His was a voice that was born with big, wide wings. It soared over the drably measured and the dourly mundane in an inspired, time-conquering trajectory entirely its own. It is, therefore, but inevitable that a quarter century after his untimely demise, Kishore Kumar to be a dominant force.
He continues to rule the charts, the airwaves and the many digital platforms that weren’t even conceived when he was in our midst, weaving magic over an entire nation with his peerlessly mellifluous, unfettered voice.
Death could not end his reign. The legendary entertainer, true to his name, was ever-youthful. Kishore, who died on October 13, 1987, remains to this day the most requested male singer on India’s FM channels, the most viewed on You Tube and the most downloaded on the Net.
It is almost as if he never went away. He still competes with the reigning singers of the day for the attention of a new generation of Hindi film music fans. He is one of them, only immeasurably more gifted. Kishore Kumar is still our contemporary.
Kishore’s timeless appeal, of course, stems from the sheer purity of his art and craft as a singer although his other contributions to cinema as a filmmaker, actor, composer and screenwriter are just as legendary.
Yes, any comparison of Kishore Kumar with any singer, living or dead, is completely misplaced. The others were mere singers; he was a creative powerhouse who forever redefined the contours of entertainment in India with the sheer force of his multifaceted genius.
Kishore Kumar was an out-and-out natural, a marvel of nature, unspoiled by human intervention. Mercifully, no musical guru was ever let loose to tamper with his ethereal vocal chords. So he went out into the world riding solely on an innate tonal quality that few singers in the world have ever been blessed with. The others sang, Kishore Kumar emoted music with the abandon of a free bird.
When Kishore Kumar arrived on the Hindi cinema scene in the late 1940s, he briefly imitated his idol, KL Saigal, but quickly broke away from all established musical templates to trot off in directions that nobody had ever even looked at, let alone explored.
He was Hindi cinema’s first ‘modern’ singer, which explains why a majority of his songs still sound as if they have only just emerged from a contemporary recording studio.
His contemporaries – some of the greatest playback singers of all time – have faded into the past. We still love their songs without a question but, for a 20-year-old who consumes his music on an iPod on the go, those great crooners often sound somewhat dated. But not so Kishore. He is still very much today. As a singer, Kishore was way ahead of his time. He catapulted the Hindi film song into the future. And that future is still unfolding and Kishore is very much a part of it.
To cite one example, you hear Arre yaar meri tum bhi ho ghazab ghunghat toh zara odho from Teen Deviyan, a 1965 film. He sang the duet with Asha Bhosle all of 47 years ago and yet sounds and feels, like the actor who enacted the number on the screen, Dev Anand, evergreen.
On the screen, the picturisation belongs firmly to the past. Even the composition by SD Burman may carry hints of the sound of the 1960s. But Kishore’s singing miraculously leaps across the decades and continues to be dew-fresh.
Or sample an even older song, Chandni raat tum ho saath, kya karen ke dil machal machal gaya, a duet with Lata Mangeshkar from the 1962 comedy, Half Ticket. Old is the last word that comes to mind when one hears the voice that is always Kishore. It’s a voice set free from the shackles of time.