Dressed in white T-shirt and grey slacks, he greets us with a fortified smile that can’t hide a tinge of fatigue, most probably owing to the litany of droning and dumb media queries flung at him over the years – absurd inquiries like “How could Kishore Kumar sing without any formal training in classical music?” or “Why did Kishore behave the way he did?”
All it takes is a preamble to the purpose of this interview and he drops his guard for good. What follows a two-hour long heart-to-heart throwing new light on his formative years of upbringing and schooling, his chequered career as actor, his playback career and of course Kishore Kumar. Even at 62, Amit Kumar retains the child-like innocence of Door Gagan Ki Chaav Mein in his eyes and the mellifluous appeal of Bade Achche Lagate Hai in his voice. This is itself is an achievement given his over a decade long chosen exile from the film industry which continues to this day.
He clearly misses the golden moments of his childhood which were tragically punctuated by the blows of unforeseen circumstances, way beyond the comprehension of a toddler. Born to Abhas Kumar Ganguly (Kishore Kumar) and Ruma Devi (Satyajit Ray’s niece) on July 3, 1952, the new-born Amit had all it takes to become destiny’s favourite child but destiny had other plans.
The divorce of his parents took Amit to Kolkata (then Calcutta) with his mother where he spent most of his formative years in a staggered academic stint spanning three-four schools. Mention the word ‘school’ and his eyes light up but only when he describes his stint at the scenic St. Xavier’s Hazaribagh with meticulous detail…despite the fact that he was here for a mere six months.
“This was the best time of my growing years as I relished everything about this British boarding school, especially the caring discipline of Father Moore. I distinctly remember how he blew his top when he found that I had been spending my spare time in the company of the big boys, entertaining them with popular numbers of my father during weekend picnics to the hills while they guzzled beer while I performed”, Amit reminisces.
Father Moore, Hazaribagh, Kolkata
Much to Amit’s displeasure, he was removed from the school as the family felt, in what was a peculiar afterthought, that boarding was not the right choice for him and them. “Father Moore was mighty upset with my parents for what he thought was a selfish move on their part. The Hazaribagh incident is my sole regret in life. Had I continued there, my life would have surely taken a dramatic academic turn. Of course, my education continued in a different school but the idyllic charm was lost, sadly for ever,” Amit shares his disappointment with a dash of nostalgic gloom. Father Moore is no more today but Amit fondly remembers him to this day.
Amit was enrolled in South Point Kolkata where student life continued if not as before. He dreaded maths and science but was excellent in geography and languages, especially Hindi. “Thanks to my academic progress in geography, I have a photographic memory when it comes to route maps. This comes handy during my globe-trotting for vocation and vacation both.”
The highpoint of his South Point spell was an endearing incident – one of the many cherished memories of his father. It was during this stint that Kishore once came to Kolkata and took Amit on a ‘father-son’ excursion around the big city. Visiting Belur Math, catching the latest film at the cinema hall, relishing delicacies at a popular joint…both had a grand time together. Kishore was to return to Mumbai soon after and so he bid goodbye to his son. When Amit went to school the next day, he found a ruckus in the campus as students were all over the place disregarding the discipline and decorum of a normal day. A fellow student then informed him that his father had paid a surprise visit in his inimitable style. “The principal was overjoyed to see the celebrity in the campus but playfully chided Kishore for the mayhem he caused,” Amit recounts with a chuckle.
This was also the time Kishore was conceptualizing Door Gagan Ki Chaav Mein (DGKCM) in his mind. After several screen tests, one fine day, he gave a few dialogues to Amit and the spontaneity of Amit’s rendering convinced him that he had found his ‘Ramu’ – the mute child artiste of the magnum opus.
