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Was Kishore the Greatest

The excitement that greeted Kishore Kumar’s 85th birth anniversary on Aug 4, with Radio, TV and print media freaking out, does suggest that the madcap musical genius is indeed special.

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My friend and his son-in-law share a wonderful rapport. Love, warmth, affection, caring, respect, like-mindedness … it’s all there on a over-drive, except one prickly issue: Who’s hotter, Mohammed Rafi or Kishore Kumar?

My friend loves Rafi while his son-in-law is mad about Kishore. No matter how much my friend tries to convince his damaad, this is one area that is non-negotiable … and the sasurji for his turn too is absolutely atal in his worship for Rafi. He concedes that in terms of popularity, Kishore may today have an edge, but for the true-blue connoisseur of quality he believes, Rafi is Rafi …

While this will always remain an open, tenuous and endless debate, the excitement that greeted Kishore Kumar’s 85th birth anniversary on Aug 4, with Radio, TV and print media freaking out, does suggest that the madcap musical genius is indeed special. Never has the same energy & enthusiasm been seen on the death or birth anniversary, for any of the others. Rafi, Mukesh Chand Mathur, Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey were all hugely gifted and respected singers of their times with very loyal fan-bases, but how many are remembered today with the frenzy, fervor, unconditional love, loyalty, devotion, awe and respect as Kishore-da? Perhaps Kishore has, after all, pipped them to all.


Mumbai-based Subhajit fires the first salvo in favor of Kishore Kumar: “One, his intrinsic modernity that marked both his voice and rendition that instantly connected across generations and geographical boundaries. Two, his amazing versatility. Sad, mad, happy, love, fun … he invested in every genre and mood, a special something that, like charisma, is impossible to define, but easy to identify. Lastly, unlike any singer (before or after) he was the consummate Entertainer!”

Adds veteran, Patna based Journalist Vikas Jha: “He lived his name, Kishore! He epitomized magical youthfulness, energy, fun and joy in his music and personality like no other, infusing them with an evergreen, magical freshness. No wonder, be it London or Lucknow, Sydney or Siliguri, Patna or Pittsburg, New York or Nagpur, Dallas or Delhi — even Jhumri Talaiya — Kishore Kumar’s is a voice that is universally loved and admired.”

Delhi-based Adman Kaushik Sen concurs: “To all that, I would only add one thing: He was the complete showman. Since he was an accomplished and successful actor, he brought to his voice & rendition a unique histrionic quality that was both special and matchless. Be it Mauj, Masti, Mohabbat or Gam, his voice was spot-on with the right note. This quality came through loud n’ clear in his shows too, which was a scream with his crazy antics! KK was something else, boss!”

Like Sonu Nigam, (the most gifted male singer of his generation), Rafi-addicts however beg to differ. Says Vishal Malhotra, Lucknow-based college lecturer: “It is a common, consumerist malaise to confuse popularity with excellence. Class and mass are two different categories residing in two different spheres. Did you know that Kishore deeply respected Rafi and continued to be both angry and embarrassed when derogatory comparisons by chamchas cropped up? No one doubts Kishore-da’s talent, but as a singer Rafi was a class apart! The mood, melody and resonance that he brought to his songs, be it for rebel Shammi Kapoor, tragic hero Dilip Kumar, Evergreen Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Joy, Biswajit, Feroz and Sanjay Khan, Jeetendra … played no mean part in their attaining stardom. Classical, romantic, funny — Rafi rendered them all in a way that only he could. Lovers of vintage music of the golden times will always place Rafi right on top. Kishore Kumar was a gifted entertainer with a fine versatile voice, but Rafi was 40 carat!”

Santosh Desai winds up the debate in style. “While Rafi was gramophone, Kishore was stereophonic! Modern and virile, his voice bridged the gap between yesterday and tomorrow like no other, aided and abetted by the genius of R.D. Burman. The innovative music director undoubtedly gave KK some of his most memorable songs and their combine was sheer magic!”

At the end of the day, KK was a character like no other! Eccentric, a madcap who named and spoke to his plants, shaved one side of his head, face and moustache, because he received only half his payment, married four times, vetoed Sanjay Gandhi’s diktat of singing paeans for the Emergency and was struck off all government-owned TV and Radio, Kishore Kumar was the original, natural Mr. P.R. minus today’s professional machinery, smart promos or attention-grabbing gimmicks.

Film-maker, lyricist, singer-composer, actor Kishore Kumar was, is and will always remain a super-star in the popular imagination.

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Bollywood | Arts & Entertainment | September 2014

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