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Songs of the scions

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Amit and Sumit, sons of Kishore Kumar, talk to Chitra Swaminathan about their father’s musical legacy

The maverick Kishore Kumar’s singer-sons Amit and Sumit Kumar and wife Leena Chandavarkar (remember the bubbly girl in “Humjoli”?) were in Chennai recently for the music show “Ek Hi Awaaz” and were bombarded with ek hi question — about the musical escapades of the golden-voiced Kishore Kumar. When it comes to music, most prefer to live in the past.

Fascinating

“His fascinating life story cannot be cut short. I could narrate untold anecdotes and sing his timeless numbers for two months at a stretch. And you are giving me just 15 minutes,” Amit smiled. And continued, “But I am delighted to inform all Kishore fans that a full-length biopic is being made on him. Also, Sumit and I are singing some unreleased compositions of my father in a forthcoming film.” Amit, who since childhood accompanied his father to recordings, music discussions, rehearsals and stage shows, “has seen him face the lows, be at the peak for 19 long years, take on challenges, draw flak and laugh off criticism. But he and his music remained as colourful and versatile as the seven notes and nine rasas.” And to think that Kishore was not a trained singer!

Golden times

Son Amit clambered the musical charts with several hits — “Bade aache lagte”, “Yaad aa rahi hai”, “Ek do teen”, “Tirchi topiwale”…

.Before moving to Bombay with dad, Amit lived with his Bengali actor-mother (Kishore’s first wife Ruma Guha) in Calcutta.

Kishore was thrilled to hear about young Amit’s passion for music and wanted to groom him. It must have been difficult for the son not to be his father’s clone and still be heard.

“My father would jokingly say ‘if you cannot be gold, then turn silver but not rolled gold. Originality is the essence of music’.” Kishore Kumar was just repeating what the legendary Kundan Lal Saigal had told him.

Saigal was Kishore’s inspiration and guru.

“My father once decided to release a three-part album of K.L. Saigal’s songs. On the day of the recording he refused to sing saying, ‘I cannot try to be one up on my guru’,” recounts Amit.

Any ill-feelings about so many others making a flourishing career by pretending to sing like his father?

“The decision to move away from the music scene was my own. I had my fill. Singing for celebrated music directors such as Lakshmikant-Pyarelal, Kalayanji-Anandji and R.D. Burman was the most eventful period of my life. But I felt out of place once these people were no longer around. The coteries, the mud-slinging…I was no longer enjoying my music. My father used to say, ‘it’s better to quit than do something that goes against your wishes. I’ve sung many songs, a lot of them stupid.”

No regrets

Regrets about wrong choices? “Where is the scope to make choices here? You sing what you are told to. If you are fortunate, some good numbers will come your way.”

Any plans to take up music direction? “I can do it if I’m given a free hand, which rarely happens in the industry. Often producers and directors don’t just dictate the terms but the tunes too. I don’t think I can work that way.”

Director, writer, composer, singer, actor and, above all, perfect entertainer, Kishore Kumar excelled on several fronts.

“I cannot imagine jumping around the stage without losing grip of the sur. He could do it. But more than anything, it’s his humility that appealed to me the most. I remember during a recording at Pancham Da’s (R.D. Burman) studio, he told him ‘Pancham agar main besura ho gaya to bolna’ (tell me if I falter in the tune). Pancham looked at me and said ‘see how simply he puts it’.”

Idiosyncrasies

What about those stories of his eccentricities (refusing to open the gate when his brother’s family was waiting outside or refusing to record without a white cap or leaving the studio without informing) and frequent mood swings?

“Funny and childish, yes, it was part of his character. Most often, it was his way of dealing with situations he did not want to confront. But deep inside he was a soft-hearted man, who made people laugh. He would shrug off the charges saying, ‘This world calls me mad and I call this world a mad place.’ Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna…"

Waiting in the wings

I owe it all to big brother Amit since I was just four when baba died. Today if I am holding the mike and sur confidently, Amit has a major role to play. He made me learn to play the piano as our father desired so. I am eagerly awaiting the public verdict for my song in Ranbir Kapoor’s “Bachna ae haseeno”. It’s not easy to recreate the Kishore magic. He was one of his kind.

Big regret: Not spending enough time with baba.

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