Playback singer Amit Kumar brought to life four legends from the Hindi film industry in Chatush, an unusual concert in the city last week. Every song has a story and the hard work of hundreds of musicians, finds Deepa Ganesh

Think of Ashok Kumar, he comes up in so many different costumes and a range of roles. Cowboy hat, a huge overcoat, and the suave cigarette smoking criminal or was that a police officer? – playback singer Amit Kumar chose to remember his uncle Dadamoni, in this typical 50s style, in “Chatush”, a concert in the city last week organised by Maam Entertainment. In a tribute to the four maestros who redefined Hindi film industry – Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar, S.D. Burman and R.D. Burman – the gifted Amit Kumar easily switched from being an actor to a singer, recalling all of them in their quintessence. His comic timing left the audience in splits.

Speaking of the discussions that often took place between his father Kishore Kumar and his uncle Ashok Kumar, Amit hilariously recaptured the process of how songs, over a course of time, stood completely transformed. This singer who has sung over 800 songs, sang the slow and tremolo filled “Koi humdum na raha” as it was conceived originally and its rendition decades later by Kishore Kumar in “Jhumroo” (1960). With the spontaneous nature of his singing and the remarkable storyteller in him, Amit Kumar engaged the audience so completely that the concert became conversational. People in the audience were responding to him, filling in with details, making it a community journey into a world that we know through unforgettable melodies.

“Did you know that the film ‘Kismet' ran for three years in Kolkata?” asked Amit Kumar, about the blockbuster film made during the Second World War in which Ashok Kumar played villain. The film grossed huge collections at the box-office, it was beaten only by “Barsaat” many years later. Next instant, Amit Kumar was swinging to the lovely, soft romantic number “Dheere Dheere aa re badal” from the film, sung by Amirbai Karnataki and Ashok Kumar.

Holding up the end of an imaginary dhoti, Amit was pacing up and down like the Tripura maestro, S.D. Burman. Here's a story: Dead of the night. Kishore Kumar's phone rings. “Hello, Kishore,” says the voice on the other end. It's unmistakably Sachinda. “What's it Sachinda? Why are you calling me so late in the night?” “I am just checking if your voice is in good condition,” he hangs up. “And this was when the recording was two months away,” laughs Amit. “He was always worried for my father's voice and called at all odd hours to see how his voice sounded.” With a fantastic orchestra, Amit rendered the poignant “Lena Hoga Janam Hame, Kayi Kayi Baar” from “Prem Pujaari”; Dev Anand's hat and swagger intact. Of course, he had a story about the lyricist Neeraj and composer Jaidev who then worked as assistant to Sachinda.

When Kishore Kumar was a young boy, his favourite pastime apparently was to sit on the rooftop and watch the street. “The stubborn bull that refused to cross the road was stuck in my father's head and do you know what that became....?” The next number was the high-energy “Baju, baju... Babu Samjho Ishaare” (with co-singer Biju) that literally brought the chaos of the street on to the stage. Sax and trumpet by the phenomenal Kishore and Raj Sodha replete with dissonances gave the song the liveliness of the streets.

The highlight of the concert was the four musicians of R.D. Burman's orchestra. Apart from Raj and Kishore Sodha, their older brother Rajinder Singh Sodha, an expert of the rare instrument swarolin (a combination of violin and sarangi), and drummer Franco Vaaz were the chief attractions of the unusual programme. Story goes that Lata Mangeshkar would suit her recordings depending on the availability of Rajinder Singh Sodha. She would prefer to hear the composition on his swarolin before singing it herself. His nuanced exposition of the soulful “Raina Beet Jaaye” and Parveen Sultana's version of “Hamein Tumse Pyaar Kitana” was proof of why legendary singers looked for emotive cues from him.

Inventive, wild and passionate, Amit Kumar was a riot with his mannerisms and fun-filled numbers. The curtains were drawn with “Zindagi Milke Bitayenge” from “Satte Pe Satta” (with all the singers who accompanied him that evening, including his sister Sromona).

However, the standing ovation is for those brilliant set of musicians — especially the unbelievable Sodha Brothers — who carried the imagination of all the great composers with a stunning vision, turning them into reality. The several instrumental renditions of that evening richly recreated the piety, ardour and commitment of the times that is now part of our collective memory.