Kishore Kumar (4 August 1929 – 13 October 1987) was an Indian film playback singer, actor, lyricist, composer, producer, director, screenplay writer and scriptwriter. He is considered as one of the most successful playback singers of the Hindi film industry. Apart from Hindi, he sang in many Indian languages including Bengali, Marathi, Assamese, Gujarati, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Malayalam, Odia, and Urdu. He has also sung in private albums in several languages especially in Bengali which are noted as all time classics. He won 8 Filmfare Awards for Best Male Playback Singer and holds the record for winning the most Filmfare Awards in that category. He was awarded the “Lata Mangeshkar Award” by the Madhya Pradesh government and from that year onwards, the Madhya Pradesh Government initiated a new award called the “Kishore Kumar Award” for contributions to Hindi cinema.
Kishore Kumar was born in a Bengali Ganguly family in Khandwa, Central Provinces and Berar (now in Madhya Pradesh) as Abhas Kumar Ganguly. His father Kunjalal Ganguly (Gangopadhyay) was a lawyer and his mother Gouri Devi came from a wealthy Bengali family. Kunjalal Gangopadhyaya was invited by the Kamavisadar Gokhale family of Khandwa to be their personal lawyer. Kishore was the youngest of four siblings, the other three were Ashok (the eldest), Sati Devi, and Anoop. While Kishore was still a child, his brother Ashok became a Bollywood actor. Later, Anoop also ventured into cinema with Ashok’s help. Spending time with his brothers, Kishore became interested in films and music. He became a fan of singer-actor K. L. Saigal—whom he considered his guru, and tried to emulate his singing style. He graduated from Christian College, Indore.
After Ashok became a star of Hindi films, the Ganguly family visited Mumbai regularly. Abhas Kumar changed his name to Kishore and started his cinema career as a chorus singer at Bombay Talkies, where his brother worked. Kumar’s first film appearance was in Shikari (1946), in which his brother Ashok played the lead role. Music director Khemchand Prakash gave Kumar a chance to sing “Marne ki duayen kyon mangu” for the film Ziddi (1948). After this, Kumar was offered many other assignments, but he was not very serious about a film career. In 1949, he settled in Mumbai. Kumar played the hero in the Bombay Talkies film Andolan (1951), directed by Phani Majumdar. Although he got some acting assignments with the help of his brother, he was more interested in becoming a singer. Ashok wanted Kumar to be an actor like him.
Kumar next starred in Bimal Roy’s Naukri (1954) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s directorial debut Musafir (1957). Salil Chowdhury, the music director for Naukri, was initially dismissive of Kumar as a singer when he found that Kumar had no formal training in music. However, after hearing his voice, Chowdhury gave him the song Chhota sa ghar hoga, which was supposed to be sung by Hemant Kumar. Kumar starred in films New Delhi (1957), Aasha (1957), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Half Ticket (1962), and Padosan (1968). Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), his home production, starred the three Ganguly brothers and Madhubala. Kumar played a car mechanic who has a romance with a city girl (Madhubala) with a subplot involving the brothers.
Music director S. D. Burman is credited with spotting Kumar’s talent for singing. During the making of Mashaal (1950), Burman visited Ashok’s house, where he heard Kumar imitating K. L. Saigal. He complimented him and told him that he should develop a style of his own, instead of copying Saigal. Kumar eventually developed his own style of singing, which featured yodeling, which he had heard on the records of Tex Morton and Jimmie Rodgers.
Burman recorded in Kumar’s voice for Dev Anand’s Munimji (1954), Taxi Driver (1954), House No. 44 (1955), Funtoosh (1956), Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Paying Guest (1957), Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), Prem Pujari (1970), and Tere Mere Sapne (1971). He also composed music for Kumar’s home production Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958). Some of their songs were; “Maana Janaab Ne Pukara Nahin” from Paying Guest, “Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke” from Nau Do Gyarah (1957), “Ai Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa” from Funtoosh, and “Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si” and “Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka” from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958). Asha Bhosle and Kumar performed duets composed by Burman including “Chhod Do Aanchal” from Paying Guest (1957), “Ankhon Mein Kya Ji” from Nau Do Gyarah (1957), “Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka” and “Paanch Rupaiya Baara Aana” from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and “Arre Yaar Meri Tum Bhi Ho Gajab” from Teen Deviyan (1965).
Music director C. Ramchandra also recognized Kumar’s talent as a singer. They collaborated on songs including “Eena Meena Deeka” from Aasha (1957). Kishore Kumar’s work includes “Nakhrewaali” from New Delhi (1956) by Shankar Jaikishan, “C.A.T. Cat Maane Billi” and “Hum To Mohabbat Karega” from Dilli Ka Thug (1958) by Ravi, and “Chhedo Na Meri Zulfein” from Ganga Ki Lahren (1964) by Chitragupta.
