There are singers and then there is Kishore Kumar. His original name was Abhas Kumar Ganguly and he was born on August 4, 1929 in Khandwa, British India. He was an unschooled singer who had no classical training but was a skilled imitator, interpreter, and innovator. He didn’t just have a beautiful voice that could make any song come alive, he was also an actor who excelled at comedy.
Kishore Kumar was famous for his eccentricities and quirky personality. Few know that Kishore Da still owes five rupees and 12 paise which he immortalized this fact in that famous song Paanch Rupaiya Barah Anna from the 1958 film, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, to his college canteen. He once put up a signboard saying ‘Beware of Kishore’ on the door of his Warden Road, Mumbai flat. At the doorstep of his home in Madhya Pradesh, he once put a board saying ‘Mental Hospital’ instead of the family nameplate. He sang many songs for Rajesh Khanna and other renowned actors from the 60s- 80s and became such a master at capturing the mannerisms of the actors in his songs.
Kishore Kumar was known to be very particular about his remuneration. He reportedly kept shaving off parts of his mustache and hair till he was paid his entire fee by the producer. But very few are aware that he refused to take fees from acclaimed filmmaker Satyajit Ray for singing in his 1964 film, Charulata. When Ray ran into financial trouble during the making of the iconic Pather Panchali, and was even contemplating giving up the project, it was Kishore Kumar who helped him out with Rs 5000 that got the film back on track.
His denial to endorse then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme led to his ban on Vividh Bharti and All India Radio during the Emergency period of 1975-1977.
Kumar was a loner; in an interview with Pritish Nandy (1985) he said that he had no friends—he preferred talking to his trees instead. Once, when a reporter made a comment about how lonely he must be, Kumar took her to his garden, named some of the trees there, and introduced them to the reporter as his closest friends. A musical genius who made madness fashionable, Kishore Kumar left behind an unmatched legacy.