Kishore Kumar’s persona, like his trademark yodelling, was marked by rapid alternation between his normal self and his ‘falsetto’ self. One of the best tributes to the multi-faceted Kishore - singer, actor, writer, composer, producer, director - comes from Google: a doodle with a smiling Kishore etched between the letters GOOGLE. The cyphers at the four corners epitomize four facets of Kishore’s persona: his acting is symbolised by a pair of smiling-n- frowning masks, a camera implies Kishore Kumar the director, musical notes point to Kumar the singer and a pen-n-pad stand for Kishore Kumar the writer.
As this glowing tribute suggests, Kishore was a mega mystic juke box of priceless treasures, the mere mention of his name can evoke diametrically different things to different people: a beautiful number, a timeless film or some incredible trivia like his comic fixation with the Income Tax department or his eccentric media interactions that often left his interviewers high and dry.
But one of the most enduring facts about Kishore Kumar was his celestial relationship with two legendary individuals – celebrated composer Sachin Dev Burman and world renowned director Satyajit Ray.
The bond with Sachinda was quite obvious. Kishore owed most of his success as a singer to the maverick musician who urged Kishore to find his own distinctive voice shunning the influence of his childhood idol K L Saigal. After the soulful ‘Dukhi man mere’ from Fantoosh, Kishore never looked back and the senior Burman was like his father figure till the very end.
But his chemistry with Satyajit Ray was rare for both essentially belonged to different worlds and yet shared so much in common including the mutual respect for each other’s core competence. And that respect manifested in different acts of generosity and gratitude. Kishore, it is believed, parted with some of his funds for Ray’s inaugural magnum opus Pather Panchali. Deeply influenced by Ray’s on-location shoots, Kishore Kumar used extensive nature shots in his memorable film ‘Door Gagan ki Chaav Mein’
Later Kishore’s rendition of ‘Ogo Bideshini’ in Ray’s ‘Charulata’ based on Tagore’s novella marked a musical milestone in their association. For his fees, Kishore only asked for a signed letter from the maestro endorsing his talent. The said letter from Ray was eventually published in a film journal.
About two decades later, Ray came back to Kishore for his film ‘Ghare Bhaire’, another Tagore novel, and Kishore immortalised ‘Bidhir Badhon Kaatbe Tumhi’ this time by lending his unique voice sans accompaniments, once again to Soumitra Chatterji. ‘Ogo Bideshini’ had also been picturized on Chatterjee. Even this song led to a spontaneous barter deal between the two legends – Kishore waived his fees and in return Ray allowed him to record the song in a Bombay studio, going against his norm of not stepping out of Calcutta.
Sadly Kishore didn’t act in any Ray film despite the fact that opportunity came knocking on his doors not once but twice. Ray wanted Kishore to act in his comic fantasy 'Parash Pathar' but Kishore Kumar refused the protagonist’s role, so petrified he was at the mere thought of working with the great director. The role eventually went to Tulsi Chakravarti who did a fabulous job of it.
Yet again, Ray had Kishore Kumar in mind to play Goopi of ‘Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen’ but even this proposition could not materialize. It’s believed that Kishore insisted on his brother Anoop for the role of Bagha which of course did not meet Ray’s approval. Whatever the reason, history had repeated itself.
Had Kishore thought otherwise, his acting career could well have witnessed a hearteningly offbeat twist. But that was not to be. It’s indeed tragic that no google search would ever fetch a film with Kishore the actor in a Ray film. Thankfully we have ‘Ogo Bideshini’ and ‘Bidhir Badhon Kaatbe Tumhi’ to revere Ray and Kishore in the same breath.
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