KISHORE KUMAR – THE ULTIMATE BIOGRAPHY, THE AUTHORS TALK……
Shoma A. Chatterji interviews the writers- Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar, who have jointly authored the book , Kishore Kumar – The Ultimate Biography published by Harper-Collins, India in 2022.
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar have jointly authored a magnum opus on Kishore Kumar entitled, Kishore Kumar – The Ultimate Biography published by Harper-Collins, India in 2022. The surprising element lies in that both authors, Aniruddha and Parthiv, are qualified engineers and music is just their passion and their love, not their profession. But the passion is so deeply ingrained into their system that it inspires them to record and archive their love for future lovers of music. Bhattacharjee has already established himself by winning the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema with his book R.D. Burman – The Man, the Music. His next book, Gaata Rahe Mera Dil won the MAMI Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema. He is also a good practising singer himself.
Parthiv Dhar who is based in Hyderabad, has two passions – Kishore Kumar and Netaji. The book runs into 554 pages of extremely engaging text broken up into three parts, each part further broken into chapters named after classical ragas in Hindustani classical music. In a detailed interview, the two authors speak about what led them to the creation of this wonderful work that will carve itself in the history of outstanding writing on Indian cinema, especially Indian film music.
Image: Aniruddha Bhattacharjee
What motivated you to write such a massive book on Kishore Kumar?
Parthiv Dhar: Various factors. First of all, had we not written a book, nothing would have changed as far as knowing him goes. This insatiable appetite is still as strong, and we are coming across many new value additions every month. A few of those went into the book almost the night before the printing. Holding such info with us over a period of time in an unstructured and dishevelled manner, we felt, didn’t do justice either to the efforts or to the man himself who tried his best to ensure that he is known as little as possible. So, the book.
Give me a bit of a backgrounder on your love for film music and for films that gradually made you create a genre of writing on musical personalities in Hindi cinema.
Parthiv Dhar: Anirudha da is into film music in a big way. I am not. In fact, there could be many superhit songs I have not even heard of, or blockbusters I am not aware of because they had nothing to do with Kishore. My primary interest is Kishore Kumar. From childhood, I had a special fascination for the man for reasons I don’t know. Maybe it started with the radio, and he sounded the best. Now I know and am thankful to the Almighty for the passion he instilled in me. Today, we can say with a fair degree of conviction that such a 360-degree film persona has never walked the Indian earth.
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee: I come from a musical family; I have represented my school from the age of nine. I grew up in a musical atmosphere and was a well-known singer during my college days. Also, both my parents had a deep knowledge of cinema. As I grew up in Patna, my musical sensibilities were geared more towards Hindi film music. Kishore Kumar, along with Lata Mangeshkar, was the centre of my universe. Gradually, I started to appreciate the role of the composer, R D Burman, a favourite. I also took part in quizzing in college, and my first quiz was published in 1986 - a four-page set of Q&A in The Illustrated Weekly of India. That is how I started writing.
Placed against the panoramic world of Hindi film music, how would you define Kishore Kumar - as a person, an actor, a singer, a dancer and a performer par excellence?
Parthiv Dhar: Kishore Kumar as a person stands out from his other dimensions which runs contrary to popular notions about him. He was a singer whose voice would pierce you straight. Even his sad songs had an aura of positivity. He was probably India’s first dancing star and Helen ha gone on record saying that she could not match up to his steps. Similarly, Shahrukh felt the energy while emulating a Kishore Kumar performance. As an actor, he was a complete natural in the societal and romantic scenes but looked awfully out of place in action scenes which is a tribute to the persona that he is. From whatever we have discovered through our research, his reel life was just an extension of his real-life mannerisms and on most occasions all he had to do is act like he was and not “put on an act.” As an entertainer he had no competition. Kishore Kumar was an wonderful human being embellished with the gift of non-rebuttal in the most trying and provoking of circumstances. His ability to laugh at himself is unmatched. While the whole world castigated him for not doing enough for Madhubala, he kept quiet and did not let out that any rebuttal at that time might have led to suicide. He mentioned this in passing twelve years after Madhubala passed away. He has left behind many benefactors who had vowed to remain silent about his generosity.