Making DGKCM was a huge challenge for Kishore on every front. Financially he was down in the dumps which meant he had to operate with a shoe-string budget (the Muhurat shot was illuminated by his car headlights) and shooting location was primarily the forest region of Ghodbunder Road. Shooting with Amit meant waiting from vacation to vacation for the film reels to progress. To make matters worse, the leading lady Supriya Choudhary breached the contract terms which clearly stated that she would not sign any film during the shoot period. Thanks to her rapport with super star Dharmendra, she did another film that must have caused a problem with her dates. But the resilient Kishore braved all odds with grit and gumption for three long years and finally DGKCM was released in 1964. The rest of course is history which has etched the father-son duo in the minds of countless film buffs forever.
Among the stalwarts to appreciate Kishore’s sublime effort were Baburao Painter and Balasaheb Thackeray (who was Kishore’s good friend and did the sketches for one of his unreleased films)
Amit was brilliant in the film as the mute child, so was his father as the lead protagonist and so was just about every other character – whether lead or support. Even the amusing photographer’s (Mirza Musharraf) signature line I am the most comfortable photographer in the world is still fresh in our minds, as fresh as the songs including Hemant Kumar’s soulfully stylised title number Raahi tu mat ruk jaana (undoubtedly one of the best Hemant Kumar renderings, thanks to Kishore’s incisive composition) and actor Iftekaar’s telling illustrations which kick-off the film.
“Making this film was a real struggle for my father. He always had the easier way out of remaking a film like the Bengali comedy flick Lukochuri in Hindi – a super hit product, akin to his earlier runaway success story Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, that helped him build the sprawling Gauri Kunj in Juhu but he was not the one to weigh options once he made up his mind,” Amit reveals.
With his awesome talent blooming in all directions, it was no surprise that the list of Kishore disparagers was always substantial, especially during his hey days. To add fuel to the fire were his uncanny ways of giving vent to his emotions. “Only those who understood him well knew the wayward method in his madness. The rest just formed and framed convenient opinions about him,” Amit says recalling how once Kishore’s elder brother and thespian Dada Moni (Ashok Kumar) was at the Gouri Kunj gate to meet him. When he was informed, Kishore retorted in his inimitable style, “Ha to, main kya karu? Naachu?” (So what do you expect me to do? Should I break into a jig?) Dada Moni perfectly understood the context in which Kishore did what he did (about something that would have transpired between them preceding the incident) and went away without a word. Anyone else in his position would have surely felt offended and worse, some would have made the matter public conveniently eliminating the context and blowing the matter out of proportion. A maverick that he was, Kishore cared a damn about the consequences of his actions and hence made it even easier for others to malign his name.
Amit Kumar inherits his father’s conviction in no less measure. That’s precisely why he’s relishing his splendid isolation, away from the maddening cut-throat world of the playback industry – given its unabashed opportunists, brazen back-stabbers, politically correct practitioners and their mutual admiration societies of convenience and connivance.
Amit’s Hindi playback debut was a rather jinxed affair. His inaugural song Main ek panchhi matwala re from his dad’s 1971 film Door Ka Rahi (which was six long years in the making) was eventually weeded out as Kishore didn’t find it in line with the filmic situation. After this, he sung for the film Darwaaza which was never released. Salil Chowdhury gave him a break in Zindagi Ek Jua which met the same fate. Ditto for Chalbaaz where Madan Mohan had engaged Amit for a duet with Asha Bhosle. And for films like Aandhi and Jaan Haazir Hai which did get released, his songs went unnoticed. It was the number Bade Achhe Lagte Hai from the 1976 film Balika Badhu that made him a singing sensation – thanks to composer R D Burman who found in him a perfect playback fit for Sachin, the adolescent hero of the milestone movie. But even after this landmark, life was still tough as the playback market of his time was ruled by top notch singers of that era – Mukesh, Rafi, Manna Dey and of course his father.
Hats off to Amit Kumar for giving us many a memorable number over the years notwithstanding the intense competition, small banners, second-rate heroes and flop films that he had to condone in the process. Bade achche lagte hai, Aati rahengi bahare, Yeh zameen ga rahi hai, Uthe sabke kadam, Na Bole tum na maine kuch kahaa, Deewana dil deewana, Roz roz ankhon tale are only a few in the long list, beside the treasure trove of his Bengali songs like Mone mone koto din, Ekdin chole jabo and Aaj shoob kichu bhule gechhi.