Kumar produced, directed, acted in composed the music for Jhumroo (1961), and wrote the lyrics for the film’s title song, “Main Hoon Jhumroo”. Later, he produced and directed Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein (1964). He wrote the script and composed music for the film, which is about the relationship between a father (Kishore Kumar) and his deaf and mute son (played by his real-life son (Amit Kumar).
In the 1960s, as an actor, Kishore Kumar built up a notoriety for coming late for the shootings or bunking them altogether. His films flopped frequently and he landed in income tax trouble. As a singer, his work in this period includes “Zaroorat Hai Zaroorat Hai” from Manmauji (1961), “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil” from Guide (1965), and “Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara” from Jewel Thief (1967).
In the late 1960s, Rahul Dev Burman worked with Kishore Kumar on the soundtrack of the film Padosan (1968), in which Kumar sang “Mere Saamne Wali Khidki Mein” and “Kehna Hai.” Padosan was a comedy in which Kumar as a dramatist-musician, Mehmood as a Carnatic music and dance teacher, and Sunil Dutt as a simpleton named Bhola. Kumar’s character was inspired by his uncle, Dhananjay Bannerjee, a classical singer. The highlight of the film was a musical, comical duel between Kishore Kumar-Sunil Dutt and Mehmood: “Ek Chatur Nar Karke Singaar.”
In 1969, Shakti Samanta produced and directed Aradhana. He sang two songs in the film; “Meri Sapnon Ki Rani” and “Roop Tera Mastana”. Shakti Samanta suggested that Kumar sing the other songs. When the film was released, Kumar’s two songs established him as a leading Bollywood playback singer. Kishore Kumar won his first Filmfare award for”Roop Tera Mastana”.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Kumar sang for Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Dev Anand, Shashi Kapoor, Mithun Chakraborty, Vinod Khanna, Dilip Kumar, Randhir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Rajiv Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol, Anil Kapoor, Rakesh Roshan, Dilip Kumar, Pran, Sachin, Vinod Mehra, Rajini Kanth, Chunky Pandey, Kumar Gaurav, Govinda and Jackie Shroff.
S. D. Burman and Kumar continued to work together, including “Phoolon Ke Rang Se” and “Shokhiyon Mein Ghola Jaaye” from Prem Pujari (1969), “Aaj Madhosh Hua Jaaye Re,” “Khilte Hain Gul Yahan” and “O Meri Sharmilee” from Sharmilee (1971), “Meet na mila” from Abhimaan (1973), and “Jeevan ki Bagiya mehkegi” from Tere Mere Sapne (1974). In 1975, S. D. Burman composed his last song for Kumar; “Badi Sooni Sooni Hai” for the film Mili.
R.D. Burman recorded several songs with Kumar in the 1970s, including “O Maajhi Re” from Khushboo, “Yeh Shaam Mastaani” and “Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai” from Kati Patang (1971), “Raat Kali Ek Khwab Mein Aayi” from Buddha Mil Gaya (1971) and “Chingari Koi Bhadke (Amar Prem)” and “Jab Bhi Koi Kangana” from Shaukeen (1986). Although he was not formally trained in the classical music, R.D. Burman often had Kumar sing semi-classical songs, such as “Hamein Tum Se Pyaar Kitna” from Kudrat and “Mere Naina Saawan Bhadon” from Mehbooba.
R.D. Burman recorded several duets pairing Kumar with Asha Bhosle and with Lata Mangeshkar, including “Panna Ki Tamanna” from Heera Panna (1973), “Neend Chura Ke Raaton Mein” from the film Shareef Budmaash, “Rimjhim Gire Sawan” from Manzil, “Kya Yehi Pyaar Hai” from Sanjay Dutt’s debut film Rocky (1981), “Jaane Ja Dhoondta” and “Kharoshoo” from Harjai (1982).
Apart from the Burmans, Kumar worked with other music directors. The composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal (L-P) composed many songs sung by him, including “Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi” from Mr. X In Bombay, “Mere Naseeb Mein Aye Dost” from Do Raaste, “Yeh Jeevan Hai” from Piya Ka Ghar, “Mere Dil Mein Aaj Kya Hai” from Daag, “Nahi Mai Nahi Dekh Sakta” from Majboor, “Mere diwanepan ki bhi” from Mehboob Ki Mehndi, “Naach Meri Bulbul” from Roti, “Chal Chal Mere Haathi” from Haathi Mere Saathi and “Tu Kitne Baras Ki” from Karz. L-P also worked with Kumar and Mohammed Rafi on duets for the films Dostana, Ram Balram and Deedaar-E-Yaar. L-P composed “I love you (Kaate Nahin Katate Yeh Din Yeh Raat)” from Mr. India in (1987), a duet with Kumar and Alisha Chinoy. Salil Chowdhury recorded songs like “Koi Hota Jisko Apna” from Mere Apne and “Gujar Gaye Din Din” from Annadata. Ravindra Jain recorded “Ghungroo Ki Tarah” and the duets “Le Jaayenge Le Jaayenge” from Chor Machaye Shor and “Tota Maina Ki Kahani” from Fakira.
