly salaries, to demand and get their worth. He watched as Lata and Rafi fought over the issue of royalties and did not sing together for three years. He witnessed the blatant plagiarising of “music operators” like Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik and Pritam, as well as the selective copying of great grand composers like Shanker-Jaikishan, Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. And, of course, he watched the coming-of-age of Kishore Kumar.

Somewhere along the line, though, this privilege began to weigh upon Bharatan’s mind. It shows in his efforts to try and cram too much into each sentence. He also tends to lose his way at times while narrating the hundreds of delightful anecdotes. Second, perhaps he feels that the present age, with its quick-fix journalists with their cameras, does not value the real deals like him as much as it should. In his writing he appears to be trying to tell us that he was there when it all happened. That may explain why there is so much of him in the book. He may have been better off employing Saraswati Devi’s subtlety.

Nevertheless, this book deserved better than the “pavement” look that its cover has, despite the gloss. The photographs inside, though, are a treasure trove, quite like the music in the book.

Author: Raju Bharatan
Publisher: Hay House

Pages: 280
Price: Rs 399

First Published: Sat, October 16 2010. 00:28 IST