After R D Burman’s death, Amit would have felt the same void that Kishore felt after S D Burman’s demise – Kishore still had R D Burman by his side, Amit had no such luxury. There’s no denying the fact that he falls short of the Kishore benchmark – whether in singing, versatility or in a holistic view of life and work - but who has surpassed it anyway – why single out progeny on this count?
To his credit, Amit has a special timbre in his voice which is no less endearing if not as flexible. Unlike the pathetic Kishore clones that made hay only while the sun shone, Amit has always sung the way he does. No wonder, he stands tall on his own merit in the 50th year of his musical journey. No wonder, his fans (http://www.amitkumarfanclub.com/index.php) have been with him through thick and thin. At a time when the film industry denied him his due, his fans have invariably showered their unconditional love and support. So have selfless Kishore devotees like Supriyo Bhattacharya of Kolkata and Kaustubh Pingle of Kuwait.
“I don’t care what the industry camps think of me. I am happy with my stage shows and am now exploring the world of new opportunities through Kumar Brothers Music, my proposed venture with my brother Sumeet which will gainfully exploit the new-age media to create and broadcast the kind of music that’s dear to our hearts”, he reveals his plans with humble authority.
We are sure Kumar Brothers Music will be a resounding success story but Amit has a greater responsibility on his shoulders being a special individual - the son of a legend. We have countless Kishore admirers spread across the globe but to appreciate the essence of Kishore’s greatness, one has to look beyond blind worship as also the umpteen memorials, museums and tribute nights.
Among other things, Amit should initiate a one-of-a-kind academy for the benefit of the current generation - exploiting every possible media including classroom training and e-learning - to impart tailor-made thought sessions and workshops to unfold Kishore’s unique value proposition that includes among other things:
His versatility as a gifted actor, sensitive director, intuitive lyricist and soulful composer,
His indisputable command over pronunciation and expression,
His whacky sense of humour and presence of mind,
His insatiable appetite for risk, and, craving for offbeat creations, and,
His never-say-die and devil-may-care attitude that left his detractors high and dry…like in his cinematic frames where his co-artistes are seen running for cover for lack of commensurate facility for expression and improvisation.
It’s only then that today’s youth will rediscover the beauty of his countless renderings – whether the classical Payal wali dekhna and Baje baje baje re kahi basuriya, the soulfulPanthi hu mein us path ka, Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hai jo makam, Fiza ke phool pe and Koi hota jisko apna or the astute comic timing of Arzi Hamari, Meri riksha sabse nirali and Priye Praneshwari.
They’ll appreciate how he could make plain vanilla lyrics like Raju chal raju seem extra ordinary or how he could gracefully veil the mediocrity of a metered stanza like Tum bolo yeh sach hai naa in the otherwise superb Anand Bakshi verse Kuch toh log kahenge.
They’ll marvel at the dizzying heights that Man kare yaad woh din, Jab bhi koi kangana bole or Raah pe rehte hai achieved, thanks to his wholesome singing.
They’ll admire how he poured his heart and soul to energise the below-par Randhir Kapoors, Kabir Bedis, Deb Mukherjees, Vijay Aroras, Anil Dhawans and Rakesh Roshans, how he helped accomplished artistes like Sanjeev Kumar, Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor to underline their reeled emotions and, of course, how he immortalized the Dev Anands, Rajesh Khannas, Uttam Kumars and Amitabh Bachchans on screen.
It’s only then that they’ll fathom the depth of the pithy and pertinent compliment that comes from India’s best filmmaker Satyajit Ray, “Kishore was gifted with an incredible voice. As a singer of popular songs he had no equal. If he had learnt classical singing, I feel he would have surely excelled in it because his voice is so fluent, so mellifluous, and so flexible.”
Amit Kumar, here’s wishing you every success with the forthcoming musical compositions of Kumar Brothers as also in all your endeavours in life – Raahi tu mat ruk jaana, toofaan se mat ghabrana, kabhi to milegi teri manzil, kahi door gagan ki chaav mein…