Khayyam recorded Kumar’s duets with Lata Mangeshkar, including “Hazaar Raahein” from Thodisi Bewafaii and Aankhon Mein Humne Aapke Sapne Sajaye Hain, Chandani Raat Mein Ek Bar. Hridaynath Mangeshkar recorded Zindagi Aa Raha Hoon Main from Mashaal. Kalyanji Anandji recorded several songs with Kumar including Zindagi Ka Safar and Jeevan Se Bhari Teri Aankhein, from Safar, O Saathi Re from Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and Pal Bhar Ke Liye from Johny Mera Naam.
Kumar worked with other composers including Rajesh Roshan, Sapan Chakraborty and Bappi Lahiri. Kumar sang Bhool Gaya Sab Kuchh (duet with Lata Mangeshkar) and Dil Kya Kare Jab Kisise for Rajesh Roshan’s film Julie. Their other songs include Yaadon Mein Woh from Swami, Chhookar Mere Man Ko Kiya Toone Kya Ishaara from Yaarana and Kahiye, Suniye (duet with Asha Bhosle) from Baton Baton Mein. Bappi Lahiri also recorded many songs with Kishore Kumar, including Pag Ghunghroo Bandh from Namak Halaal (1982), Manzilen Apni Jagah Hai from Sharaabi (1984) and Saason Se Nahi Kadmose Nahi from Mohabbat in (1987) and duets with (Lata Mangeshkar)) like Albela Mausamand Pyar Ka Tohfa from Tohfa (1985). Kishore and Bappi pair also recorded hits in Bengali, including Chirodini Tumi Je Amar from Amar Sangee (1987) and E Amar Gurudakshina from Gurudakshina (1987). Another Bengali musician was Ajay Das who made many hit songs using Kishore Kumar’s voice. He also recorded a duet song Hello hello kya haal hai with Asha Bhosle for Naushad in 1975 for the movie Sunehra Sansar, this is the only song of Kishore Kumar for Naushad.
During the Indian Emergency (1975–1977), Sanjay Gandhi asked Kumar to sing for an Indian National Congress rally in Mumbai, but he refused. As a result, Information and broadcasting minister Vidya Charan Shukla (1975–1977) put an unofficial ban on playing Kishore Kumar songs on state broadcasters All India Radio and Doordarshan from 4 May 1976 till the end of Emergency.
Kishore Kumar produced and directed some movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Badhti Ka Naam Daadhi (1978), Zindagi (1981) and Door Wadiyon Mein Kahin (1980)—his last appearance as an actor. With patronage from R. D. Burman and Rajesh Roshan, Kumar’s son Amit Kumar became a Bollywood singer in the 1980s. Kumar continued singing for several actors and performed in stage shows to earn money to pay his income tax arrears. Kumar stopped singing for Amitabh Bachchan in the mid-1980s after Bachchan refused to appear as a guest in the film Mamta Ki Chhaon Mein which Kumar produced, but called a truce with Amitabh by singing for him in Toofan. He also temporarily stopped singing for Mithun Chakraborty after Yogeeta Bali divorced him and married Chakraborty. However, Kumar sang for Chakraborty in Surakkhsha in the 1970s, and in the 1980s in many films, including Disco Dancer, Fareib and Waqt Ki Awaz.
In the mid-1980s, Kumar sang for Anil Kapoor in Kapoor’s debut film as a leading man, Woh Saat Din and also recorded Mr. India. He sang a duet with Alka Yagnik, “Tumse Badhkar Duniya Mein Na Dekha” for Kaamchor in 1982 and recorded some songs for the film Saagar with R. D. Burman. By this time, Kumar had decided to retire and was planning to return to his birthplace Khandwa.
On 13 October 1987—his brother Ashok’s 76th birthday—he died of a heart attack in Mumbai at 4:45 pm. His body was taken to Khandwa for cremation. Kumar had recorded his last song, Guru Guru—a duet with Asha Bhosle for the film Waqt Ki Aawaz (1988) composed by Bappi Lahiri for Mithun Chakraborty and Sridevi—the day before he died. His song Pal Bhar Ke Liye from the film Johny Mera Naam (1970) was used in an episode of The Simpsons titled “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore”. His songs have been featured in several films, including Such a Long Journey (1998) and Side Streets (1998). Sony TV organised the television singing contest K For Kishore to search for a singer like Kishore Kumar.