He did not possess the qualities of a matinee idol like Raj Kapoor or Dev Anand or Dilip Kumar and yet, many of his films were big hits and he had his own fan base. How do you explain this?
AB- Kishore Kumar was a natural. He did what came naturally to him. Rarely did he act, as, in his own words, the directors asked him to 'do something on his own'. So, he would do and redo his Khandwa capers and recite funny poetry like - Main tum bin adhura / Jaise namak bin daal / Daal bin bhaat / Bhaat bina Bangaal. His films were dotted with a nonsense quotient which worked extremely well for him somewhat like the films of Marx brothers - which the audience also liked.
How long did it take for you two to actually decide that you wanted to write an entire book on Kishore Kumar?
Parthiv Dhar: Aniruddha Dhar completed his book on R.D. in 2011 and had already decided to do a project on Kishore. Kishore himself was the main stumbling block as he was a highly esoteric person who was not media-friendly at all. But we had gathered sufficient information through many visits to Khandwa, where he grew up and other places. The most challenging task was to structure the book interweaving his various talents and still retaining the continuity. That itself took us a couple of years.
The chapters are classified according to the ragas in Hindustani classical music. This is very interesting for a biography of an actor who was multi-talented. Why?
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee: We decided to chart his journey from dawn to night. The main chapters were given the name of 'Thaats'. The sub-chapters were named after ragas. Milestones in his life were the thaats broken up into ragas based on the time of the day. This idea came to us while creating the framework of the book. We also consulted our friend Archisman Mozumder who is an expert. If you notice, we have supplemented the ragas with songs based on the same.
Image: Parthiv Dhar
How did you divide the work/research/writing between yourselves?
Parthiv Dhar: We have collaborated as a team from the word Go. Our WhatsApp chats would run into hundreds of pages. Our respective jobs would take us to places where we would try to locate people connected to Kishore and interview them. The structure of the book leading us to the world of Raagas is Anirudhada’s brainchild. I started writing on his childhood, then his growth during the fifties. Both of us were equally involved at each stage.
Since your book is an in-depth study of Kishore Kumar’s entire life, looking back, which of the many talents did he excel in - acting, dancing, singing, absurd comedy, which and in what order?
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee: My rating is like this - 1. Singing 2. Music Direction 3: Absurd Comedy 4. Dancing 5. Acting 6. Direction.
Do you regret the fact that this man is no longer alive to see your work and read it? Please explain.
Parthiv Dhar: Oh yes!! But we believe that given his whimsicality and moodiness, some of the anecdotes might have been different from what we had written. Though we spent more than fifteen years on research, there were still a few things that escaped the book. The doctor who treated Madhubala in the UK for example. He could have helped!!
You have a long foreword by Pritish Nandy. How did you persuade him to agree and why did you not choose another personality from the world of film music?
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee: - Pritish Nandy had taken an exclusive interview of Kishore Kumar. This interview was like a revelation of the enigma called Kishore Kumar. So, we decided that if there was to be a preface, it had to be Mr. Nandy. We got his number from three friends - Tathagatha Chatterjee, Paroma Roy Chowdhury, and Monojit Lahiri. The persuasion happened via septuagenarian Partha Basu, a famous quizzer, and Mr. Nandy's friend.
Kishore Kumar was a self-taught singer. How was he so gifted?
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Parthiv Dhar: You see, most of the great singers in light music are self-trained. Very few came from the domain of classical music. Kishore Kumar had a wonderful voice. It was a mix of both 'dhaar’ (sharpness) and bhaar’(weight)’, something unique because most singers have neither. As he was an accomplished actor, he was an excellent mimic and could modulate his voice to suit the mannerisms of the actor for whom he was singing. He did not smoke, and despite two heart attacks, had immense lung power, like the vocal artistes of Hindustani classical music. He could hit notes with pinpoint accuracy and would never go off-tune. His voice also had great resonance. It would linger long after the song was over. To use terms in fluid mechanics and electrical engineering, his voice was like a streamlined flow with consistent flux density. All combined made him the singer that he was. Rather, is. This book is our Guru Dakshina to him. We will be thrilled if people read it.
About the author: Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is an Indian film critic and author based in Kolkata.