Kishore Kumar married four times. His first wife was Bengali singer and actress Ruma Guha Thakurta aka Ruma Ghosh. Their marriage lasted from 1950 to 1958. His second wife was actress Madhubala, who had worked with him on many films including his home production Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Jhumroo (1961). When Kumar proposed to her, Madhubala was sick and was planning to go to London for treatment. She had a ventricular septal defect (hole in the heart), and he was married to Ruma. After his divorce, the couple had a civil wedding in 1960 and Kishore Kumar converted to Islam and reportedly changed his name to Karim Abdul. His parents refused to attend. The couple also had a Hindu ceremony to please Kumar’s parents, but Madhubala was never truly accepted as his wife. Within a month of her wedding she moved back to her bungalow in Bandra because of tension in the Kumar household. They remained married but under great strain for the remainder of Madhubala’s life. Their marriage ended with Madhubala’s death on 23 February 1969.
Kumar’s third marriage was to Yogeeta Bali, and lasted from 1976 to 4 August 1978. Kishore was married to Leena Chandavarkar from 1980 until his death. He had two sons, Amit Kumar with Ruma, and Sumit Kumar with Leena Chandavarkar.
Kumar is said to have been paranoid about not being paid. During recordings, he would sing only after his secretary confirmed that the producer had made the payment. On one occasion, when he discovered that his dues had not been fully paid, he appeared on set with makeup on only one side of his face. When the director questioned him, he replied “Aadha paisa to aadha make-up.” (Half make-up for half payment) On the sets of Bhai Bhai, Kishore Kumar refused to act because the director M V Raman owed him ₹ 5,000. Ashok Kumar persuaded him to do the scene but when the shooting started, Kumar walked across the floor, walked a few places and said, Paanch Hazzar Rupaiya (five thousand rupees) and did a somersault. After he reached the end of the floor, he left the studio. On another occasion, when producer R.C. Talwar did not pay his dues in spite of repeated reminders, Kumar arrived at Talwar’s residence and shouting “Hey Talwar, de de mere aath hazaar” (“Hey Talwar, give me my eight thousand”) every morning until Talwar paid him.
The film Anand (1971) was originally supposed to star Kumar and Mehmood Ali in the lead. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the director of the film, was asked to meet Kumar to discuss the project. However, when he went to Kumar’s house he was driven away by the gatekeeper due to a misunderstanding. Kumar—himself a Bengali—had not been paid for a stage show organized by another Bengali man and had instructed his gatekeeper to drive away this “Bengali”, if he ever visited the house. Consequently, Mehmood had to leave the film as well, and new actors (Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan) were signed up for the film.
In spite of his “no money, no work” principle, sometimes Kumar recorded for free even when the producers were willing to pay. Such films include those produced by Rajesh Khanna and Danny Denzongpa. On one occasion, Kumar helped actor-turned-producer Bipin Gupta by giving him ₹ 20,000 for the film Dal Mein Kala (1964). When actor Arun Kumar Mukherjee—one of the first persons to appreciate Kishore’s singing talent—died, Kumar regularly sent money to Mukherjee’s family in Bhagalpur.
Many journalists and writers have written about Kishore Kumar’s seemingly eccentric behavior. He placed a sign that said “Beware of Kishore” at the door of his Warden Road flat. Once, producer-director H. S. Rawail, who owed him some money, visited his flat to pay the dues. Kumar took the money and when Rawail offered to shake hands with him, Kumar reportedly put Rawail’s hand in his mouth, bit it and asked “Didn’t you see the sign?”. Rawail laughed off the incident and left quickly. According to another reported incident, once Kumar was due to record a song for producer-director G. P. Sippy. As Sippy approached his bungalow, he saw Kumar going out in his car. Sippy asked Kumar to stop his car but Kumar increased his speed. Sippy chased him to Madh Island where Kumar finally stopped his car near the ruined Madh Fort. When Sippy questioned his strange behavior, Kumar refused to recognize or talk to him and threatened to call the police. The next morning, Kumar reported for the recording session. An angry Sippy questioned him about his behaviour the previous day but Kumar said that Sippy must have dreamt the incident and said that he was in Khandwa on the previous day.
Once, a producer went to court to get a decree that Kumar must follow the director’s orders. As a consequence, he obeyed the director to the letter. He refused to alight from his car until the director ordered him to do so. After filming a car scene in Mumbai, Kumar drove until he reached Khandala because the director forgot to say “Cut”. In the 1960s, a financier named Kalidas Batvabbal, who was disgusted with Kumar’s alleged lack of cooperation during the shooting of Half Ticket, reported to the income tax authorities, who raided his house. Later, Kumar invited Batvabbal to his home, asked him to enter a cupboard for a chat and locked him inside. He unlocked Batvabbal after two hours and told him, “Don’t ever come to my house again”.
Kishore 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, Kishore Kumar took her to his garden, named some of the trees there and introduced them to the reporter as his closest friends.